Demonstrators gather during a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline outside the White House on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Obama administration is on the brink of delaying the environmentally disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, according to Reuters. It will look for alternate routes for the pipeline because of serious environmental concerns in Nebraska, according to the report, and that delay could last twelve or eighteen months.

There are some caveats and warnings to the decision, but to be clear, it is a victory. The civil disobedience outside the White House this summer was the largest of its kind by the environmental movement in decades, and anti-Keystone protesters have followed President Obama virtually everywhere he’s gone in recent weeks. Clearly the administration has heard those calls, and fears a loss of support by the environmental movement—it’s inconceivable they would delay such a major project without that pressure.

Bill McKibben, leader of that civil disobedience movement, stressed today how important loud voices against the pipeline were:


It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end. As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.The president deserves thanks for making this call–it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash.

The deepest thanks, however, go to you: to our indigenous peoples who began the fight, to the folks in Nebraska who rallied so fiercely, to the scientists who explained the stakes, to the environmental groups who joined with passionate common purpose, to the campuses that lit up with activity, to the faith leaders that raised a moral cry, to the labor leaders who recognized where our economic future lies, to the Occupy movement that helped galvanize revulsion at insider dealing, and most of all to the people in every state and province who built the movement that made this decision inevitable.


“It’s a huge victory, and it would probably be the biggest environmental gift that President Barack Obama has given us,” said Tony Iallonardo, a spokesman at the National Wildlife Federation. Jane Kleeb, who is leading efforts in Nebraska against the pipeline, said“When Pres. Obama stands up to big oil, we stand with him.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, an outspoken critic of the project, said he “welcomed” the decision and that he “strongly believe[s] that the more the American people learn about this project, the more they will understand that it would be disastrous for our environment and for our economy. They will want the president to keep his promise that the United States will lead the world in combating global warming by rejecting this pipeline.”

There are, of course, reasons to remain wary. As many news accounts note, this delays a decision past a crucial date—November 6, 2012. If this is a gambit by the administration to neutralize environmental opposition until after it can damage the president’s electoral chances, it is a deeply cynical move that will still badly damage the environment.

Still, the delay offers renewed hope that the pipeline project can be stopped. Transcanada, the company building the pipeline, said it cannot survive a delay, and some analysts have also said a long delay could kill the project if investors flee or try to find alternative routes for the oil. McKibben’s statement makes clear he believe the analysts who say this will kill the project, and Nation writer Naomi Klein tweeted today: "to those saying Keystone will go ahead: TransCanada has said it cannot survive another delay without losing investors. Defeatism is stupid."

The delay also gives more time for the State Department’s inspector general to complete an investigation into improper associations with the oil industry during the approval process.