US President Barack Obama on Friday blocked the construction of a controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States, ending years of bitter and politically charged debate.
Obama said the plan “would not serve the national interests of the United States,” listing the reasons — it would not help the environment, make a “meaningful long-term contribution” to the economy or significantly lower gas prices.
Obama indicated that instead of bringing tar sands crude 1,179 miles (1,900 kilometers) from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, the US should instead focus on developing clean energy technologies that would bring jobs and energy security.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fighting climate change,” he said. “Frankly, approving the project would have undercut the global leadership.”
Obama’s comments come weeks before he will travel to Paris to help ink a global climate accord aimed at limiting carbon emissions worldwide.
They also come just days after the swearing-in of new center-left Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Obama said before the announcement that he had called Trudeau, who expressed “disappointment” at the rejection of the project, but both leaders agreed to work together on energy and climate issues.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was less sanguine about the decision, accusing Obama of being “more interested in appeasing deep-pocketed special interests and extremists than helping tens of thousands of Americans who could have benefited from Keystone’s good jobs.”
Environmental group Friends of the Earth said it was a victory for the “fight against fossil fuels,” boasting that “a routine decision to approve a pipeline” had been transformed “into a leadership test on climate change.”
In his remarks, Obama suggest he thought lobbying efforts on both sides had gone too far.
“For years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I have called an overinflated role in the political discourse,” Obama said in the televised White House address.
“It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel than a serious policy matter,” he said, adding it was neither the “silver bullet as proclaimed by some, or the climate disaster as proclaimed by others.”
– Tortured process –
Calgary-based firm TransCanada has spent the last seven years trying to get the project built and said Friday after the decision that it may try to make another proposal.
But until today, Obama’s White House has adamantly refused to take a public stance, despite vociferous demands.
Instead, Obama hid behind a tortured bureaucratic process led by the US State Department.
But in recent weeks, Obama’s silence had become increasingly uncomfortable, with the Paris meeting nearing and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — who once led the review as secretary of state — saying it should not be approved.
Clinton had used her former position as a rationale for not weighing in, saying she wanted Obama’s administration to finalize its assessment on the project.
But during a campaign event in Iowa in September, she described Keystone as “a distraction from the important work we have to do to combat climate change, and, unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward and deal with other issues.”
TransCanada last week tried to halt the review process, a move that was rejected by US government lawyers and now appears to have been an attempt to avert outright rejection.
TransCanada shares fell around five percent on news of the announcement.