Significance of President Obama’s Keystone Decision

Yesterday’s announcement by United States President Barack Obama successfully concludes the most extensive grassroots campaign since the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s.


According to the New York Times yesterday, “Both sides saw the Keystone rejection as a major symbolic step, a sign that the president was willing to risk angering a bipartisan majority of lawmakers in the pursuit of his environmental agenda.  And both supporters and critics of Mr. Obama saw the surprisingly powerful influence of environmental activists in the decision.”

In 2011 when this campaign began most of us had never heard about tar sands.  First Nations people in Canada unfortunately began to experience the effects of tar sands mining because the people lived near the open pit mines and the lakes built to hold the toxic water produced in the process.  Environmentalists also became alarmed when the extent of the tar sands deposits became known.

Efforts to address these concerns were ignored.  The network of indigenous peoples in Canada organized, provided training in nonviolent civil disobedience, and were often successful in stopping the pipelines and massive trucks from traversing their lands.  But the massive mines continued to expand.

Environmental leaders in the United States recognized this as an opportunity to do something similar, and launched an Internet campaign to organize the movement here.  This has been controversial within the environmental community, as many thought the focus on the Keystone XL pipeline was too narrow, and even if Keystone was stopped there were other pipelines and issues.  But others recognized the symbolic value, and an opportunity to build a nonviolence resistance movement, and to educate the public.  A movement has to have a very clear statement of the problem and a very specific goal if it is to have a chance of success.

Thus the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), CREDO, and the Other 98% formed The Keystone Pledge of Resistance.  A website was created to spread the word, and allow anyone to sign the following Pledge:

“I pledge, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline”

Stop Keystone Pipeline

Stop Keystone Pipeline

Over 97,000 signed the Pledge.  This was how people were able to join the movement–when they signed the Pledge, they were given the opportunity to provide their contact information, so organizers could form local groups and train these new activists.  As a Quakers I was fascinated by these ideas.

Also on the Pledge signup page was a way to indicate that you were interested in being trained to be a local Action Leader, which I did.  Based upon those responses, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) selected 25 cities in the US that had the most interest in Action Leader training, and during the summer of 2013, RAN activists held two day training sessions in each of those cities.  Indianapolis was not one, so I was trained in Des Moines, and it was really excellent training.  We were trained how to train others for nonviolent civil disobedience actions, and all of the things needed to organize those actions.

Returning to Indianapolis, I was put in touch with others from Indianapolis who had been trained in Cincinnati and St. Louis.  Over the past two years we’ve held six training sessions, and have trained about forty activists.  The Federal Building downtown was our target, and we had all of the roles filled, such as police liaison, press and media roles, and having a lawyer on board.

Everyone was also involved with any number of other environmental and social justice organizations, but because of the way we, the local Keystone Pledge of Resistance was organized, we were able to respond to a number of requests for national organizing days of action from groups like, etc.  We not only participated, but we organized many of their local events.  I’ve spent this much time on this to try to show that one of the most significant results of the Keystone issue has been the creation of a tightly connected network of people trained to organize and execute nonviolent civil disobedience actions.  I don’t believe that network will disappear just because this particular campaign has just come to its successful conclusion.


The ultimate decision, though, was President Obama’s to make, and I have the deepest respect for his decision to reject the Keystone pipeline application against the wishes of a bipartisan majority of Congress.  He explains his decision below.  It is clear he is using this symbolically, as a way to begin to assert some leadership by the United States in addressing our environmental crisis.  This is the real significance of his brave choice.


Video describing Keystone Pledge of Resistance

President Barack Obama, White House, November 6, 2015

Good morning, everybody.

Several years ago, the State Department began a review process for the proposed pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through our heartland to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and out into the world market.

This morning, Senator Kerry informed me that after extensive public outreach and consultation with other cabinet agencies, the State Department has decided that a Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States. I agree with that decision.

This morning, I also had the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada. And while he expressed his disappointment, given Canada’s position on this issue, we both agreed that are close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward.

And in the coming weeks, senior members of my team will be engaging with theirs in order to help deepen that cooperation.

Now for years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider and overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter.

And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.

To illustrate this, let me briefly comment on some of the reasons why the State Department rejected this pipeline.

First, the pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy. So if Congress is serious about wanting to create jobs, this was not the way to do it. If they want to do it, what we should be doing is passed bipartisan infrastructure plan that in the short term to create more than 30 times jobs per you than the pipeline would and in the long run, would benefit our economy and our workers for decades to come.

Our business has created 262,000 new jobs last month. They created 13.5 million new jobs over the past 68 straight months, the longest streak on record. The unemployment rate fell to 5 percent. This Congress should pass a serious infrastructure plan and keep those jobs coming. That would make a difference. The pipeline would not have made a serious impact on those numbers and on the American people’s prospects for the future.

Second, the pipeline would not lower gas prices for American consumers. In fact, gas prices have already been falling steadily. The national average gas price is down to about $0.77 over a year ago. It is down a dollar over two years ago. It is down $1.27 over three years ago.

Today in 41 states, drivers can find at least one gas station selling gas for less than two dollars a gallon. So while our politics have been consumed by debate over whether or not this pipeline would create jobs and lower gas prices, we have gone ahead and created jobs and lowered gas prices.

Third, shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security. What has increased America’s energy security is our strategy over the past several years to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world. Three years ago, I set a goal to cut our oil imports in half by 2020. Between producing more oil here and home and using less oil throughout our economy, we met that goal last year. Five years early. In fact, for the first time in two decades, the United States of America now produces more oil than we buy from other countries.

Now the truth is the United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition, as we must transition, to a clean energy economy. That transition will take some time. But it is also going more quickly than many anticipated. Think about it. Since I took office, we have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025. Tripled the power we generate from the wind, multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over. Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all in on clean energy. And thanks in part to the investments we have made, there are already parts of America were clean power from the wind or the sun is finally cheaper than dirtier conventional power. The point is, the old rule said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time. The old rule said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers.

But this is America and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules so today, homegrown energy is booming and energy prices are falling. And over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on earth. Today, the United States of America is leading on climate change with our investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.

America is leading on climate change with new rules on power plants that will protect our air so that our kids can breathe. America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. In part, because of that American leadership, more than 150 nations representing nearly 90 percent of global emissions, have put forward plans to cut global pollution.

America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. Frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership and that is the biggest risk that we face. Not acting.

Today, we’re continuing to lead by example, because ultimately, if we’re gonna prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re gonna have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.

As long as I’m president of the United States, America’s gonna hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world.

And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is — is now. Not later, not someday. Right here, right now.

And I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together. I’m optimistic because our own country proves every day, one step at a time, that not only do we have the power to combat this threat, we can do it while creating new jobs, while growing our economy, while saving money, while helping consumers, and most of all, leaving our kids a cleaner, safer planet at the same time.

That’s what our own ingenuity and actions can do. That’s what we can accomplish. And America’s prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward.

Thank you very much.

President Barack Obama

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3 Responses to Significance of President Obama’s Keystone Decision

  1. Alberta Kisling says:

    In todays paper Grassley and Ernst have made nasty statements against Obama . Would you send me a brief specific message I could send to them about why we should not build the pipeline.

    • jakisling says:

      Iowa representatives should join President Obama’s leadership in addressing the well documented, extensive environmental damage from fossil fuels. Iowa is a recognized leader in developing renewable energy, and its economy is benefiting from having attracted new business from large companies for that reason. Renewable energy capacity is increasing, and electrical rates from renewable sources are cheaper than from fossil fuel, and the industry is creating thousands of jobs. The Keystone pipeline would only have produced 38 long term jobs. The choice is clear–clean, cheap, job generating renewable energy versus polluting fossil fuel.

  2. Fran Quigley says:

    Jeff, congratulations to you and all those who made this remarkable grassroots campaign a success. The Keystone resistance provides a model for all human rights activists , including those of us working on living wages and access-to-medicines, to follow. Thank you for all your efforts, and for the inspiration they provide. Fran Quigley

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