A 2011 protest against Keystone XL. (Photo: Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

Not In Our National Interest

President Obama took a big leap forward in the fight against climate change by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

From the moment permission was sought to run the Keystone XL dirty tar sands pipeline through the heartland of America, there has been one question before President Obama: Is this in our national interest?

It’s not, as the president made emphatic today in a decision that serves the national interest in three essential ways.

It sends a message that the breadbasket of America is not up for grabs to foreign oil companies that want to bully our ranchers, farmers, and community leaders into exposing the fertile lands of our forebears’ toil to the potential pipeline blowouts, disasters, and pollution that put our families, waters, and crops at risk.

It helps to protect one of the last truly wild places left on earth from one of the most destructive industrial processes ever devised, the tar sands mining that is forever destroying vast tracts of Canada’s boreal forest and bringing widespread ruin to the lives of countless native people who live there.

And it strikes a needed blow against the central environmental challenge of our time by averting the climate-disrupting carbon pollution from the dirty tar sands crude the pipeline would have shipped.

From the time it’s drilled, steamed, and gouged out of the ground until it’s refined and burned, tar sands fuel generates at least 17 percent more climate-disrupting carbon pollution than fuels from conventional crude oil. The U.S. State Department calculated that the incremental carbon pollution from crude shipped in the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be as much as putting up to 5.7 million additional cars on the road — about as many as are in the state of Pennsylvania.

The last thing we need to do is to lock our children and grandchildren into more of the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving climate change. There is a better way.

We can create jobs and do more with less waste by investing in efficiency. We can set the table for generations of prosperity by building, in this country, the best all-electric and hybrid cars anywhere. And we can drive American innovation and industry by getting more clean power from the wind and sun.

That’s the path to opportunity and progress: turning away from the dirty fossil fuels of the past and moving toward the clean energy solutions we know can power us forward into the 21st century.

There may be no higher purpose a president can serve than to stand up for our people, our resources, and our future. That’s what Obama did today in protecting the country from a reckless venture that would have put oil profits first and put the rest of us at risk.

This project was never about helping our country. It was a plan to send some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through the American heartland, crossing 1,073 of our waterways, from the great Yellowstone River in Montana to the Platte River of Nebraska, along with tens of thousands of acres of wetlands.

It would have exposed those waterways — and the hundreds of thousands of ranches, communities, and farms that depend on them for clean drinking water and irrigation — to the kinds of pipeline failures we’ve seen time and again, from the Santa Barbara beachfront last May to the Canadian province of Alberta just last summer.

And for what? A project that would have created 35 permanent jobs and sent crude to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, facilities that last year shipped more than 60 percent of their refined product overseas.

No wonder this project drew grassroots opposition from the very communities it threatened most. Those grassroots voices — from ranchers, farmers, community leaders, and others all across the American heartland — spoke for all of us in demanding this misguided project be stopped.

Tar sands mining has already destroyed enough of the boreal forest to cover the city of Chicago. Toxic tar sands waste pits near the mining sites cover an area larger than Washington, D.C., contaminating Alberta waters with three million gallons of contaminated waste every day, threatening the health and livelihood of indigenous people.

Killing the Keystone XL pipeline won’t end this destruction, but it will dramatically curtail its expansion. In a little more than a year, in fact, the oil industry itself has canceled more than 1.5 million barrels a day of tar sands production expansion, citing, in large part, a lack of pipeline capacity to get tar sands crude out of the forest.

In saying no to the tar sands pipeline, the president put the brakes on efforts to expand this epically destructive industrial practice. Looking to the future. Preparing our people for progress. Striking a blow against climate change. That’s what the president did today.

The president, though, did one thing more. He stood up to the special interests that think they can buy our government with enough campaign contributions and political arm-twisting.

Remember, in just the two years leading up to last November’s midterm elections, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $720 million to support its allies and agenda in Congress. And remember, too, that when House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, took control of both houses of Congress in January, the very first order of business on their agenda was to pass a bill to force approval of the dirty tar sands pipeline.

Obama’s response to the big polluters and their political front men was as clear as it was courageous. He vetoed the bill. Now he’s killed the pipeline. That’s what it means to stand up to special interests and stand up for the national interest.

Future generations won’t wonder why Obama took the action he took today. They’ll be grateful he had the vision to grasp the stakes in this call, the wisdom to discern the best course for the country, and the tenacity to stand up for our children.

That’s what we elect presidents to do in this country. This is what it looks like when they get it right.