Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Though celebratory, groups warn that a veto does not mean the end of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: White House/Pete Souza)

Proving That 'Activism Works,' Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill

Jubilant groups rally to tell the president that it's time to reject tar sands pipeline 'once and for all'

Lauren McCauley

Following years of fierce environmental campaigning by a grassroots movement against the monied fossil fuel industry, President Barack Obama on Tuesday vetoed a Congressional bill approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Only the third veto by this president, many hope that the action marks the end of a six-year approval process for an $8 billion pipeline project that would carry synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca tar sands mines in Alberta, Canada and connect to the completed portion of the pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska, which then would carry the oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Though White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president's rejection would occur without "a lot of drama or fanfare," reaction was immediately jubilant as many saw the move as a huge win for the climate movement.

May Boeve, Executive Director of, which spearheaded the fight against the Keystone pipeline, heralded the move as "conclusive proof that activism works."

"After four years of rallies, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, we’re thrilled to see President Obama take an important first step by vetoing this love letter to Big Oil," Boeve continued.

A coalition of environmental groups is holding a celebration outside of the White House in Lafayette Park.

Organized by, Indigenous Environmental Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, Energy Action Coalition, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth, the rally is to let the President know that, while the veto is "a strong step in the right direction," that he must reject the pipeline "once and for all."

AP reports that the executive veto will put "a freeze on a top GOP priority—at least for now."

And as Bill Snape, Senior Counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, explained to Common Dreams, the veto does not necessarily stop the pipeline. "Hopefully the president will reject the project," Snape said.

As Snape notes, Tuesday's veto is simply a rebuff of what Obama deems Congressional overreach. The Keystone pipeline still awaits a permit by the Secretary of State while the administration says that it will continue to weigh the so-called merits of the project. Obama has said he will not approve a project that significantly increases U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide.

Noting that other recent actions by the president have been less climate-friendly, Snape added: "And double hopefully, the president will reject harmful offshore oil drilling and public lands fracking as well. But we have a lot more work to do there."  

In a statement, Greenpeace U.S. Executive Director Annie Leonard echoed the idea that other climate fights await. "The State Department needs to put the final nail in the coffin of Keystone XL, so we can focus on the real opportunity ahead: building America’s new, clean energy economy," Leonard said.

Despite the much-anticipated rejection, Republican leaders vowed their continued support for the legislation, which was ushered through both chambers of the GOP-led Congress earlier this year.

"The allure of appeasing environmental extremists may be too powerful for the president to ignore," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday. "But the president is sadly mistaken if he thinks vetoing this bill will end this fight. Far from it."

Ahead of the veto, more than a hundred artists, actors, First Nations leaders, environmentalists and other leaders—including Willie Nelson, Naomi Klein, Van Jones, Laura Poitras, Thom Yorke, Norman Lear, Rebecca Solnit and James Hansen, among others—sent a letter to the president urging his full rejection of the pipeline.

The unity letter, circulated by, says that a few key points have emerged in the years-long campaign.

First, the letter states, "most of those who care about this project oppose it, and with an intensity matched by few issues in recent time." Citing the Tribal Nations and farmers who were the first to resist the project because of its threat to their beloved land, the letter says that the passionate opposition "spread over time to climate scientists, college students, moms, financial experts, many trade unionists, renewable energy proponents, nurses, artists and an ever-growing swath of the general population."

The second point, the group notes, is that more and more studies have shown that tar sands pose an undeniable threat to the ever-warming planet. "There is no way to reconcile this pipeline with a serious climate policy," the letter states.

"Rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline will powerfully demonstrate your commitment to stopping the rising of the oceans, set the stage for further climate action and build a legacy worth sharing."

Last, all of the arguments for the pipeline—jobs, energy independence, inevitability—have been clearly refuted, showing the true colors of the project as a "classic boondoggle, whose only beneficiaries will be a handful of rich oil companies while our families take on all the risk."

The group concludes saying they fully support the president's veto, predicting that it is an action sure to shape Obama's climate legacy.

"Many of the choices that define a presidency come by accident or chance," they write. "But this one is firmly in your control. Climate change will be a defining issue of this century. Rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline will powerfully demonstrate your commitment to stopping the rising of the oceans, set the stage for further climate action and build a legacy worth sharing."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Acidification of Arctic Happening Up to 4 Times Faster Than Other Oceans

The research followed reports that the Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the Earth as a whole.

Julia Conley ·

Despite Nearly 80% of Voters in Favor, House Dems Stall on Stock Trading Ban

"Existing ethics laws do not go far enough to prevent members of Congress from using the information they have access to for personal gain. No more excuses. No more delays. It's time for action."

Jessica Corbett ·

Analysis Exposes Taxpayer Billions 'Wasted' on Dead-End Carbon Capture Schemes

Food & Water Watch said "this track record should elicit serious concern" as Congress dumps billions more into failed carbon capture technology.

Jake Johnson ·

House Dems Urge Biden to Push for Removal of Climate-Denying World Bank President

"We need a World Bank Group leader who fully appreciates the threat of climate change and the need to accelerate the global transition to a clean just energy future to improve living standards, reduce poverty, and encourage sustainable growth."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Let's Pass Medicare for All,' Says Jayapal as Survey Spotlights Failures of For-Profit System

"When the 'all-time low' of uninsured Americans is still 26 MILLION, something needs to change," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo