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Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline under GOP Deadline, But Opponents Prepare for Long-Term Fight

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The Obama administration has rejected the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline that would stretch from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast. On Wednesday, President Obama said he was turning down TransCanada’s application for the pipeline because there was not enough time to review an alternate route that would avoid the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. Obama had tried to delay a decision until next year, but Republicans responded by passing legislation forcing a decision by the end of February. Environmental groups have hailed the permit’s rejection, but it does not mark the end of the pipeline fight. TransCanada has already announced it will reapply for a permit based on a different route, and Obama said he was only making his decision based on time constraints, not on the pipeline’s “merits.” We get reaction from Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, an expert on climate change who has led massive protests in Washington, D.C. against the pipeline over the past six months. “This was a real victory for people standing up,” McKibben says. “If we hadn’t gone and done what we did out in the streets, if we hadn’t made record numbers of public comments on this, then the oil industry, as usual, would have gotten away with a really bad idea.” [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

StoryNov 11, 2011Naomi Klein on Environmental Victory: Obama Delays Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Decision Until 2013
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In a victory for the environmental movement, the Obama administration has rejected the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. President Obama said the administration denied TransCanada’s application for the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline because there was not enough time to review an alternate route that would avoid the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. In November, Obama announced it would put off—he would put off any decision on approving Keystone until 2013, but Republicans responded by inserting language into the payroll tax cut bill in December to force a decision on the pipeline by the end of February.

Wednesday’s decision, however, does not mark the end of the fight over the pipeline. TransCanada has already announced it will reapply for a permit based on a different route.

This is White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: There is a proper process that has existed for many years and many administrations by which a project like this is reviewed and a permit is either granted or denied. Because of concerns expressed by numerous stakeholders, including the Republican governor of Nebraska, it was decided that an alternate route through Nebraska was necessary. The choosing of that alternate route has not even been completed yet. The State Department, which conducts and oversees this multi-agency review process, made clear at the time, in December, that inserting this extraneous provision in an attempt to get a political victory, because, for some reason, extending a tax cut to 160 million Americans wasn’t victory enough, the Republicans put in jeopardy a process that should be immune from politics, should be conducted on the basis of pragmatic and considered analysis, and tried to hijack it.

AMY GOODMAN: On the campaign trail, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich criticized Obama’s decision.

NEWT GINGRICH: This is a stunningly—I tried that on myself. It’s just too hard. Look, let me be honest. This is a stunningly stupid thing to do. Obama’s decision is stupid on three grounds. There’s no—I mean, there’s no better word for it. These people are so out of touch with reality, it’s as though they were governing Mars.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican House Speaker John Boehner vowed to continue supporting the pipeline project.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: I’ll just say this. This is not the end of the fight. Republicans in Congress will continue to push this, because it’s good for our country, and it’s good for our economy, and it’s good for the American people, especially those who are looking for work.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s decision comes after months of action and lobbying by environmental groups opposed to the pipeline. In late August and early September, over 1,200 people were arrested in Washington, D.C., outside the White House, in a two-week campaign of civil disobedience. In November, over 10,000 people encircled the White House to oppose the project.

We’re joined now by two of the leading critics of the pipeline. Jane Kleeb is executive director of Bold Nebraska, joining us from Washington. And Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, is with us by Democracy Now! video stream from his home in Vermont, where he rarely is. Bill is the author of many books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Bill, when you heard the news yesterday that President Obama had rejected the pipeline outright, what was your response?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, you know what? I had two responses. One, you know, I wrote the first book about global warming, I think 23 years ago now, and there have been precious few days in that two decades when scientists have been left smiling and Big Oil has been left scowling. This was a real victory for people standing up. If we hadn’t gone and done what we did out in the streets, if we hadn’t made record numbers of public comments on this, then the oil industry, as usual, would have gotten away with a really bad idea.

And the second thought, frankly, was about Barack Obama. Now, I’m no knee-jerk partisan, necessarily, of the President. I get arrested—I spent three days in jail for being arrested outside his house. But yesterday, in the face of just absolutely naked political threat—the American Petroleum Institute said last week, if the pipeline wasn’t approved, there would be, quote, “huge political consequences,” and you know they have the money to make good on that threat. In the face of that kind of bald political threat, Barack Obama didn’t just do the right thing, he actually did the brave thing. The knock on him is that he’s been too conciliatory and eager to please all sides and things. Yesterday was pretty stunning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, your reaction to the President’s announcement, and also to Speaker Boehner’s vow that this is not the end of the fight?

JANE KLEEB: Yeah, I mean, President Obama not only made the right decision, he made a very bold decision. And I can tell you that Nebraskans across our state, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, urban or family farmer or rancher, we were all celebrating and standing up and being proud that he stood with us. And I can’t, you know, echo Bill enough to say that, you know, it’s rare that we see Big Oil losing. And they lost. And if they try to resubmit their application, they’re going to lose again, because we have fire in our belly, and we’re not going to give up this fight.

And, you know, Representative Boehner and the Republicans, you know, they don’t care about our water, they don’t care about energy security, and they don’t care about our state. All they care about is trying to make the President look bad. And that is beginning to be seen by the American public.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the reaction has been fierce. Boehner, surrounded by the Republican leadership, held a news conference yesterday. You can hear, of course, the Republican presidential candidates. But the refrain is “jobs, jobs, jobs” and oil energy security in comparison with China. They said they’re going to make this a big election issue. Explain what’s actually happening in Nebraska. Does this break down along conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican lines? They are going to resubmit. TransCanada has already said that. They are going to resubmit along another route. What would that mean for Nebraska?

JANE KLEEB: You know, TransCanada says a lot of things. And so, I’m sure that they will resubmit. But, you know, they’ve said everything from, if the pipeline has to be rerouted out of the Sand Hills, the project will absolutely be killed. We pushed them on that. We required the pipeline to get out of the Sand Hills. And it didn’t—you know, at the time, it did not kill the project. And so, you know, TransCanada lies about everything. They lie about job numbers. They lie about where the oil is going. They lie about the risks to the aquifer.

In Nebraska, you know, this did not kind of fall on party lines. We had folks from our urban communities in Lincoln and Omaha holding hands with our conservative farmers and ranchers on the eastern and western and, of course, in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. We really were united as a state. And for a while, we even had a lot of the Republican leaders in our state on our side. It was only until they realized that President Obama may deny this pipeline that they wanted to be on the opposite side.

And that’s the problem with the Republican leadership, not only in Nebraska, but in the nation. Whatever side Obama is on, they have to be on the other side. And it is bad for our nation’s energy security policy, as well as the climate, as well as our water, if Republicans are going to continue to behave that way. And I can tell you, some down-ballot candidates are going to lose their seats in Nebraska over this issue. And if Bob Kerrey jumps into the Senate race, I can tell you that this will be a key issue in our state determining who’s going to represent us in the U.S. Senate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Bill McKibben, what about this issue of the Republican—some of the candidates now saying this is going to become a major issue in the upcoming presidential race?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I think the first thing to say is that when you have Newt Gingrich attacking you as “stunningly stupid,” it’s not the worst thing in the world. These guys are, you know, unwilling to even accept the basics of physics and chemistry around climate science, so I have no idea why anyone would trust them. Add to that the fact that the numbers they throw around about things like jobs are entirely bogus. The only study that’s been not funded by TransCanada showed this would kill as many jobs as it would create. The only numbers that count for these guys are dollars. The House majority that voted to expedite this approval process, the 234 of them who voted yes, had taken $42 million, money from the fossil fuel industry.

That’s why we’re going to take this fight now on the offensive and really go after that kind of collusion and corruption. Tuesday next at midday, we’ll be up on Capitol Hill, four or five hundred of us, in referee uniforms, the—blowing the whistle on that kind of corruption, because we can’t simply let these guys continue to do what they’ve been doing: take money from companies and then vote on their interests. If it was happening at the Super Bowl, it would be a national scandal. But for some reason, we’ve decided that, I think in our sort of cynicism, that this is always the way it’s going to be on Capitol Hill. Well, we were naive enough to take on Big Oil in this pipeline fight, and we’re naive enough to take on their money going forward. We don’t want them. We don’t want to be paying subsidies to them anymore. We want to take this battle on the offensive.

What they did with this pipeline was extreme. They tried to corrupt the process, TransCanada did. And that President Obama finally stood up was a very, very good sign. Yes, TransCanada can reapply. Anybody can reapply to put a pipeline in. But this time, if they do, I’m pretty sure that the process will be transparent and open, and people will be watching it very closely from all sides. Nothing is going to slide through anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Clayton Thomas-Muller, the campaign coordinator with the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign, responded to the rejection of Keystone news, saying, quote, “This is one battle won for our Mother Earth. Other pipeline battles linked to the Canadian tar sands continue. We remain vigilant in our work with First Nations in Canada and grassroots leaders to halt the tar sands. We are working with activists in British Columbia to stop the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and other pipelines throughout Canada.” Jane, if you could envision for us—you know that this is going to be put forward again by TransCanada. What is the route that you expect they’re going to put forward, and how do you see Nebraska responding?

JANE KLEEB: Well, if they have any sense to them, they won’t even go near the Sand Hills, which means the entry point where they want to come through is going to have to be completely shifted. I think the only acceptable route in Nebraska would be to place this pipeline along the current pipeline that’s already in the ground, which is on the eastern part of the state, doesn’t touch the Sand Hills and really doesn’t go through the shallow parts of the Ogallala Aquifer. You know, it wasn’t only the Sand Hills. We were all concerned about the Sand Hills. That’s a huge icon in our state. It’s where a lot of our ranchers live. But the other major concern in Nebraska is obviously the Ogallala Aquifer. I mean, there are parts in Nebraska, if you stick a pipe in the ground, water will literally flow out of it from the Ogallala. And that’s how folks feed cattle and even irrigate some crops in old-fashioned ways. And so, that’s the real concern. And the only way to avoid the Ogallala Aquifer in a real way would be to go on the eastern edge of the state, because the Ogallala essentially covers the entire part of the state.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Bill McKibben, how does campaign finance fit into this? The industry is warning now of consequences of the result of this decision. They obviously have deep, deep pockets to fulfill that threat. Your sense of what this will mean in terms of the expenditures for this presidential campaign?

BILL McKIBBEN: Look, one big loser was TransCanada, whose stock plummeted yesterday, and BusinessWeek said today that their stock was “dead money.” But one big winner is, you know, whoever has a TV station that takes commercial ads, because, no doubt, the American Petroleum Institute and the Chamber of Commerce and all the other front groups for Big Oil will be pouring money at this, time and time again.

The interesting thing is, they poured money at it all fall. They ran commercials over and over and over again. And still, somehow, though we had no money, we managed to get our message through. We’re going to have to be, just like the people you talked to from the internet coalition earlier today, we’re going to have to continue to be creative in finding other currencies in which to work. We can’t match these guys dollar for dollar. We can’t even come close. So we’re going to have to spend our passion and our spirit and our creativity. And sometimes we’re going to have to spend our bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: The Occupy movement came soon after you encircled the White House. That first week when you encircled the White House, President Obama and his family were in Martha’s Vineyard. Then they came back, and you all kept getting arrested. September 17th, people march on Wall Street here in New York. Do you see this fueling a further Occupy movement around this country, this victory, Bill and Jane?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, for me, I think the rise of the Occupy movement was one of the great things that’s happened in a very long time. And it was a great pleasure all fall. I think I got to visit nine Occupy encampments across the country and to see that people were focused on not only inequality, economic inequality, but also the kind of underlying environmental effects of this kind of inequality. What I stated very early on in downtown in Zuccotti Park was, “Look, Wall Street has been occupying the atmosphere for 30 years. It’s about time we returned the favor.”

I think the place where peoples are starting to coalesce is right around what Juan was talking about, these issues around campaign finance, around corporate personhood, around the fact that we really can’t put not only our own economic lives at risk anymore, but also the geological future of the planet. These guys are willing to—well, really, if you think about it, the degree of radicalism in oil companies is so incredible. They’re willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere in order to make some more money. There’s never been anything as radical as that. And in a kind of odd way, one of the messages, I think, of Occupy and of our movement was that we weren’t really that radical at all. We just kind of wanted a world that worked sort of the way we had always been told it was going to.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to—

JANE KLEEB: And I think that’s absolutely right. You know, I think Americans all across our country, whether it’s in Wisconsin with the recall, whether it’s in New York with Occupy Wall Street, whether it was in D.C., or whether it was in Nebraska, you had folks—moms, grandmoms, you know, farmers and ranchers—who have never been involved, who had never been to a protest before, who are standing up and saying, “Wait a second. This is our country. This is our community. This is our land. This is our water. And we’re going to do everything we can to defend those rights.” And so, I think there’s a lot of really strong ties with other movements that are happening in America, where the people are like, “You know what? We do have the power. And when we exert our power, when we really stand shoulder to shoulder beyond party lines, we can actually get things done and get our country moving in the direction that we all see it moving, which is a better country and a better future for our kids.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, Bill McKibben, 350.org. His latest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. His first book was End of Nature. They’re speaking to us from Washington, D.C., and Vermont.

This is Democracy Now! democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to Madison, Wisconsin, where more than a million signatures were gathered calling for the recall of Governor Scott Walker. We’ll speak with John Nichols. Stay with us.

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