Trump Reverses Obama’s Course On Keystone XL Pipeline And Other Projects
In a move that comes as little surprise, President Trump has signed executive orders reversing the decision of the Keystone XL pipeline as well as signing additional executive orders on pipeline projects:
WASHINGTON — President Trump moved assertively on Tuesday to further dismantle his predecessor’s policies as he revived the Keystone XL pipeline that stirred years of debate over the balance between the nation’s energy needs and efforts to stem climate change.
Former President Barack Obama rejected the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline in 2015, arguing that it would undercut American leadership in curbing the reliance on carbon energy. Mr. Trump signed a document clearing the way to government approval of the pipeline as well as for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.
The decision came a day after Mr. Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious, 12-nation trade pact negotiated by Mr. Obama. In his opening days in office, Mr. Trump has also signed an order that begins to unravel Mr. Obama’s health care program, reversed his policies on abortion and housing, and ordered a freeze of any pending regulations left behind by the departing administration.
As proposed by a Canadian firm, the Keystone pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels a day from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats argued that the project would create jobs and expand energy resources, while environmentalists said it would encourage a form of oil extraction that produces more gases that warm the planet than normal petroleum.
Studies showed that the pipeline would not have a momentous impact on jobs or the environment, but both sides made it into a symbolic test case of American willingness to promote energy production or curb its appetites to heal the planet. Torn by competing policy imperatives and conflicting politics, Mr. Obama delayed a decision for years before finally rejecting the pipeline shortly before an international conference in Paris to forge a global climate change agreement.
“Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol,” said David Goldwyn, an energy market analyst and a former head of the State Department’s energy bureau in the Obama administration. Regarding the pipeline’s effect on the nation’s broader energy market, Mr. Goldwyn said: “One additional pipeline? It’s useful. It’s not indispensable.”
The Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota became the focus of protests when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe objected to its construction less than a mile from its reservation. The tribe and its allies won victory last month when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would look for alternative routes for the $3.7 billion pipeline instead of allowing it to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River.
Terry Cunha, a spokeswoman from TransCanada, the firm that proposed the Keystone pipeline, said in an email on Monday that the company remains “fully committed” to building the project, although she declined to discuss the project’s next steps.
Critics denounced Mr. Trump’s decisions. “Donald Trump has been in office for four days and he’s already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
Environmental activists vowed to keep fighting the projects. “This is not a done deal,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the group that led the protests against the Keystone pipeline, said in a statement. “The last time around, TransCanada was so confident they literally mowed the strip where they planned to build the pipeline, before people power stopped them. People will mobilize again.”
Trump’s actions with regard to Keystone XL and other pipeline hardly come as a surprise, of course. Republicans were talking up these projects and chiding the Obama Administration for lack of action for years before President Obama formally acted to deny the permits that were needed to complete Keystone XL last year after delaying making a decision for virtually the entirety of his Presidency. While Hillary Clinton delayed formally announcing any position on the project while running for President, she finally came out against it after largely being forced to do so by the support that Bernie Sanders was putting on her during the Democratic Party to move further to the left than she was clearly comfortable with. By way of contrast, every candidate for President in both 2012 and 2016 took the position that their Administration would approve the project and seek to revive it if they won election. Given that, the fact that President Trump has given the go ahead to Keystone XL and a handful of other similar pipeline projects hardly comes as a surprise and is really just one of the many changes we would have seen regardless of which Republican might have won the election in November. At the time, it seemed as though the Republicans were on the right side of this issue from a political point of view in that polling indicated that the American public supported the project. In the end, however, Keystone XL seemed to play only a small role in the election itself. Trump mentioned the project in stump speeches several times, of course, but it never really became a point of contention in the campaign and I don’t recall it even being raised in any of the three debates between the two major-party candidates.
As I’ve said in the past, I’m generally supportive of the Keystone pipeline and similar projects provided that the proper environmental concerns have been addressed, which certainly seems to be the case here. For one thing, transporting oil and related fossil fuels is not without its dangers, it is considerably safer than shipping oil via rail cars or train, both of which come with the real possibility of causing lasting harm to the environment in case of an accident. Additionally, the project has the strong support of both the states through which the pipeline would run and the Canadian government, even under the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau. Furthermore, the pipeline itself would encourage further development of shale old production in North Dakota and in Alberta, Canada even at a time of relatively low oil prices. It could also help encourage exploration for additional energy resources in the Upper Far West and other nearby areas. This would go a long way toward enhancing energy independence for North America as a whole, strengthing our relationship with Canada, and, perhaps most importantly, turning the United States into a substantial energy exporter, something that would have a significant impact on world markets. The oil that Keystone in particular would be transporting has gone a long way toward providing real economic stimulus to North Dakota and Alberta, two areas that haven’t exactly been known for economic booms in the past, and the prospect of that boom spreading to other parts of the country seems too good to resist. Adding all of this together, the decision to approve the pipeline seems like a no-brainer.