VICTORY! Obama Rejects Scandal-Ridden Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Brendan DeMelle DeSmog

At long last, President Obama today rejected the heavily-protested, scandal-ridden Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposed by TransCanada (NYSE: TRP). Congratulations to everyone who raised their voice, got arrested, spent hours researching the many lobbying scandals (like we did here on DeSmog), and otherwise helped to usher in the first time that a fossil fuel infrastructure project was defeated based on its global warming pollution impact. 

I recall the many conversations I had several years ago — with people far savvier about Washington DC politics than I — who thought Keystone XL was a done deal. And TransCanada surely bet its corporate existence on the success of its proposal for the border-crossing pipeline that would’ve vastly amplified the volume of tar sands crude flowing south to the Gulf Coast refineries, much of it destined for export. 

Well, I didn’t believe in that fatalism then, and the team at DeSmog didn’t either. So we rolled up our sleeves to do our part to change the calculus. DeSmogBlog published hundreds of articles on Keystone XL over the years, and I thank every single one of our writers and researchers who wouldn’t leave any stone unturned, any lobbying record uninspected, or any investigative trip to affected communities along the pipeline unfinished. 

I just switched on the TV to watch Neil Cavuto who is practically hyperventilating on FOX, declaring a ‘war on traditional energy.’ He just interviewed coal baron Bob Murray who was beside himself with anger over this afront to the fossil fuel industrial complex. Then he interviewed Ken Cuccinelli about the #ExxonKnew scandal. Now he’s back to Keystone XL, astonishingly claiming “violent” protests happened (??) and now he’s got Niger Innis and a host of other angry fossil fuel apologists. For one time only, I actually recommend flipping on FOX to watch them flounder in failure!

Update: Media Matters staff were watching Cavuto too, and put up a fantastic piece: Neil Cavuto’s Two-Hour Keystone XL Freakout.

Amy Harder at the Wall Street Journal was first out the gate with her article: Obama Administration Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline, Citing Climate Concerns.

Let the victory champagne flow today. Here are reactions from around the world (updated throughout the day): 

Bill McKibben of 

“President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate. That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight. We’re still well aware that the next president could undo all this, but this is a day of celebration.”

Record scratch! Here’s freshly-minted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s reaction

“We are disappointed by the decision but respect the right of the United States to make the decision.”

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling: 

“TransCanada and its shippers remain absolutely committed to building this important energy infrastructure project. We will review our options to potentially file a new application for border-crossing authority to ship our customer’s crude oil, and will now analyze the stated rationale for the denial.”

Meanwhile, a screeshot of’s stock chart of TransCanada


NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer:

“Today President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline—and the power of the American people decisively beat out the fossil fuel special interests. The D.C. establishment once called this pipeline a done deal, but a movement emerged that refused to accept the fossil fuel status quo.  Millions of Americans called for the rejection of Keystone XL, setting their sights on a future powered by clean energy instead of Canadian tar sands. Today, the leader of the free world stood side-by-side with a brave and diverse clean energy coalition, and pointed our country towards a brighter, more prosperous future.

“This decision is as much a ‘yes’ to clean energy, as it is a ‘no’ to the pipeline. Our leaders can no longer ignore this simple fact: Americans from across the political spectrum strongly favor clean energy over the dirty energy of the past—and they are willing to fight for it. Rejecting Keystone XL is a critical step forward as we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s time for our leaders to continue this momentum by laying out a plan that will get us to more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030.”

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica:

“This is an extraordinary moment for grassroots activism and the fight against fossil fuels. For seven years, people from around the United States campaigned together to transform a previously routine decision to approve a pipeline into a leadership test on climate change. With this decision, President Obama has taken leadership in significantly slowing the expansion of the tar sands industry. We have not only succeeded in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, we’ve awakened a grassroots climate movement. The battle to move beyond fossil fuels continues, and Friends of the Earth thanks President Obama for taking a strong step in the right direction.”

Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation:

From the western boreal forest, across the Missouri River Valley, and through majestic Sand Hills and Platte River, today’s decision protects critical wildlife habitat across North America for a range of species from caribou and grey wolves to waterfowl and whooping cranes. We encourage our leaders in Washington to work together to find common ground on initiatives that both safeguard wildlife and create domestic jobs.”

Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Lindsey Allen issued the following statement:

“The president’s decision today is the result of years of grassroots people power organizing against all odds in every corner of this country. This has never been about just President Obama’s decision and this has never been about just one pipeline. This is a win for long-term climate justice over short-term corporate profits. And it is only the beginning of what this growing movement will achieve. When we fight, we win. Keystone XL was considered a done deal just a few years ago, and the fight to stop it was viewed by DC insiders as a lost cause. But this movement refused to accept the defeatist logic that catastrophic climate change is inevitable and that business-as-usual fossil fuel production will never be stopped. Millions of people rejected the conventional wisdom and took on the moral responsibility of acting in the face of overwhelming odds, and together, we proved the doubters wrong again and again. Today will reverberate in history as a watershed moment for the climate movement, not as the ending of a campaign but as the beginning of a new paradigm, as the point when we, as a society, began to leave the pipelines unbuilt and keep fossil fuels in the ground.” has produced a documentary on the rejection titled, “How the Keystone Fight Was Won.”

The film acknowledges one sober reality early on.

The Obama Administration did not reject the whole Keystone XL pipeline system. As covered extensively here on DeSmog, Obama approved the southern leg of Keystone XL via a March 2012 Executive Order and due to that line, large amounts of Alberta’s diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) is already hitting the U.S Gulf coast.

And another pipeline company giant, Enbridge, has quietly built its own “Keystone XL Clone,” all approved and now in service except for the Alberta Clipper expansion. That piece of the system is tied up in a U.S. District Court case in Minnesota.

Enbridge, in fact, is so confident of the industry’s current ability to get tar sands oil and oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the Gulf that is has announced it will spend $5 billion on Gulf-area holding facilities.  

We’re still awfully sad about Keystone south and are well aware that the next president could undo all this, but this is a day of celebration,” founder Bill McKibben said in a press statement.

Friends of the Earth-U.S. echoed in its own press statement. has already announced one of its next moves on tar sands on Twitter: bird-dogging new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, demanding a halt to all future Alberta tar sands infrastructure projects.

American Petroleum Institute’s executive director Jack Gerard chimed in by teleconference in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. 

“It is an understatement to say that we are disappointed by today’s decision,” said Gerard. “And what signal does this send to our Canadian ally? And the broader infrastructure community.”

This seems a fitting ending point for my article. Hit the road, Jack! 

Image credit:

Brendan DeMelle DeSmog
Brendan is Executive Director of DeSmog. He is also a freelance writer and researcher specializing in media, politics, climate change and energy. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Grist, The Washington Times and other outlets.

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