WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline today in the name of fighting greenhouse gases and their impact on the environment.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.”
Obama’s decision caps a seven-year national debate over the environmental cost of developing Canada’s oil sands region, as well as the economic implications of blocking an $8 billion infrastructure project.
TransCanada Corp. first submitted an application for Keystone XL in 2008. The company’s 1,179-mile pipeline was to carry mostly heavy Canadian crude, called bitumen, to a transfer station near Steele City, Nebraska. From there, existing pipelines could carry the oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
[ Timeline: Keystone XL pipeline debate through the years ]
The Calgary-based company did not immediately reveal its next step.
In a statement, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling expressed disappointment that Obama rejected what he called a shovel-ready project that would have created construction jobs and helped supply some of the 7 million barrels of oil the U.S. imports daily.
“Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science — rhetoric won out over reason,” Girling said.
But Art Tanderup, a pipeline opponent in rural Neligh, was pleased.
“I’m doing a jig in my living room right now,” said Tanderup, who hosted a pipeline protest concert on his farm last year featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
The president announced his decision from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama said that, after extensive review, the State Department had found that the pipeline would not be in the national interest and that he agreed with that finding.
Even as he was rejecting the project, he criticized the intense political debate over it.
“For years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I frankly consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” Obama said. “It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter.
“And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”
Obama said that approving the project would have set back the larger cause of moves his administration has made to fight climate change, from investing in clean energy sources and fuel efficiency to tighter regulations on carbon pollution from power plants. He noted that his decision comes just a few weeks before a major climate conference in Paris.
“If we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky,” Obama said.
Jane Kleeb, executive director of pipeline opponent Bold Nebraska, claimed victory.
“Tonight landowners can finally go to sleep knowing their family is safe and sound,” she said. “Our unlikely alliance showed America that hard work and scientific facts can beat Big Oil’s threat to our land and water.”
But the move brought swift criticism from Republicans, the petroleum industry and labor leaders who said the president is ignoring the will of the American people.
“Keystone XL would have brought good-paying jobs and much-needed tax revenue to Nebraska’s counties,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement.
“President Obama’s politically motivated decision to reject this project puts the jobs and this tax revenue at risk.”
Most Republican politicians have been big boosters of the project, as have a number of Democrats. Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., said he was disappointed in Obama’s decision, saying the pipeline should be built as part of a balanced energy approach.
“We just can’t stop doing energy projects because somehow this particular type of oil is objectionable to the president,” Ashford said. “It’s not good policy.”
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said even the administration’s own figures indicated the pipeline’s construction would generate 42,000 jobs and $2 billion in wages.
“It’s an insult to American workers,’’ Gerard said. “It’s politics at its worst.’’
Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades unions, called the decision disappointing and devastating. “These are real jobs for real people,’’ he said.
TransCanada could reapply and hope for a better outcome during the next administration or it could try to recover its financial losses under a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The company also has an application for a route pending with the Nebraska Public Service Commission. It was unclear what the president’s decision means for that process.
Gerard said the issue is not settled. He called on Congress to override the president’s decision. And he said the issue will now be front and center in the 2016 presidential election. Litigation is also a possibility, he said.
“I don’t think this issue goes away,’’ he said. “It could intensify it.’’
World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.
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