Former President Jimmy Carter has incurred the ire of Canadian Premier Stephen Harper after pleading with Barack Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal, imploring the U.S. president to show "bold leadership" and not make a "dangerous commitment to the status quo."
In a letter addressed to the president and Secretary of State John Kerry, Carter, along with other Nobel Peace Prize laureates — including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu — called climate change "one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced" and urged the U.S. government to decide against approving the $7 billion pipeline project.
"The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would have meaningful and significant impacts in reducing carbon pollution," the laureates wrote on April 15. "History will reflect on this moment and it will be clear to our children and grandchildren if you made the right choice."
Harper bristled at the letter, with the prime minister's office responding the following day with a dig at Carter.
"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," Harper’s office said in a statement.
Carter served only one term as president, following harsh criticism and a drop in popularity that in part stemmed from his handling of the Iranian revolution and the subsequent oil supply crisis it sparked.
The former president's comments on the XL pipeline come as the White House faces pressure from both sides of the debate.
Earlier this year, the State Department reported it had no major environmental objections to the Keystone XL pipeline — dealing a blow to environmentalists, who hoped the president would block the project.
The 1,179-mile pipeline, a project of TransCanada Corp., would travel through the heart of the U.S., carrying oil sourced from tar sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to a hub in Steele City, Neb. From there, it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas.
Supporters of the project say it will create thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports from countries that are less friendly to the U.S. than Canada.
TransCanada has said the pipeline will have upgraded safety measures, including remote-control shutoff valves and frequent inspections. It has already built the southern leg of the pipeline, between Oklahoma and Texas.
The section of the project that still requires approval would cross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
More than five years have passed since TransCanada first proposed the project to complement its existing Keystone pipeline.
Last week, 11 Senate Democrats urged Obama to approve the project by the end of May, so that another construction season won't be lost.
The president and State Department have authority over the project because it crosses a U.S. border.
Al Jazeera and wire services