With State of the Union, Obama Hints at Keystone XL Rejection

An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Was
An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Washington. Activists organized by the Energy Action Coalition marched to the State Department to protest the construction of the pipeline which would carry tar sands oil from Canada. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Just minutes after President Obama finished his 2015 State of the Union, Politico, the consummate inside-the-beltway media outlet, sent out an email to its "Politico Pro" email list with the subject, "What Obama said, what he meant." The entire body of the email was just:

What he said: "Let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline."

What he meant: "You're not getting Keystone."

Over the last few weeks, establishment wisdom has swung dramatically against the Keystone XL pipeline. Back in 2011, when the National Journal polled their "Energy Insiders," 91% of them thought that the pipeline would be approved. Now, it's hard to find a pundit in Washington who is confident that President Obama will sign off on the project.

Photo: Josh Lopez

While the President didn't mention Keystone XL by name in his State of the Union, the speech only solidified the feeling that the pipeline is doomed.

The President did give a few shout outs to increased oil and gas developments, but they were only a few throw away sentences. He talked very little about the need to further increase production. There were no nods to "North American energy security" or "creating jobs in the fossil fuel sector" or any of the other of the arguments the oil industry uses to promote Keystone XL. The President event seems to have retired his "all of the above" talking point, which didn't make a single mention in the speech.

Contrast that with the President's strong call for climate action. Here's the key section:

And no challenge -- no challenge -- poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does -- 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what -- I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

At this point, the President Obama knows that his climate legacy depends on rejecting Keystone XL. Years of demonstrations against the project, along with multiple letters from the nation's top climate scientists highlighting the climate impacts of the pipeline, have transformed Keystone XL into the highest profile environmental decision of Obama's presidency. It's unlikely he would be going so far out on climate change if he wasn't ready to reject the pipeline.

In fact, the President seems ready to dismiss the entire project. At another point in the speech he said, "21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure -- modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline." That sure doesn't sound like a President that sees Keystone XL as an important jobs program.

Even after the State of the Union was over, the hits against Keystone XL just kept on coming. In the online question and answer period after the speech, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer also dismissed pro-Keystone XL arguments, emphasizing that the project wouldn't create that many jobs and wasn't an answer to energy security. "They want to call it the Republican pipeline or the Keystone party--one of the two," he told a reporter. What the White House doesn't want to call it, clearly, is President Obama's pipeline.

The fight against Keystone XL won't be over until the President rejects the project and TransCanada packs up and withdraws their permit application. Until then, the #NoKXL campaign is going to keep up the pressure on President Obama, Congress, and the fossil fuel industry. But we're waging this battle with a new sense of energy and momentum. The wind is firmly in our sails.

None of our progress on Keystone XL, would have been possible without the millions of people across the country who have fought this project side by side. From our indigenous allies in Alberta, who first warned of us of the dangers of the tar sands, to the farmers and ranchers along the pipeline route who are standing up for their land, to the hundreds of students who have been arrested at the White House, this movement has never given up. Instead, we've only gotten larger, from the first 70 people arrested back at the White House in 2011 to the 400,000 people who marched in the streets of NYC last September for the People's Climate March.

Together, we've turned the tide. Over the next few weeks, let's make sure we beat this pipeline once and for all.