President Obama announced his rejection today of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the Alberta-to-Gulf of Mexico project threatened to undermine an effort to combat global warming.
Speaking in the White House Roosevelt Room and joined by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, Obama stressed the importance of U.S. leadership in a global push on climate change.
"That’s the biggest risk we face. Not acting," he said. "Today we continue to lead by example."
The Obama administration, led by the State Department, has been reviewing TransCanada’s request to build the cross-border portion of the pipeline for seven years. Kerry and Obama had met several times in recent weeks, including this morning in the Oval Office.
"The State Department had decided that the Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the national interests of the United States," Obama said. "I agree with that decision."
In his brief remarks, Obama tried to explain why the administration didn’t believe the pipeline was in the national interest.
Referring to both supporters and opponents of KXL, he said the issue had acquired an "overinflated role in our political discourse."
The project, he said, was neither a "silver bullet" for the economy nor a "climate disaster."
Instead, the president said, allowing the transport of "Canadian crude oil through our heartland" would not make a meaningful contribution to long-term economic health, lower gasoline prices or improve U.S. energy security.
Obama said gasoline prices have already been falling, the economy has been growing and the United States has been producing more of its own oil, reducing imports.
But the president added that there’s a need to "keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them." He touted U.S. leadership ahead of the upcoming Paris talks aimed at producing a long-term global agreement on curbing greenhouse gases.
New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had expressed disappointment in the pipeline decision, Obama said.
But, the president added, "we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues … should provide the basis for even closer coordination."
For his part, Kerry said, "The critical factor in my determination was this: Moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change."
Earlier this week, TransCanada asked the administration to pause its review of KXL because of uncertainty over project permitting in Nebraska. But the White House was cold to the suggestion, and State quickly rejected the company’s bid.
Pipeline supporters reiterated arguments that the project would create jobs and not have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, according to State’s environmental reviews.
"We are disappointed with the President’s decision to deny the Keystone XL application," TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a statement. "Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science — rhetoric won out over reason."
Girling said his company was reviewing the details of the decision for a possible next move.
"Today’s decision cannot be reconciled with the conclusions of the State Department’s comprehensive seven year review of the project," he said.
American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said, "The administration has turned its back on our closest ally and trading partner. It’s ironic that our administration would strike a deal allowing Iranian crude on the market and deny Canada" the same access.
Gerard urged Congress to step in to approve the project.
"I don’t think this issue goes away; in fact, it may even intensify it," he said during a conference call. "We are not giving up on this."
Earlier this year, Congress approved KXL’s border crossing, only to see Obama veto the legislation. It’s unclear whether lawmakers will take another stab at the issue. A rejection may pressure some past opponents of legislative action to switch their position.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) had expressed willingness to force the president to make up his mind about KXL if delays continued. But King has also questioned congressional intervention in an executive process.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, "A decision this poorly made is not symbolic, but deeply cynical. It does not rest on the facts — it continues to distort them. It is a triumph of fringe politics over sound policy. And it sends a deeply negative signal to all who want to invest in America — because this administration has yet again shown it is willing to stand in the way of robust growth and a secure future."
In contrast, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said, "I want to thank the Obama administration for protecting the health of the American people and the health of the planet by rejecting the ill-advised Keystone tar sands pipeline, which would have brought the filthiest oil known to humankind into our country in large amounts."
The president’s decision will also likely inject more talk of KXL into the presidential campaigns, including during tonight’s Democratic forum in South Carolina.
The Democratic candidates — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — have all expressed their opposition. Republican hopefuls generally back the project.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said on Twitter: "The Obama Admin’s politically motivated rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline is a self-inflicted attack on the U.S. economy and jobs."
Bill McKibben, founder of the group 350.org, said, "President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate."
McKibben, one of the top opponents of KXL over the years, added, "That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight."
Reporter Geof Koss contributed.