President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, in a move that infuriated conservatives but will bolster his legacy on environmental issues ahead of next month’s climate change summit in Paris.
The proposed pipeline, which would have stretched over 1,100 miles from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast in the southeastern US, has been the source of bitter disputes between conservatives who say it would create jobs and progressives who decry the potential damage to the environment.
Mr Obama sided with the pipeline’s opponents on Friday, saying the US must “lead by example” on the environment.
Speaking from the White House and flanked by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the vice-president, he said “America is prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward” on climate change.
Mr Obama’s announcement follows a seven-year review process by the state department which concluded this week with Mr Kerry recommending that Mr Obama reject the Keystone project.
“Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices, but it is the right decision for America and the world,” Mr Kerry said on Friday.
The environmental and economic significance of the pipeline has been outweighed by its value as a political symbol. Mr Obama said on Friday it had an “over-inflated role” in America’s political discourse.
Anti-Keystone protesters have been a fixture outside the White House for years, while the pipeline regularly features in the campaign rhetoric of Republican politicians, who say the “hysteria” over global warming is blocking common sense projects that would help the US economy.
Mr Obama said on Friday that the claims from both sides were hyperbolic.
“This pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, or the express lane to environmental disaster proclaimed by others,” he said.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, welcomed Friday’s announcement.
“It is insane for anyone to be supporting the excavation and transportation of some of the dirtiest fuel on earth,” he said in a statement. “I strongly applaud the president’s decision to kill this project once and for all.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, oversaw the Keystone review process as secretary of state and announced in September that she opposed the pipeline.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Mr Obama’s announcement was the “latest reminder that this administration continues to prioritize the demands of radical environmentalists over America’s energy security.”
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, voiced disappointment on Friday with the decision but said he respected the country’s right to do so and he looked forward to a “fresh start” with Mr Obama.