“I refuse to condemn your generation, and future generations, to a planet that is beyond fixing. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change.”
President Obama stepped up his game today on the issue of climate change, committing to several strong actions to curb dangerous climate pollution from coal power plants, build resilient communities to deal with extreme weather events, and foster clean energy investments around the world.
The speech was peppered with notable nods to the movement-building work undertaken by the environmental community, especially the clear shout-out to Bill McKibben and 350.org with the “invest and divest” line towards the end.
And it was a rough day for climate deniers, who again took multiple shots to the chin from the commander in chief, who said he doesn't have the “patience for anyone who denies that this problem is real. We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm.” [Salon.com notes the president of the actual Flat Earth Society accepts climate science, adding insult to injury for climate deniers.]
But perhaps the most important thing the president did today was to confirm that the fate of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be determined chiefly based on its climate impact - whether the pipeline will produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions - firmly cementing the issue of climate change as the central determining factor in the president's mind.
Here is what the president said:
I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline — the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. The State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.
But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.
Powerful words from a powerful leader. Now let's see how that all shakes out in reality.
It's too bad that the president pivoted from this great point on Keystone XL to bizarre and unfortunate cheerleading of natural gas fracking. But that's another story.
What is clear from this moment forward is that if President Obama intends to hold true to his word, both today and in his prior climate change commitments, there is no way that he can approve Keystone XL.
There will certainly be attempts by TransCanada and the State Department to waffle and pull technical backflips to claim that Keystone XL will not increase GHG emissions. But those would be extremely awkward public relations moves, with no basis in logic or fact.
Of course Keystone XL will increase carbon emissions. Its sole purpose for existence is to connect Canada’s filthy tar sands with export markets in Asia, Europe, and South America, leaving behind a hefty dose of pollution to impact American communities along the Gulf coast's refinery row.
And this doesn't even account for inevitable pipeline spills like the one in Mayflower, Arkansas that has created the first U.S. tar sands refugees who will never return to their homes thanks to toxic diluted bitumen flooding their neighborhood.
The climate action community will surely remind the president of these facts repeatedly - you can't be a leader on climate action if you're a willing accomplice in accelerating the expansion of one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.
If President Obama's words today are sincere, Keystone XL is doomed, as it should be.