The president’s veto of Keystone XL was not the decisive step towards transforming the country’s energy usage that Millennials are looking for.
In June 2013, President Obama revealed his carefully crafted litmus test for approving the Keystone XL pipeline, stating that the project’s effect on climate change would be the deciding factor in his decision. Upholding this ‘climate test’ in his 2015 State of the Union, he called on Americans to set their sights higher than a single pipeline. However, the president’s 104-word veto message to the Senate on Tuesday, which cites the necessary completion of the State Department’s administrative review procedure, fails to include more decisive language for a final decision even after six years.
The Millennials, born between 1984 and 2004, hold a unique role in the debate, as the proposed Keystone pipeline has surfaced as a larger symbol in energy, climate change, and economic policy wars. Young people across the country view this issue as a literal line in the sand – rejection of the pipeline would serve as the ultimate indication of moving away from dependence on fossil fuels towards clean energy technologies. Millennials not only believe that clean energy investment is vital to our economic future, but they also view this transformation as one of the defining features of our generation.
Young people have also been at the forefront of climate activism, organizing XL Dissent, the largest student-led protest at the White House in a generation. This strong millennial support was clear at my university last year, when Beyond Coal, a student group organized under the Sierra Club Student Coalition, pressured the University of Georgia to shut down its coal-fired boiler, the single largest source of pollution in the city. The key policy change was confirmed in September, after students put incredible amounts of pressure on the administration.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been fond of noting that no energy bill has been passed in the last seven years, therefore articulating his vision for why Keystone is necessary. With arguments for jobs and oil independence falling flat, McConnell and others in Congress should instead push for an energy bill that supports the generational shift in our energy infrastructure. We need congressional leadership to advance policies in stronger energy efficiency standards, incentives for better fuels, and electric vehicle incentives to widen the market. Former Republican Treasury Secretary George Schultz has even proposed a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend system.
Most pressingly, the new Senate majority has vowed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon emissions standards for new and existing power plants, a policy that would allow the U.S. to honor its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent. My home state of Georgia, home to some of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, is required to reduce carbon emissions by 44 percent. These carbon emissions standards represent a potential milestone shift in job creation and alternative energy opportunities and must stay in place.
As the fastest growing workforce demographic, millennials can combine their strong support for clean energy with their foundation in activism and technological advancement, and lead the industry and its politics forward in ways that past generations could not. Indeed they can remind Congress that if you aren’t a climate denier, you shouldn’t be voting like one. It’s come time for a generational shift in the types of energy we use, and a generational shift in political engagement will make it happen.
Torre Lavelle is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment. She is majoring in ecology and environmental economics at the University of Georgia.