It took seven years of hard work, but when President Obama last year made the decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, the group cheering including an unlikely mix of ranchers, farmers, young people and environmental groups and activists.
They had raised their voices and they had won.
The Keystone XL pipeline would have carried 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. To reach existing pipelines, it would have cut through farms and ranches in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska—through lands that, in some cases, had been farmed by the same families for more than 100 years.
Approval of the Keystone Pipeline was widely seen as inevitable. After all, the big oil companies and lobbyists supported the pipeline, and oil companies have been getting their way for years. Even the Obama administration was expected to sign off on the pipeline.
But then farmers and ranchers began speaking out. They worried about the impact a spill would have on their water supply. They joined with environmentalists who said a “yes” on Keystone would send a signal to begin even more extraction from the tar sands, fueling a dirty energy bonanza that would have added to already dangerous levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
In the end, President Obama said no. “Ultimately if we’re going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
It was a victory for the planet—and for the power of people coming together to draw a line in the sand.