Obama's Climate Legacy and the Keystone XL Pipeline
By Michael Marx, Director, Beyond Oil Campaign
Nuance is lost on history. In the years to come, daily decisions on thousands of issues will be compressed into one or two that will come to define President Obama—and our time. Barack Obama's legacy as 44th president of the United States of America begins to take shape the moment his second term begins. The short list of those issues, including gun violence and immigration reform, is pretty clear. But the core of President Obama's legacy will rest squarely on his response, his resolve, and his leadership on solving climate disruption.
This week, the Sierra Club is launching its Obama Climate Legacy and Clean Energy Project. Only the president of the United States can lead a response to climate disruption on the scale we need. The president must fire up our clean-energy economy, challenge Big Oil, and stand up to the political and PR bullies who promote the industry and oil profits above all other American interests. 2013 must be the year of climate solutions, and the first step President Obama must take is to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
On Sunday, February 17, Presidents Day Weekend, thousands of Americans will gather in Washington, D.C., for the Forward on Climate rally. Part of the Sierra Club's Obama Climate Legacy 100 Days of Action, this will be the largest climate rally in U.S. history, and we want you there to demonstrate to the White House the urgency of moving Forward on Climate in 2013.
America can and must get this done, and the world will follow. The American people get it: The climate debate is over. A groundswell of Americans across 50 states has spoken out against carbon-intensive extreme tar sands oil. These conscientious objectors to Big Oil understand that clean air and water, the health of our children, and reversing climate disruption must come first. They know it's time for America to move beyond oil, beyond coal, and beyond natural gas.
The American public is drawing a line in the sand on the most extreme forms of fossil fuels: tar sands, oil shale, and oil drilled from Arctic and deep ocean waters. They have made rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline the frontline in the fight to stop climate disruption. Keystone XL is the next great test of Obama's presidency. The president alone will decide the fate of the pipeline, laying the foundation for his legacy.
Four years ago, President-elect Obama made it clear that he understood the challenge and the immediacy of climate disruption. "Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all," he said in November 2008. "Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response."
The president made impressive strides in his first term, directing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas pollution for the first time, doubling the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks, and supporting the clean energy industry. But his "all of the above" energy policy leaves the door open to extreme oil sources and fracking. It's a free pass for an oil industry whose careless pollution of air and water and all-out war on climate science is premised on the complicity of a nation unwilling to confront its dependence on oil.
A year ago, the president put the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal on hold and directed the State Department to redo a weak scientific review of the project. Building the 1,700-mile pipeline would destroy the property of farmers and ranchers across the American heartland and put rivers, streams, and underground aquifers that millions of American depend on for drinking water at severe risk of toxic spills.
TransCanada, the company behind the project, has lied, intimidated landowners, and has a dismal safety record of spills on its existing tar sands pipelines, cutting corners and threatening the safety of workers and neighbors. Rejecting Keystone XL must be the next step President Obama takes to reverse climate disruption. America can no longer wait to turn this crisis around. Climate solutions must be this president's legacy.
And ultimately, it's not just the president's legacy. It's your legacy and mine. It's the legacy of all citizens of early 21st-century America. We can lead the world in a clean-energy revolution, and in doing so transform and strengthen our economy and our democracy. We can, and we must, leave behind a safe and stable climate, and President Barack Obama must lead.