"Extraordinarily dirty": Watch Obama deliver his harshest anti-Keystone assessment yet

The president isn't sounding optimistic about the pipeline's potential environmental impact

Published March 9, 2015 5:36PM (EDT)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)     (AP)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) (AP)

President Obama, in vetoing a bill that would have fast-tracked approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, has ensured that the final decision about whether or not to allow the project to go forward will be his to make -- on recommendation from the State Department, and only, he's said, if it can be established that the pipeline won't significantly contribute to carbon pollution.

Last Friday, the president delivered his strongest hint yet that a veto may be coming.

Speaking at a town hall at South Carolina's Benedict College, Obama went over his common Keystone talking points: he told his audience that the pipeline, which will snake from Canada down through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico, will "only create about 300 permanent jobs," that most of the oil isn't going to stay in the U.S., that climate change is going to be bad and that the scientific consensus on its cause compels us to develop sources of clean energy. "We’re not going to authorize a pipeline that benefits largely a foreign company," he reiterated, "if it can’t be shown that it is safe and if it can’t be shown that overall it would not contribute to climate change."

But in what appears to be a new twist in his argument, the president described the way oil is being extracted from Alberta's tar sands as "extraordinarily dirty," referring, it would appear, to the fact that producing it results in three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as producing conventional oil.

The State Department's environmental review, released last January, concluded that the pipeline would have no significant impact on climate change, but those findings have been challenged; in a letter to the department last month, the EPA asserted that it would, in fact, lead to a “significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions."

When it comes to fossil fuels, Obama acknowledged last year that "we're not going to be able to burn it all" -- journalist Mark Hertsgaard called it a "watershed moment" for the president, pointing out that it contradicts his "all-of-the-above" energy policy. Indeed, in Friday's speech, Obama did seem to be favoring one type of energy over the others. "This is what the science tells us," he said of man-made climate change, "so we’ve got to worry about it, which is part of the reason we’ve invested in things like green energy, trying to increase fuel efficiency standards on cars, trying to make sure that we use more solar and wind power, trying to find new energy sources that burn clean instead of dirty. And everybody here needs to be supportive and thinking about that because you’re the ones who are going to have to live with it."

Here's the footage, via Grist:

By Lindsay Abrams

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Climate Change Keystone Xl Pipeline Obama Tar Sands Video