WASHINGTON – Labor and environmental groups hailed President Obama’s Jan. 18 decision to block a pipeline that would carry tar sands crude oil 1,700 miles from western Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Kate Colarulli, associate director of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Oil Campaign,” said in an interview, “We’re really pleased that President Obama stood up for every-day Americans and listened to the health and safety concerns of the thousands of people who would be impacted by this pipeline.”

She rebutted arguments by the Republican right that his decision to halt construction of the pipeline will cost Obama votes next Nov. 6

“By making the right decision, by putting American families over oil company profits, Obama has energized his base,” she said. “Tar sands oil is really an environmental Armageddon. It is destroying the largest remaining eco-system in Western Canada. Tar sands is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in Canada, an environmental and health nightmare.”

She dismissed as a “false argument” oil company claims that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs. “Every dollar invested in renewable energy creates more jobs than dollars invested in tar sands oil,” she said.

Republican claims that they are trying to “create jobs” is “ludicrous,” Colarulli said. “The Republicans have done everything in their power to kill the different bipartisan jobs bills in Congress.”

Joe Uehlein, executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability echoed her arguments. “There will be no jobs on a dead planet,” Uehlein said. “Building the Keystone pipeline will throw open the spigot to the tar sands in Canada, considered the dirtiest oil on the planet and drive us ever closer to climate catastrophe.”

Uehlein added. “Hurricanes, floods and droughts are already having a devastating effect on American jobs and that is nothing compared to what will happen in the future if tar sands carbon and other greenhouse gases that cause climate change are not rapidly reduced.”

Uehlein, son of Julius Uehlein, a founder of the United Steelworkers, is himself a veteran member of several unions including the Steelworkers and the Laborers. “Rather than polluting pipelines, we need to create ‘climate jobs,’ that retrofit buildings, green our eroding water and transportation systems and build a new alternative infrastructure for the future,” he concluded.

Bill McKibben, a Vermont-based environmental journalist, founder of 350.org, praised the President for “a brave decision.”

350.org derives its name from 350 parts per million, the maximum safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere. For millions of years before the industrial epoch, it was 275 parts of CO2 per million. It is now 392 parts per million and rising rapidly.

350.org and Tar Sands Action organized a sitdown protest in front of the White House last August urging Obama to deny the pipeline permit. Last Nov. 6, 12,000 protesters surrounded the White House to repeat the demand. Four days later, Obama announced he had ordered a new environmental impact study and that the permit would not be considered until 2013.

But Republican lawmakers forced the issue just before the Christmas recess, inserting in a bill to extend tax cuts and unemployment compensation, an ultimatum that the president decide the pipeline issue within sixty days. Obama turned the tables on them with his decision, Jan. 18, to deny the permit, certain to inspire massive support for his reelection—and rage from the oil companies and their Republican hirelings.

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Obama’s decision is a “triumph of truth over Big Oil’s bullying tactics and its disinformation campaign with wildly exaggerated jobs claims.” Some Republican extremists claimed the pipeline project would create over 100,000 jobs. Yet TransCanada Corporation, itself, claimed only 6,000 to 7,000 jobs would be created, most of them temporary.

Beinecke pointed out that six months ago the $7 billion XL Keystone pipeline was a “foregone conclusion.” She added, “Today, against all odds, the project has been rejected….the result of massive grassroots opposition that spanned from First Nations in Alberta to farmers in Nebraska to you.”


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.