Even as environmentalists celebrated the news that TransCanada asked the U.S. State Department to suspend its consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline, many of those same groups said they smelled a "rat," demanding that President Obama call the company's bluff and reject this $8 billion "climate disaster" once and for all.
On Monday, TransCanada Corporation sent a letter (pdf) to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting the department to suspend its review of the Presidential Permit application for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, citing ongoing litigation in Nebraska over the pipeline route.
Environmental groups, which for years have fought an impressive grassroots battle against the international project, said the request was an indication that the pipeline giant knew it would not win approval under the current administration. Thus, TransCanada is calling a "timeout," hoping to push the decision ahead to a time when the declining oil markets—and perhaps government leadership—are more in their favor.
"This is a desperate play by a company that knows it's on thin ice," states a petition launched by climate group 350.org. It continues: "By calling for a suspension, TransCanada is hoping to avoid the pre-election rejection by President Obama that many are predicting. They are playing for time, hoping that by leaving the project in limbo they can avoid losing outright—and that maybe a year from now all those pesky activists will have gone away."
"By calling for a suspension, TransCanada is hoping to avoid the pre-election rejection by President Obama that many are predicting. They are playing for time, hoping that by leaving the project in limbo they can avoid losing outright—and that maybe a year from now all those pesky activists will have gone away."
"Clearly TransCanada has lost and they recognize that," said 350.org founder Bill McKibben. "It’s one of the great victories for this movement in decades." However, with the 2016 presidential election still up for grabs, McKibben noted that this move is clearly TransCanada "asking for extra time from the referees, and clearly hoping they’ll get a new head official after the election."
He concluded that it's time for "the current umpire, President Obama," to reject this "climate disaster" once and for all and "go to Paris as the first world leader to stop a major project because of its effect on the climate."
The Keystone XL "pause" is but the latest indication that the tide is shifting away from these massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects—including new pipelines and Arctic oil exploration—whether as result of a changing energy market, the growing climate movement, or the too-big-to-ignore effects of a warming planet.
As Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, noted, "TransCanada is just the latest rat to flee the sinking tar sands ship. Shell canceled its big tar sands project last week, and the whole sector is under stress from a combination of low oil prices and lack of market access. And when I say 'lack of market access' I mean 'a continental movement that is stopping all new tar sands pipelines and defending our land and the climate.'"
"Bottom line," Kretzmann added, "the Keystone XL pipeline has been defeated by the movement with an assist from the markets—it only remains for the President to reject the permit and call an end to this."
Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said, "This is a victory for the farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and environmentalists that banded together to stand up to big oil."
Pica said that Obama "should deny TransCanada on two fronts: First he should deny TransCanada’s request for a suspension and then he should deny them a Presidential permit. Killing the pipeline once and for all is the only fair thing Obama could do for the sake of the climate and the people along the route, whose lives would be impacted by this project."
The 350.org petition which urges Obama to heed the call for this two-fold rejection is already gaining traction. It proclaims: "It's time."