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What the Keystone XL Victory Means for the Future of Climate Leadership

lefkowitz-susan-caseyThe President’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ushered in a new model of climate leadership — one that carries great significance as we head into the international climate negotiations in Paris later.

Over the past few years, the United States has dramatically expanded its clean energy resources, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. We are also working hard to cut carbon pollution from our cars, trucks, and power plants. These steps are essential in the fight against climate change. But now there is growing recognition that this battle also requires a different kind of action: saying no to costly infrastructure and leasing projects that would lock us into decades of additional fossil fuel use.

President Obama demonstrated this climate leadership with his Keystone XL announcement. He said, “If we’re gonna prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re gonna have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Whenever we find ourselves at a crossroads, the scale of our climate crisis demands that we choose the clean energy path and reject the dirty fuels dead end. President Obama’s choice on Keystone XL added momentum to this push forward. Once you start opposing dirty fuel infrastructure, every decision after it becomes easier.

Climate change is already causing damage to our communities and health. Going into the Paris climate conference later this month, governments around the world are recognizing the urgent need for climate action and making commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now is the time to make these choices — especially with so much potential from energy efficiency and the plunging cost of renewable energy.

When NRDC first opposed the Keystone XL pipeline in 2008, many people thought we were crazy to cast it as a climate fight. Yet my colleagues and our many partners knew this was the right course, and we stuck to it. When the industry claimed tar sands oil wasn’t that dirty, we presented data showing it generated 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventional fuels. When politicians said tar sands would get to the market with or without Keystone XL, we dug deep and found the industry’s own internal assessments that tar sands expansion hinged on the pipeline. And when the Obama administration dragged its heels, we galvanized people of all walks of life to raise their voices to call for rejection of the pipeline.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is director of programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She joined NRDC in 2000 as director of NRDC's work in Canada. From 2009-2014, she directed NRDC's international program.
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