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Obama Rejects the Keystone XL Pipeline—And Secures His Environmental Legacy

DKW 86

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Obama’s decision to deny the pipeline its permit is his most significant, if symbolic, move to limit the growth of the world’s fossil fuel supply. His other climate initiatives have targeted how we consume fossil fuels, but he’s rarely intervened in the industry’s plans to extract and burn coal, oil, and gas in the first place. The Keystone refusal is the kind of declarative statement environmentalists have long wanted from a world leader, with Obama delivering a message that it’s finally time to keep fossil fuels in the ground. And the announcement comes mere weeks before officials gather in Paris to reach a global agreement that finally curbs greenhouse gasses. With Keystone decided, the United States has one more powerful example that it is making amends for its role as the biggest polluter in history.

Keystone XL had an inconspicuous start, considering its role today as a bellwether in environmental politics. Two months before Obama won the 2008 presidential election, the company TransCanada submitted an application for a presidential permit to build the 1,179-mile long pipeline, which could carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day at peak capacity. To build the northern portion of the pipeline, which would run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, TransCanada required the State Department’s approval to cross the border (the already completed southern leg, now called the Gulf Coast pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Texas’s coast, began operation in 2014).

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