By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Environmentalists cheered the surprise announcement today that the U.S. State Department will re-evaluate the route of the proposed controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, and praised President Obama for ordering the reconsideration.

Tar sands oil extraction devastates the landscape.

“The president didn’t outright reject the pipeline permit…But a few minutes ago the president sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess,” wrote environmental activist Bill McKibben on the blog.

“There’s no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world’s second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster,” said McKibben, who has lead two major protests against the pipeline.

Obama said in his statement that a new review was necessary in light of the concerns raised “through a public process.”

Rising opposition to the 1,700-mile pipeline, set to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas, sent an estimated crowd of 12,000 to protest at the White House last weekend.

Discontent already had spilled over in Nebraska, where opponents of the pipeline route convinced their governor to call a special session of the legislature.

Nebraska officials are concerned about the pipeline’s proposed route across the delicate Sand Hills region of that state. A pipeline break in that area could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s largest, which provides water to millions in the heartland and about 80 percent of Nebraskans.

The pipeline also has had significant opposition in Texas and other states.

Many environmentalists oppose the project no matter what the route, because they fear that the pipeline will accelerate carbon pollution globally by enabling more tar sands oil to enter the world market.

Canadian tar sands oil is extracted from vast open pits that typically lay beneath forests. In addition to destroying the forests, the tar sands oil process requires large quantities of water to separate the bitumen oil from the sand, and creates vast lakes of toxic tailings. Experts say its among the most carbon-intensive fuels and also riskier to transport because it must be blended with toxic fluids, making it more corrosive.

“The mere fact that the State Department is slowing down and taking a look at the dirty Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is hugely encouraging. We commend President Obama for listening to the American people and putting the brakes on what would have been a disaster for millions of Americans who want clean air, clean water and good health for their families,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“The Sierra Club is confident that when the State Department evaluates the true costs of this dirty project – threats to water supplies and ecologically sensitive areas, destruction of the boreal forest, dangerous carbon emissions, unsafe pipelines, and increased cancer and respiratory illnesses in communities like Port Arthur and Houston, Texas – they will reject this pipeline,” Brune said.

TransCanada, the pipeline operator, has said that the pipeline would be safe and would not leak. A State Department document released earlier this year confirmed that position, but Friends of the Earth, and several media outlets, have reported that TransCanada lobbyists sought to exploit ties to State Department officials, including Hillary Clinton.

The State Department announcement Thursday estimates that the new review of the Keystone XL route could be completed by early 2013.

State officials said the review is warranted because of the potential harm to Nebraska’s water supplies and because of “national concern” about the pipeline route:

State law primarily governs routes for interstate petroleum pipelines; however, Nebraska currently has no such law or regulatory framework authorizing state or local authorities to determine where a pipeline goes. Taken together with the national concern about the pipeline’s route, the Department has determined it is necessary to examine in-depth alternative routes that would avoid the Sand Hills in Nebraska in order to move forward with a National Interest Determination for the Presidential Permit.

McKibben called this a game-changing victory in the climate change fight, saying:

It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.

The president deserves thanks for making this call–it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash. The deepest thanks, however, go to you: to our indigenous peoples who began the fight, to the folks in Nebraska who rallied so fiercely, to the scientists who explained the stakes, to the environmental groups who joined with passionate common purpose, to the campuses that lit up with activity, to the faith leaders that raised a moral cry, to the labor leaders who recognized where our economic future lies, to the Occupy movement that helped galvanize revulsion at insider dealing, and most of all to the people in every state and province who built the movement that made this decision inevitable.

Statements from other environmental leaders

Frances Beinecke, president, Natural Resources Defense Council:

“President Obama is displaying leadership and courage in putting the interests of the American people before those of Big Oil. He has taken another significant step in the fight against climate change and in our march toward a clean energy future, which will mean healthier lives for all. The president’s decision also means that our property, water and agricultural lands cannot be stripped from us without a fight.”

Robert Redford, environmental activist and film director and actor:

“This is American democracy at its best: a President who listens to the voice of the people and shows the courage to do what’s right for the country. Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up to Big Oil. Thank you for standing up for us all.”

Texas activist who’s worked with Public Citizen to oppose the pipeline, David Daniel, a land owner whose property lies along the pipeline route through Texas :

“The U.S. State Department’s contractor Cardno Entrix had severe conflicts of interests and their bias showed (during the previous review). They ignored the potential damages to our drinking water, air safety and climate in the Texas section of their environmental impact statement. The hearings they held on the plan were unfair and biased against opponents. Instead of fair hearings – opponents were cut off, the hearings were ended before the witnesses were heard, and those who objected were arrested.

Chris Wilson, a Texas chemical engineer, who’s also worked with Public Citizen:

“Texas will be the state most endangered by leaks from the pipeline and the pollution from refining. We don’t need this pipeline or any additional proposed diluted bitumen pipeline, Texas refinery communities are already over-burdened by toxic refinery pollution and environmental justice concerns arise from further burdens to these end of market refinery communities in Texas.”

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, of Green For All, thanked members who had protested the pipeline:

“It’s breathtaking. Stunning. It’s absolutely the right thing to do, of course, to further assess the potential damage the pipeline could do – to the land it runs across if the oil were to spill; to the planet, once its burned. But somehow I don’t think we expected this to happen.

It was your leadership that got this done. It was the leadership of the thousands who protested last weekend in Washington, of the hundreds who went to jail to draw attention to the cause. It was the leadership of young people and indigenous people and retirees and communities of color. It was the leadership of our allies at

But it was also the leadership of President Barack Obama. Make no mistake: without his intervention, this outcome may not have happened. We thank him for doing the right thing – and we remind him that the fight for a cleaner environment isn’t over.

Thank you for your engagement and your commitment. It’s been a generally bleak few months. So let’s take a moment today to celebrate a substantial victory.”

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