WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama should reject Keystone XL before international climate negotiations in Paris, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and influential environmentalists said Wednesday.
Under that timeline, rejecting the proposed TransCanada Corp. pipeline could send an important signal to world leaders about the U.S. commitment to combating climate change, possibly emboldening negotiators and driving a stronger deal.
“I would hope very much that President Obama would stand up as soon as possible and say the Keystone pipeline is a no-brainer, you do not extract and transport some of the dirtiest fuel on earth,” Sanders said at a Capitol Hill rally on anti-drilling legislation.
The State Department on Wednesday said it was denying TransCanada’s request to suspend its long-running review of the project while a Nebraska commission evaluates the proposed route through that state. And White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated Tuesday that Obama still hopes to issue his verdict on Keystone XL before he leaves office.
Obama already has been critical of the project, which would span 1,179 miles and cross three states to deliver oil sands crude from Alberta to Steele City, Neb. He has questioned the number of jobs it would support, mused that the oil it transports might not remain in the United States and insisted he would only back Keystone XL if it “does not significantly exacerbate greenhouse gas pollution.”
There’s no reason to wait, environmentalists say.
“At this point, Keystone is so obvious,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who has led much of the campaign against the pipeline. “It’s been a ridiculous project from day one and now there’s more than room to come out and say that.”
It is not clear whether a Keystone XL rejection now would have a big impact on the negotiations in Paris that begin at the end of the month, but McKibben said it likely would reverberate at the summit.
“President Obama should say this fails my climate test,” McKibben said. “If he did that, he’d be among the first world leaders ever to say ‘Here’s a big project we’re not going to build because of its effect on climate.'”
“Going into Paris, that would provide some useful credibility,” McKibben added.
Even if Obama rejects the project — whether now or next year — TransCanada could reapply, possibly under the administration of a president with a more favorable view on Keystone XL. Republican presidential candidates have said they support the project, while Democrats Sanders and Hillary Clinton oppose it.
“I have zero doubt that if a Republican wins the presidential election on day one, the Keystone people will be back pushing,” Sanders said.
“If there is a Republican elected president it wouldn’t surprise me if three days later there is the Patriot Freedom Triple Happiness Oil Pipeline proposal coming down from the tar sands of Canada,” McKibben quipped.
But TransCanada and the shippers with contracted space on Keystone XL are exploring other options.
The Calgary-based company is continuing to forge ahead with its proposed Energy East pipeline that would ferry oil sands crude to Canada’s east coast.
And in the meantime, oil sands producers that are hoping to transport their crude on Keystone XL have turned to alternatives, including rail.