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What a Keystone XL Veto Could Mean for Canada

01/11/2015 10:27 EST | Updated 03/13/2015 05:59 EDT
Tom Pennington via Getty Images
CUSHING, OK - MARCH 22: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

This past week the United States Congress passed a bill, for the 10th time, to try and approve the Keystone XL pipeline. In Nebraska, despite a majority of Supreme Court Justices calling the route unconstitutional, the pipeline route through the state was approved on a technicality. Now U.S. President Barack Obama seems to be poised to veto Keystone legislation that could cross his desk, setting him up to reject the pipeline in the coming months and to reject it based largely on its impact on tar sands expansion and climate change.

Obama's decision will have major implications for Canada, especially in the context of a recent Nature study that found that in order to hold the planet's temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius of warming Canada needs to leave 99 per cent of tar sands underground. First and foremost, this Obama rejecting Keystone XL would set a new standard for politicians on climate. It would directly link climate leadership to opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure like tar sands and tar sands pipelines.

Obama's delays and comments on Keystone already are already having a political cost in Canada. Stephen Harper and the Conservative government's aggressive ignorance of climate change is directly linked to tar sands expansion plans, so much so that the gutting of Canada's environmental review was directly in response to a request from big oil. The National Energy Board's ridiculous refusal to review tar sands pipelines on climate will become completely indefensible in the wake of veto from the President of the United States, especially in the case of the Energy East project.

This decision would also have major implications for politicians in Canada. Ontario and Quebec Premiers Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard are already finding their ambitions to become climate leaders plagued by the need to express steadfast opposition to projects like Energy East. A veto of Keystone XL will make opposition to the project absolutely necessary. On the federal side, especially in an election year, this decision would take away the little perceived space Liberal and NDP politicians think they have to talk big on climate while supporting tar sands expansion. All in all, this is a message from one of the most powerful politicians on the planet that action on climate change means rejecting tar sands, period.

On another level, a veto from Obama is another clear indication that despite what industry wants the world to believe, tar sands expansion is not inevitable and that, like Bill McKibben wrote after the veto threat, the "fossil-fuel industry's aura of invincibility is gone." It's becoming clearer and clearer, between the collapsed price of oil and ever growing pipeline opposition, that tar sands and tar sands pipelines are morally and financially toxic.

Combine this with the growing momentum of Indigenous communities' legal challenges to tar sands developments and more and more financial warnings about the impact of the carbon bubble on these projects and the rational conclusion is that Canada needs to turn away from tar sands.

The good news is that the growing global climate movement is making sure that while tar sands risk is rising, an energy revolution is gaining speed. Despite a total absence of federal support, clean energy development is on the rise in Canada, now employing more people than the tar sands. It makes sense since investing in clean energy in Canada employs more people than fossil fuels by a rate of 15 to 2.

Around the globe clean energy is overtaking fossil fuels as it becomes cheaper and more accessible while communities look to take bold climate action. In other words, we still have time to break away from the tar sands, and President Obama vetoing the Keystone XL pipeline might be just the push we need.

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