Yesterday, President Obama stood up to Big Oil and its puppets in the US Congress, denying a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This is encouraging news for the communities whose air and water would have been directly threatened by this pipeline, from Canada to Nebraska to the Gulf Coast. And it's an important piece of the struggle to avert a runaway climate catastrophe. But since the Keystone XL has become a pitched political battle, this announcement is also an encouraging affirmation of the power of people, creative protest, and grassroots organizing in the face of the entrenched power and big bucks of the oil industry.
Earlier this month, American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, the oil industry's top lobbyist, directly threatened President Obama with "huge political consequences" if he rejected Keystone XL. Speaker of the House John Boehner has been pushing the tar sands pipeline at every opportunity. Like most of the members of Congress that support Keystone XL, Boehner has taken piles of campaign cash from the very oil companies that were hoping to boost their profits with this scheme to pipe Canadian tar sands through America's heartland to the Gulf of Mexico and overseas markets.
This immense pressure from the oil industry came after months of grassroots organizing against the pipeline, weeks of creative protest in Washington DC where we and more than 1200 others were arrested in front of the White House, and a broad, diverse coalition mobilizing all around the United States and Canada to stop this pipeline.
Faced with a clear choice between Big Oil and all its money, threats, and politicians on the one hand, and a people powered movement determined to stop this enormous threat to our air, water, food security, and climate on the other, President Obama made the right call.
Of course, this does not mean the end of the oil industry's efforts to expand production of the tar sands. TransCanada and other oil companies will continue to seek other ways to exploit the tar sands, and the politicians who do their bidding will devise new bills to push tar sands pipelines. No doubt the American Petroleum Institute will take out even more astroturf "Vote 4 Energy" ads slamming the President for his decision.
When that happens, we hope President Obama remembers how good it feels to stand up to the oil industry's political threats, and keep working to make good on his promise to "end the tyranny of oil" and move America to a clean energy future.
Phil Radford is executive director of Greenpeace USA; Daryl Hannah is an activist