Jimmy Carter wants Barack Obama to block Keystone XL, the controversial pipeline to funnel Canadian oil-sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries.
Mr. Carter is the first former U.S. president to urge the current occupant of the Oval Office to reject TransCanada Corp.'s long-delayed $5.5-billion project. Mr. Carter – who is outspoken on human-rights issues – added his voice to nine other Nobel Peace Prize winners as political pressure for Mr. Obama to decide the project's fate ramps up.
As the President decides on "the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, please do not underestimate its importance," the Nobel laureates' open letter urges. Other signatories include South Africa's anti-apartheid hero, Desmond Tutu, and Jody Williams, who, along with the Canadian government, led the global campaign to ban land mines. Rejecting Keystone, they said, would show whether Mr. Obama was serious when he pledged to act against global warming in the interests of future generations.
"You know as well as we do the powerful precedent that this would set," the letter said, adding that "leadership by example would usher in a new era where climate change and pollution is given the urgent attention and focus it deserves."
The Prime Minister's Office reacted swiftly Wednesday to the letter. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office responded with a warning: Remember 1979.
It was a reference to the dip in oil supply which followed the Iranian revolution and touched off a global panic. Prices spiked and long lines formed at gas stations, helping destabilize Carter's one-term presidency.
"Mr. Carter knows from his time as president during the 1979 energy crisis there are benefits to having access to oil from stable, secure partners like Canada," the PMO said.
The statement also cited multiple reviews by the U.S. State Department, which said the project would create thousands of construction jobs without an impact on the environment.
For years, Mr. Obama has delayed a decision on the pipeline. Meanwhile, environmentalists have turned Keystone XL into a litmus test of the President's credibility on climate change.
In a sweeping but vague pledge during his most recent State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama promised Americans that he would deal with the "threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."
But with midterm elections looming and at least a half-dozen Democratic senators facing defeat, – which would give the Republicans control of the Senate and turn Mr. Obama's last two years from a lame-duck presidency into a crippled one –many inside the Beltway believe political expediency will trump the dangers of global warming.
In a letter earlier this month, Democratic senators begged the President to back Keystone XL.
Mr. Carter and the other signatories want Mr. Obama to consider his legacy, not short-term political advantage. "You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change," they wrote.
They rejected the often-made claims by the Canadian government that Alberta's oil sands will get to global markets no matter what happens to Keystone XL.
"The myth that tar sands development is inevitable and will find its way to market by rail if not pipeline is a red herring," the letter said. "The Keystone XL project is the linchpin for tar sands expansion and the increased pollution that will follow, triggering more climate upheaval with impacts felt around the world."
Mr. Obama, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize within weeks of taking office, has not previously responded to pleas from other Nobel laureates on this issue.
Wednesday's letter was also signed by Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Betty Williams.
With files from The Canadian Press