President Barack Obama said Tuesday he would not approve of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project to bring oil from Canada to American refineries, unless it has no net negative effect on carbon emissions, during a sweeping speech at Georgetown University.
The pipeline has been a flashpoint between environmentalists who want the entire effort nixed and conservatives and energy sector businesses who see it as a jobs and economic boon.
"Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation's interests," he said, speaking before a crowd of a couple hundred invited guests that included cabinet members and members of Congress. "[They] will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."
Obama also unveiled a broad plan to reduce carbon emissions – including directing the Environmental Protection Agency to limit pollution from new and existing power plants can – citing human and economic costs.
"I refuse to condemn your generation and future generation to a planet that's beyond fixing," he said.
The president said his preference would be to develop a bipartisan plan with Congress, but the issue is so dire he would not wait for partisan gridlock to break. That's why he decided to put forth a plan for reducing carbon output, buffering the country against the effects of global warming and working with countries like China, India and Brazil to lead similar efforts globally that do not require Congressional approval.He also called on the Senate to confirm his pick to lead the EPA, Gina McCarthy, with "no further delay." McCarthy's nomination has been held up by Republicans who oppose EPA policies.
"I do not have much patience for anyone who denies this problem is real. We do not have time for the 'Flat Earth Society,'" Obama said.
Obama also refuted conservative arguments that increased environmental protections would harm the economy.
"That's what they say every time and every time they've been wrong," he said. "Don't bet against American industry and American workers; don't tell people we have to choose between the health of our children and the health of our economy."
While on the campaign trail for re-election, the president did not often mention his efforts during his first term to cap carbon emissions, but brought the issue to the forefront again during his second inaugural address.