"The Keystone XL fight was David versus Goliath; no one thought we could win," said Dan Moglen of Friends of the Earth. The decision shows "sustained grassroots pressure aimed at holding the president accountable to the public interest proved more powerful than all the lobbyists the oil industry could muster."
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised Obama for putting "the health and safety of the American people and our air, lands and water -- our national interest -- above the interests of the oil industry."
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest pro-business lobby, said the interests of Americans looking for work were cast aside in what was "a politically charged" move.
"By placing politics over policy, the Obama administration is sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term," chamber president Tom Donohue said in a statement.
"It is dumbfounding that President Obama's decision to deny the Keystone XL pipeline permit ignores his own Council on Jobs and Competitiveness "Road Map to Renewal" report. Issued yesterday, it recommends that the United States step up its game on energy and construct pipelines to deliver fuel as a key component of our economic recovery."
Administration officials have denied that politics played a role in the decision, citing established precedent for careful review of the environmental impact of major projects .
It is a "non-political, professional process that has been in place long before this administration came into office," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today.
Carney would not comment directly on the administration's decision or why it was made.
Obama's decision on the pipeline also reverberated on the presidential campaign trail, drawing rebuke from the Republican candidates.
"This is a stunningly stupid thing to do," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at a campaign stop in Aiken, S.C. The administration is "so out of touch with reality it's as though they were governing Mars. Stupidity No. 1, we need the jobs. Maybe when they're unemployed in November they'll figure out jobs matter. "
Texas Gov. Rick Perry addressed Obama directly in Greer, S.C., saying "you've just basically said to Americans, we're going to allow the Chinese the opportunity to negotiate to go get that oil rather than America."
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney said Obama demonstrates a "lack of seriousness" about doing whatever it takes to accelerate job growth and economic recovery.
"He seems to have confused the national interest with his own interest in pleasing the environmentalists in his political base," Romney said in a statement.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt countered Romney's charge, charging that former Massachusetts governor's opposition to the pipeline demonstrates that he would "rubberstamp whatever the Republicans in Congress demand of him."