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December 19, 2013

Lucky '13: Big Year for the Beyond Oil Campaign

Reject-Keystone-XL

By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director

I've never been superstitious, but looking back on 2013 it's likely that oil company executives will be. In 2013 the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign made huge strides in blocking some of the most polluting and carbon-intensive sources of oil. I’m especially proud of our successes when I compare the size of our campaign to the industry we’re taking on. Big Oil counts their profits in billions. They have an all-star bench of power brokers -– from lobbyists and PR firms to former administration officials, members of Congress, and the Prime Minister of Canada. Very impressive. But in 2013 a ragtag group of citizens, community groups, and environmental organizations have changed the calculus on Alberta tar sands and fired up a national climate movement. This will go down as the year that oil executives reached for their rabbit's feet and wondered just where their luck went.

In 2013 Keystone XL took center stage as the test of our commitment to address climate disruption. We kicked off Lucky '13 with Forward on Climate, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Fifty thousand people joined us on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for a new kind of environmental action. Forward on Climate was an invitation to the president to match the strong words in his second inaugural address with decisive action on coal, fracking, protecting the arctic, and stopping the tar sands pipeline. It was a cold day, but we sent a burning message that Americans are ready to act on climate.

The Keystone XL fight will continue into 2014, and maybe even beyond. But in the five years since Keystone XL was first proposed, we've fought the project to a standstill and kept at least 200 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere. We’ve turned a rubber stamp from the State Department into a new climate test for this and ultimately all new oil projects.

As the president laid out in his historic climate speech this summer, he will not approve this pipeline if it "significantly exacerbates carbon pollution." And certainly it would. That's why people are speaking up against this pipeline like never before. In the spring we and our partners gathered 1.2 million comments from American citizens taking the State Department to task for its faulty environmental review. We joined hundreds of citizens in Grand Island, Nebraska, for the State Department public hearing -- and hundreds met the president, vice president, and secretary of state as they traveled to more than 40 events around the nation. At one of these events in North Carolina, Vice President Joe Biden reached out to our great volunteer Elaine Cooper and told her, "I'm with you, but I'm in the minority."

Our report, FAIL: How Keystone XL Flunks the Climate Test, lays out the evidence that tar sands expansion is not inevitable (as the State Department contended in its draft environmental review), and that Keystone XL is a climate disaster in the making. It turns out that people who know the truth about tar sands, and know the risks of this pipeline, are quick to join us in the minority. And like all causes on the just side of history, we won't remain the minority for long.

Keystone XL may take the year's the top billing, but we also made great progress fighting for stronger regulations for railroad transportation of tar sands and other dangerous crude oil. We challenged tar sands refinery expansions in Delaware and export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. And we set a new standard for tar sands pipelines, so all proposals to move dangerous crude will now face the same level of scrutiny that Keystone XL faces.

We also fought for solutions. In 2013 we launched our Future Fleet campaign to push some of the nation's largest oil consumers -- including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo -- to slash their use of oil, and to stop using fuel refined from toxic tar sands altogether. Our work as part of the Clean Cars Coalition convinced eight governors to make a joint commitment to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles like electric cars onto the road in their states by 2025. We co-organized events to promote electric vehicles in nearly 100 cities with more than 36,000 people attending, and conducted thousands of test rides on the third annual National Plug In Day. The EPA released its Fuel Economy Trends Report in December, showing the second-largest annual increase in fuel efficiency in the last 30 years, reaching an all-time high of 23.6 mpg. Since President Obama took office, fuel economy has increased 12 percent, thanks to the vehicle standards he has put in place after years of advocacy work by the Sierra Club and our allies.

I've never been one to knock on wood, avoid a sidewalk crack, or hang a horseshoe. There's nothing magical about the success of the beyond oil campaign in 2013. It's the result of a hardworking, determined team of staff and volunteers who are standing toe to toe with the biggest, most powerful industry in the world -- a team of people in every state, who represent every imaginable cross-section of America, but who share an unfailing belief that we must move our nation beyond oil. That's bad news for Big Oil, because we are a movement that's only just begun our fight. And as I look forward to 2014, I don't need a four-leaf clover to know that we can expect more success ahead.

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