Faith-based groups welcomed this afternoon’s White House announcement that President Barack Obama would deny a crucial permit for a 1,700 mile pipeline (1,400 miles in the U.S.) to carry oil from the tar sands of icy Alberta through sensitive U.S. lands to Gulf Coast refineries.
But they also don’t expect the Keystone XL project to suddenly come to an end.
The pipeline has been opposed by social justice advocates, indigenous communities, farmers and environmentalists. They are concerned that mining oil found in sandy soil under Canada’s arboreal forest would hasten climate change by pouring massive amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. They also fear a massive leak would endanger a Midwest aquifer supplying water to 2 million people.
“The battle is not over yet,” said Kathy McNeely, interim director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns. “It’s just feels like this really important decision about the heartland of America is a political game right now, especially since the consequences are so high and it’s such a huge threat to the earth as we know it in the Midwest.”
Franciscan Father Jacek Orzechowski, parochial vicar at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., who represents the Franciscan Action Network, cautiously welcomed the announcement. He was one of more than 1,200 people arrested in a series of daily nonviolent protests at the White House near the end of last summer.
“We applaud the administration for standing up to the narrow corporate big oil interests and for doing the right thing for America,” he said. “I think this is a moral victory that advances the cause of justice, respect for life and the common good of all God’s creation.”
Also supporting the move was the Columban Fathers’ Center for Advocacy and Outreach.
Obama’s decision comes less than a month after legislation extending the middle class tax cuts was approved by Congress after a lengthy end-of-the-year battle. The law included a 60-day deadline for a decision from the administration.
In a statement released today at the White House, Obama said the “arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment” of the pipeline’s health, safety and environmental impact.
Obama and the State Department, which has jurisdiction for the permit process because the project crosses an international border, left open the possibility that the pipeline could still be pursued.
TransCanada had no immediate response to the decision.
As proposed, the pipeline would carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil daily from icy Hardesty, Alberta, to U.S. refineries. Nearly 1,400 miles of the pipeline would be built in the United States from Montana to Texas. TransCanada has said the project would create as many as 20,000 jobs. Union leaders have supported the project in a time when jobs are needed and the need by the U.S. for more dependable energy sources grows.
Opponents say the projection overstates the economic impact of the pipeline in largely rural areas.