As signals emit from Washington that President Obama may well approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, champions of a green energy future are using their growing ranks—and not a little political outrage—to ramp up their opposition against the project.
Following comments made in both his second inaugural address and subsequently in the State of the Union, environmentalists say that Obama cannot live up to his rhetoric on climate change while also greenlighting the proposed tar sands pipeline.
And in the wake of a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) released on Friday by the State Department, opponents of the pipeline—though they think the State Department is "deeply flawed," "absurd" and an example of "outrageous malpractice"—are furious that the report potentially creates political cover for Obama should he choose to approve the project.
On the night of his 2012 re-election victory, Obama anounced: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
But if he approves this pipeline, climate activists say, a warmer planet is exactly the gift he'll be leaving for future generations.
“We’re building a movement. But if [Obama] says yes to the pipeline, he’s going to be telling that movement he doesn’t need them." – Daniel Kessler, 350.org
As one-time White House adviser, ardent Obama supporter, and pipeline opponent Van Jones said to CNN over the weekend, if the project is approved it will become known as "Obama's pipeline."
If Obama sanctions the Keystone XL, he said, the "first thing that pipeline will run over is the president on his climate policy."
"This is going to be game on for the president," Jones said. "What happens if you get the 'Obama Pipeline' and it leaks? His legacy could be the worst oil disaster in America farmland history."
Chief among the opponents' many criticisms of the SEIS is the claim made by the State Department that development of the tar sands in Alberta would not be significantly impacted by the pipeline, arguing that with or without Keystone XL the reserves will be extracted and exported by other means.
Critics reject that premise as an outright falsity.
"Firstly, the obvious point is that if this were so true, why would the Canadian government and the oil industry be spending millions of dollars on one of the most intense lobbying campaigns ever in order to build it?" writes Andy Rowell at the Price of Oil blog on Tuesday. "They know, and we know, it is central to their expansion idea."
As Jones made clear to CNN, the importance of the pipeline to tar sands development is actually the one thing that its proponents and its critics agree on.
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And Oil Change International, a longtime opponent of the project, said in a statement: "By absurdly concluding that the pipeline will not impact additional tar sands production, the State Department is overlooking the fact that the pipeline is likely to trigger at least 450,000 barrels per day of additional tar sands production capacity."
“The State Department’s conclusions are so off-base that they’re borderline absurd,” Daniel Kessler, a spokesman with climate group 350.org, told The Hill newspaper.
Despite the impact of the report, environmental campaigners are quick to point out that Obama has ultimate say and will ultimately be held responsible for the decision.
The Sierra Club, who along with 350.org and other groups in January gather nearly 50,0000 people to stage a rally against the pipeline in Washington, DC last month says, "It's impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously investing in the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet."
“We’re building a movement," added Kessler. "But if [Obama] says yes to the pipeline, he’s going to be telling that movement he doesn’t need them."
As the SEIS now enters a 45 day public comment period, the various groups aligned against the pipeline will use the time to urge their members to again raise their voice against the pipeline. The next several weeks will also see the ramping up of other actions, including possible civil disobedience, additional public outreach, and applying direct political pressure on elected officials.
As Jones said, the question is "Will Obama give the right rhetoric to the environmentalists, but the right result to big oil and big polluters? If so, the President is trying to straddle something that will prove very difficult for him in 2014."
And The Hill adds:
Green groups saw many of their favored House and Senate candidates triumph in the 2012 elections. They say the grassroots excitement that drove those victories will evaporate in 2014 if Obama comes down on the side of the oil-and-gas industry in the pipeline battle.
“I think if he says yes to Keystone that does turn a lot of folks off. We’ve poured so much energy, so much enthusiasm in this fight,” Peter LaFontaine, an energy policy advocate with the National Wildlife Federation, told The Hill. “I think, being perfectly frank, they lose a pretty big chunk of the electorate that’s stood with them in tough times.”
Watch the Van Jones interview on CNN here: