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Keystone Pipeline Given the Ax

It’s the end of the road (or the pipe) for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Or is it?

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama announced his rejection of the project, which involved the construction of an oil pipeline from Alberta to Houston.  Although he initially intended to delay making a decision on the pipeline until 2013, Republican legislators attached a provision onto the payroll tax cut extension bill in December stipulating that Obama had to decide within the next 60 days.  Since he supported the tax cut extension, Obama was forced to comply.  On Jan. 18, he announced his decision, choosing to block the project.

However, this is by no means the end of the battle. Republicans are making the president’s rejection of the project a key issue in the upcoming election, claiming that in failing to support the pipeline’s construction, he missed the opportunity to create thousands of potential jobs, as well as move the country away from its dependency on foreign oil.  In addition to most Republicans, some members of the president’s own party expressed disappointment that he turned down the project.  As it stands, there is a very real possibility that a similar proposal will be made again, as proponents of the project brainstorm ways to circumvent the president’s approval.

Not everyone is so critical of Obama’s decision, though.  In fact, a major reason behind his rejection of the project was the mass protests against the pipeline staged over the past few months by environmental groups.  One of the central concerns of these activists was the pipeline’s potential to cause major environmental damage in the form of air and water pollution.  Another point of contention was that its proposed route would put the pipeline almost directly on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for much of the country; if a leak were to occur, this water would become contaminated.  Additionally, some people oppose the pipeline on the principle that the country should be moving away from “dirty” energy sources like oil, and toward more sustainable sources, such as solar power.  For these people, Obama’s decision to cut the project represented a victory for environmentalism and sustainability.

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Barry Allen is one such supporter of the president’s decision.  “[The pipeline] is horrendous from the point of extraction, of transportation, and its use,” he said.  Allen was quick to point out, though, that the project could easily be resurrected once a new route for the pipeline is found.  “This thing’s far from over,” he said.  “Republicans will try to make it look like Obama doesn’t care about creating jobs — but the number of jobs that will be created is nowhere near what his opponents are arguing.”  Allen also disagrees with the claim that the project would reduce our dependency on outside sources of oil.  “It’s not our oil,” he pointed out (the project is being carried out by a Canadian company).  “All we’re doing is transporting it across the country and refining it.”

Many environmentally-conscious students share a similar viewpoint.  “I’m happy that [Obama] placed importance on both environmental health and the people’s health,” said Janelle DeSanto ‘12.  An environmental studies major, DeSanto is especially concerned with the project’s effects on the country’s energy policy.  “Avoiding pressures of the oil companies shows that Obama recognizes the possibilities of alternate energy sources and their ability to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” she said.  “In order for these alternative sources to work, we need to first get rid of dirty oil, a step Obama took by vetoing the pipeline.”

Robert Watson ‘12 also supports Obama’s decision.  However, he is more hesitant to praise the president’s actions.  “It’s interesting that since [Obama] accepted all of the offshore drilling before, he decides to decline something similar, and local, just before the presidential election,” Watson commented.  “I think his motives to decline it are more geared toward being reelected than his actual environmental concern.”

Whether the Keystone proposal is put back onto the table again is uncertain at this point.  What is clear to many, though, is our need to avoid such controversial projects in the future by reducing our dependency on oil.  “We need to move to a sustainable energy supply,” stressed Allen.  “We may not want to admit it to ourselves, but we have to do it.  All these incredibly risky and destructive technologies are really the last gasps of the old paradigm — there are all these heroic attempts to continue [it], when what we really need is a new one.”

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