Getting Action: Keystone XL Denied, Big Oil Incredulous

by Ben Brouwer

On Wednesday the Obama Administration rejected TransCanada’s permit application for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, handing another victory to a strategic and successful climate campaign.  Now it’s on to Round 3 in a fight that won’t end with the President’s latest dismissal of the pipeline. In a rare defeat for Big Oil, industry promoters and Congressional Republicans were fuming.


Credit: Emma Cassidy for tarsandsaction


The Democracy Center’s recently released strategy brief shares insight from some of the key organizers and activists who succeeded in forcing the Obama Administration to delay its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline permit until after the 2012 election, and then ultimately gave him the political cover to deny the permit yesterday.

This high-stakes political battle focuses on the question of whether a pipeline will be built to carry oil sands crude from Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. Keystone XL would dangerously expedite the energy-intensive exploitation of the oil sands with grave consequences for the climate, according to NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen. Moreover, the project would be a tremendous threat to water supplies, farmland and ecosystems vulnerable to ruptures in the pipeline.

Here’s a quick update on the evolution of this issue in the last few months.

  • November 10, 2011: The Obama Administration announces that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will be delayed until after the November 2012 election.  Environmental groups that had fought hard for an outright denial of the pipeline permit are pleased with the President’s delay and declare victory.
  • December 6: Congressional Republicans quickly find a way to force an earlier decision on the permit therefore ensuring that the pipeline will remain an election-year issue: they threaten to tie approval of the permit to must-pass payroll tax cut legislation.
  • December 7: In a press briefing with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (a vocal supporter of the pipeline), President Obama declares that he will veto payroll tax cut legislation that is hitched to approval of the pipeline: “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject.”
  • December 12: The State Department explains that a rushed timeline will not allow for adequate, legal review of a new pipeline route.
  • December 14: Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director, says via Twitter, “The House bill simply shortens the review process in a way that virtually guarantees that the pipeline will NOT be approved.”
  • December 23: Ultimately the House and Senate pass a payroll tax cut extension that includes a provision mandating a State Department decision on the pipeline in 60 days. Obama signs it, despite earlier protests. The law requires a decision on Keystone XL by February 21, 2012.
  • January 10, 2012: MapLight, a California-based independent research group, releases a report identifying $12 million in payments from the oil industry to Congressional supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, in just the past two years.
  • January 12: The oil industry, US Chamber of Commerce, Congressional Republicans and other pipeline supporters, including some trade unions and Democratic lawmakers, step up their campaign for approval of the pipeline threatening election year consequences if the permit is denied.
  • January 18: The Obama Administration’s State Department rejects the Keystone XL permit application, while leaving the door open to a new application with a route around ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska.

Environmental groups have vowed that they will continue to fight back against industry pressure for pipeline approval, seeking to discredit TransCanada’s job creation figures with an independent study from Cornell University that cites a significantly lower number of long term jobs.  Opponents of the pipeline are also taking aim at Congressional supporters by pointing out the millions of dollars from dirty energy businesses and front groups that have landed in their campaign coffers.

The strategic focus on the “power of money in Congress” is timely: it builds on the popular discontent with corporate power that has been renewed by the Occupy movement and amplified by unfettered “Super PAC” election spending. The international climate action organization,, is calling for a rally at Congress on January 24 in which activists will dress in referee uniforms and “blow the whistle on Big Oil corruption.”

Crucially, this strategy confronts the deepest root cause of climate change: the unyielding power of the dirty energy lobby in US policy making. If it succeeds in the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, there is hope that this strategy will be able to break down barriers to the systematic economic and energy reforms that are required for the health, prosperity and security of this and future generations.

In our recently released campaign brief you can find out more about the strategies and tactics Keystone XL opponents have used to win this battle. Also stay tuned for a new series of profiles showcasing the successful strategies of climate change campaigners around the world.   


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6 Responses to Getting Action: Keystone XL Denied, Big Oil Incredulous

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yawn. Election year politics. I give the suspension a few months. Oil sands production is here to stay.

  2. klem says:

    “Now it’s on to Round 3 in a fight that won’t end with the President’s latest dismissal of the pipeline.”

    You have already lost. The XL pipeline already crosses the border into the USA. This part that has been rejected is merely a new branch from the old line that went online in 2010. Which Obama agreed to, by the way. Why are lefty’s so behind the times?

    Read this from Wikipedia about the Keystone XL pipeline:

    “The 3,456 kilometres (2,147 mi) long pipeline runs from Hardisty, Alberta to the United States refineries in Wood River, Illinois and Patoka, Illinois.[32] The Canadian section involves approximately 864 kilometres (537 mi) of pipeline converted from the Canadian Mainline natural gas pipeline and 373 kilometres (232 mi) of new pipeline, pump stations and terminal facilities at Hardisty, Alberta. The United States section is 2,219 kilometres (1,379 mi) long.[33] It runs through Buchanan, Clinton and Caldwell counties in Missouri, and Nemaha, Brown and Doniphan counties in Kansas. Phase 1 went online in June 2010.”

    • Raja says:

      I have no real way to evaluate the fccieafy of POTUS statements, however, we can evaluate the fruits of not approving the Keystone Pipeline. You summarize it quite well, however, with all due respect it is actually much worse.If these policies aren’t reversed we have likely done worse than simply “ticked off” Canada. You see the global realities are Canada needs a customer for this oil much more than China needs to be buy from Canada. Every business person knows the key to success is keeping the customer happy and keeping the supplier happy. In this case, the supplier needs the customer much more than the customer needs the supplier. As such, this relatioship heavily favors China. Canada will want to keep the Chinese customer happy. The Chinese will not make this free. We should expect Canada’s foreign policy to gravitate toward what Bejing would approve of. Essentaily we should expect China to become actively hostile to the United States in the coming years. If Mr. Obama and his team had ANY business acumen, they would have seen this result of not approving the pipeline coming from a million miles away. Hopefully these policies can still be reveresed by Mr. Obama changing course or by a new POTUS but it may already be to late. The deal between China and Canada has likely already been agrred to. In the short to mid term we should expect a large contingent of Chinese forces to be deployed to Canada arrayed in a way where they can threaten America. The exuces will be that it is being done to protect China’s oil supply. The media will buy it and will be just fine with it. In reality, these forces will be sent to threaten America. All of this is easily predictable by anyone with any business sense. Mr. Obama either has no such sense, is evil, or is blinded by his ideology.

  3. Dediche says:

    the plnieipe route. I?ve seen less criticism of the far more impressive 250,000 number (though this is one exception). That?s a shame, since while the number is being invoked prominently, the