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Trump Reverses Obama’s Course On Keystone XL Pipeline And Other Projects

Keystone XL Map

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.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    This issue has always been a nothing-burger as far as I’m concerned…but it needs to be noted that with this order Trump has OK’ed taking private property from US citizens and giving it to a foreign corporation. This is an issue where Republicans silence brings their hypocrisy into sharp relief. It’s certainly not a Conservative thing to do…but I really don’t expect Trump, or today’s Republicans, to act Conservatively…so I’m not at all shocked.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 1

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    This is an issue where Republicans silence brings their hypocrisy into sharp relief.

    So many, many examples of that. It’s almost like ‘conservatism’ was never anything more than naked greed and contempt for minorities. Those are the two principles they never violate.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  3. Pch101 says:

    It’s nice to see that some Americans are so determined to make Canadian oil more expensive, er, valuable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Everyone will be happy until there’s an accident with the pipeline and hello, contaminated groundwater! Then everyone will be pointing fingers at each other and saying “it’s YOUR fault.”

    The states the pipeline crosses are pretty low-population, except Texas. Texas will just have to find another source of drinking water, I guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  5. reid says:

    I thought this was also important to the Native Americans in the Dakotas? Not even worth mentioning?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. M. Bouffant says:

    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.

    As I understand it, the people of British Columbia did not want this pipeline running through their province (note that it’s a significantly shorter distance from Alberta to Vancouver) so it was decided to try to run it through the United States. I believe that’s why P.M. Trudeau backs it. And do note which states it goes through.

    Keep the profits private, but impose risk on everyone else. Yay glibertarianism!!

    P.S.: It’s the 21st century. Do you still believe burning fossil fuels is the future of energy? Do you stand upwind or downwind from a campfire? You like to take a suck from tailpipe once in a while just to keep your carbon monoxide levels up?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Interesting article in The Economist on how Trump has basically given up the US’s place in the world to China.

    I suspect a few decades of affronted “we’re still number one!” behavior, but at some point we’re going to have to realize we’re now acting like a former empire.

    (And I’m sure we’ll get to watch Rod Dreher wring his hands some more about the Hopelessness of American Civilization. )

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  8. gVOR08 says:

    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.

    Yes, our goal should be to get every last kilo of carbon out of the ground and burned before some crazy liberal decides to do something about AGW.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  9. James Pearce says:

    More protest then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. al-Alameda says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The states the pipeline crosses are pretty low-population, except Texas. Texas will just have to find another source of drinking water, I guess.

    May I suggest Flint, Michigan?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: Yeah. The American Century lasted roughly from 1941 to last Friday.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  12. Guarneri says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Boy, just 4 days and he’s given it all up to the Chinese. Bummer, man.

    Good thing all the global warming predictions take a wee bit longer………….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  13. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Guarneri:

    Can you comprehend anything beyond “yay my tribe, boo your tribe?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  14. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    Accomplishing more than you…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Guarneri: Better start learning Chinese if you want to keep your role as a Great Businessman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Let the lawsuits begin :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  17. James Pearce says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    Accomplishing more than you…

    Accomplishing what exactly?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  18. James Pearce says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Let the lawsuits begin

    This. Lawsuits over Protests.

    See, The Poor, Little Sisters Of.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  19. bill says:

    yes, because it’ll be the first pipeline ever….only day 2 and the panties are digging now!

    @C. Clavin: why do you care, it’s west of the miss. river and it’s not someplace you or your cronies give 2 sheets about…….unless some ranchers protest gov’t. crackdowns on grazing and such……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @bill: Considering that that’s Canadian oil getting shipped down to Texas to get shipped to China…

    Why a lot of us are dubious about this pipeline thingie is because we’re taking all the risk (to our groundwater) and what are we getting in exchange for it?

    It may be “riskier” to ship by rail or truck when you’re counting up the frequency of accidents….but it’s not the probability of the accident, but the probability of the damage that I’m more worried about. You have an accident with rail or a truck, it’s somewhat limited. If you have a pipeline carrying 800,000 barrels a day and you get a break in it, how much of that 800,000 spills out before you can cap it?

    But Free Market, baby!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  21. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @bill: I care because I am one of the millions of Texans whose water comes from the Carizzo-Wilcox Aquifer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. Mr. Prosser says:

    @grumpy realist: The Texas segment of the pipeline has been up and running since 2014, not yet carrying Alberta bitumen but functioning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. george says:

    Its not like it matters if a pipe breaks by an Indian Reservation – it was important to move the route from near Bismarck because real people live there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  24. Pch101 says:

    I find it hilarious that Republican-supporting grunts are so strongly in favor of policies that would raise the price of oil such as Keystone XL and allowing US oil exports, yet are the first to complain when the price of gas goes up.

    You truly have to be a moron to be this inconsistent. Most exported Alberta oil ends in areas of the US that are close to Alberta because it is difficult for the Canadians to ship it much further due to the lack of a trans-national pipeline. This directly benefits Americans who get to pay less for the oil because Canada is left with little choice but to discount it. You should be happy that there is no pipeline because it saves you money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  25. Tyrell says:

    After so many years, the Alaska pipeline was supposed to be replaced with a new one. I have not heard anymore about that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0