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With Election Won, Climate Campaigners Fear Obama Reversal on Keystone

'Whose side are you on—' environmentalists ask Obama '—Earth's or Big Oil's'

- Common Dreams staff

Will Obama get serious about climate change, or won't he?

With the election now behind him and a second term ostensibly underway, some environmental campaigners are wasting no time in making sure that Barack Obama is aware that though they generally supported his candidacy against Mitt Romney, they are no where close to letting up the pressure when it comes to climate change and approval of dirty fossil fuel projects like the lingering Keystone XL oil pipeline still under review.

"It's go time," wrote 350.org's Daniel Kessler to the environmental group's membership this week. "The election is behind us, the president has his four more years, and it's time for him to decide which side he's on—the planet's or Big Oil's."

And as environmental author and co-founder of the same group, Bill McKibben wrote in plain terms: "It will be painfully easy to tell if President Barack Obama is going to take a serious stab at doing something about climate change in his second term: The purest, starkest test he faces will be the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico."

In a White House press conference on Wednesday, Obama addressed climate change directly when asked about the issue by saying that though he believes that "climate change is real" and needed to be addressed, confessed that there was little political will in Washington to make the tough choices that may be needed.

“Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused, on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that,” he said.

Following on the destructive impact—both in lives and financial—of Hurricane Sandy, however, campaigners say that it is well past time that the American people be asked to look beyond the short-term considerations of climate change.

Among the specific issues at hand is the approval of the tar sands pipeline from Alberta, Canada that Obama was forced to delay during his first term following waves of civil-disobedience outside the White House. Those actions—organized by Tar Sands Action, 350 and others—may get new life on Sunday as groups plans to return to Washington to stage another rally against the project.

"The climate silence is broken," said executive director of 350.org, May Boeve. "And now the President can show us he's serious with a decision already on his desk: rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would unlock so much carbon that climate scientists say, if it were built, it would be ‘game over’ for the climate.

“The president can stop this dangerous pipeline with his pen, and if he does, the American people will support him. This pipeline is not in the national interest.”

Following Obama's re-election, an analysis from Moody's predicted that Obama would, in fact, approve the pipeline and it's clear that the oil and gas industry is exerting enormous political muscle of its own to make sure that Obama takes up their cause. As McClatchy reports Saturday:

The Keystone project is a chance for the president to boost the economy and create jobs, said Marty Durbin, the executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil and natural-gas industry.

“President Obama campaigned on job creation and on an all-of-the-above energy strategy, including more oil and natural gas,” Durbin said.

The Obama administration said its delay of the project was about the environmental impact on Nebraska, not climate change. Pipeline developer TransCanada has since changed the route so it bypasses the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region. The route still passes over part of the Ogallala aquifer, though, a huge underground source of water.

But Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, countered by saying that if Obama approves the tar sands pipeline, he's “basically saying yes to the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuel out there.”

“This decision has huge implications in terms of what direction we go in as a nation in the near term in addressing climate,” he said.

350.org says that rerouting the Keystone XL pipeline does nothing to keep it from being a "crazy" and "dangerous" idea. "Even if it doesn’t spill," the group says, the pipeline "would add 900,000 barrels of oil worth of carbon each day to the earth’s atmosphere, or as much as the new auto efficiency regulations would save. It would, in other words, cancel out the whole long fight to increase auto mileage. Those tarsands are still the dirtiest energy on the planet."

The action on Sunday will take place at the White House immediately following a presentation of the 350-led "Do The Math" event event at the Warner Theater in downtown Washington, DC.  The stop in the nation's capital is part of the group's 23-city national tour which aims to widen the climate justice movement in the US, including a new campaign designed specifically calling for a fossil fuel divestment initiatives at universities and colleges.

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