President Obama on Friday rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, bringing an end to a seven-year review process that had become a high-profile political battle and a stand-in for a larger debate about the climate and the economy.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said that the State Department had decided that the “would not serve the national interests” of the United States. “I agree with that decision,” he said. Still, the president made it clear that he thought the political focus on the project was overblown. “For years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied an overinflated role in our political discourse.”
The announcement comes only days after the administration rejected a request from TransCanada, the company seeking to build the project, to pause the review—a move that was widely seen as an attempt to postpone a final decision until after Obama was out of office.
The proposed $8 billion project would have carried 830,000 barrels of carbon-heavy crude per day from Alberta’s oil sands to Nebraska en route to Gulf Coast refineries. Environmentalists and their climate-conscious allies argued that the pipeline would significantly accelerate the development of oil sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. While the project itself would have had only a marginal impact on global emissions, opponents were desperate for Obama to block the pipeline to send a clear message that he’s serious about curbing U.S. carbon emissions. Industry groups and their more business-focused friends, meanwhile, couldn’t fathom putting concerns about the climate above the nation’s near-term economic and national security interests.
Obama, though, had long maintained that he couldn’t decide one way or the other until his administration had finished reviewing the proposal, a noncommittal answer that frustrated nearly everyone involved in the debate. (Obama vetoed a Republican attempt to fast-track construction earlier this year, but he was careful to make his opposition to that bill about the process of Congress approving the pipeline, not to the pipeline itself.)
The final decision comes two months after Hillary Clinton—who oversaw a portion of the review process while secretary of state—finally came out against the project. She had long refused to weigh in on the issue, saying that it would have been inappropriate for her to give an opinion one way or the other while the review process was ongoing. Ultimately, though, she said she felt voters needed to know where she stood on the issue. (She’d previously given the climate crowd plenty of reasons to think she was open to the pipeline’s construction.)
Obama’s decision should give the president some momentum heading into the U.N. climate talks in Paris next month, when he’ll need to convince other world leaders that the U.S. government is serious about combating man-made global warming—no easy task given the actions of Congress.