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November 19, 2012

Obama’s Best Chance to Lead on Climate: Reject Keystone XL


Yesterday was truly inspiring – one week after President Obama was handily re-elected to the Presidency, and one year after he delayed a final decision on the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, I joined 3,000 dedicated activists, along with 350.org’s Bill McKibben and Sierra Club President Allison Chin, in a march around the White House to demand that President Obama stay true to his word and take action to protect our climate.  The first action he should take: reject once and for all the dangerous and dirty Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

In the first press conference of his second term, President Obama addressed a question about climate change with the following:

"I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it."

I was inspired to see the leader I voted for four years ago and again last week make such a clear statement.  Yesterday we took to the streets to remind him that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is incompatible with this laudable commitment. This pipeline would unleash 900,000 barrels per day of the world’s dirties fuel onto the world market – something that Big Oil has not yet been able to accomplish, despite their billions of dollars in influence. By saying no to Keystone XL, President Obama would not only avoid the 27 million metric tons carbon pollution this project would entail, but he would send a clear signal to the world that the U.S. will no longer condone climate disaster.  American leadership is essential in spurring the global initiative required to truly avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change - and we must start now. Rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline is the perfect place to start.

As Sierra Club President Allison Chin said to the activists gathered at Freedom Plaza, “Mr. President, the tar sands are your climate legacy. It's what you do here that history will remember. Solving climate disruption is must be one of our nation's top priorities, and those climate solutions will create the jobs we need, they will free our democracy from Big Oil and Big Coal's control.”


Tar sands oil is the dirtiest source of oil on the planet, and an expanded tar sands oil industry is simply incompatible with a safe climate future. Derived from a near-solid hydrocarbon called bitumen, the process of turning this sandy, tar-like substance into oil is incredibly energy and water intensive. Bitumen must first be strip-mined or melted out from beneath the Albertan Boreal Forest, then washed with huge amounts of hot water that is then dumped into massive, toxic tailings. To be transported, the bitumen is then mixed with natural gas condensate and pumped at high temperatures and pressures through pipelines inevitably prone to failure. In the end, creating a barrel of tar sands oil generates approximately three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as creating a barrel of conventional crude oil. At a time of increasingly dire climate disruption, we can’t afford to move to increasingly destructive sources of energy. 

More and more Americans agree that it is time to take action to protect our climate. A new study has recently shown that 75% of Americans support regulating greenhouse gases as a pollutant.

On Presidents’ Day—February 18, 2013, thousands of us will return to Washington, DC to remind President Obama that climate protection must be among his top priorities, solving climate disruption must be his legacy. We hope you’ll join us in February!

--Lena Moffitt, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club

Photos: Jim Dougherty 


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