Biden Cancels Keystone XL Pipeline Permit

President Joe Biden has revoked a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, effectively killing the controversial project and jump-starting what he’s promised will be a seismic shift in U.S. climate policy after four years of inaction under Donald Trump. 

The executive order on the oil pipeline, which Biden signed just hours after his inauguration, is part of an anticipated blitz of early executive actions to reverse Trump-era policies. Several are expected to target the previous administration’s industry-friendly rollbacks of environmental regulations.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have pledged aggressive government action to combat the global climate crisis, and in recent weeks they’ve assembled what environmentalists have hailed as an “all-star” team to lead that effort. As promised, Biden signed a second executive order Wednesday to rejoin the Paris climate accord.

“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” Biden said during his inauguration speech. “A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear now.”

Revoking the permit for Keystone XL is part of a broader day-one executive order “to address the climate crisis, create good union jobs, and advance environmental justice,” according to the administration. Those efforts include potentially strengthening fuel economy and emissions standards; directing the Interior Department “to protect our nation’s treasures” by reviewing and possibly reversing Trump’s rollbacks of protected national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante; and temporarily banning all oil and gas leasing activities in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It comes as a major blow for a fossil fuel infrastructure project that has been plagued by setbacks and litigation over the last decade. 

In 2015, President Barack Obama rejected Keystone XL, saying that U.S. leadership to combat climate change would be undercut if he allowed the pipeline to be built. President Trump, in turn, revived both Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipeline, signing a pair of executive orders in his first few days to move the pipelines forward. Legal challenges followed and in November 2018 a federal judge halted construction on Keystone XL and ordered the Trump administration to conduct a thorough environmental review. Trump subsequently sidestepped that court order, issuing a presidential permit in 2019 authorizing energy company TransCanada to again proceed with construction.

If built, the planned 1,179-mile, $8.5 billion Keystone XL pipeline would transport some 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, where it would link up with the existing Keystone pipeline that connects to refineries in Texas.

Pipeline owner TC Energy Corp said in a statement Wednesday that it would suspend construction ahead of Biden’s order, which it called “very disappointing.” 

While the Trump administration, industry groups and other project supporters touted the pipeline’s potential to create thousands of new jobs, environmentalists and Native American groups have long warned about its potential climate and other environmental impacts. The pipeline has already suffered a number of failures, including a nearly 400,000-gallon spill in North Dakota in October 2019.

Canadian officials were among those who expressed concern this week after several media outlets reported on Biden’s looming action. Jason Kenney, the premier of the province of Alberta, said in a statement that repealing the project permit “would kill jobs on both sides of the border, weaken the critically important Canada-US relationship, and undermine US national security by making the United States more dependent on OPEC oil imports in the future.” 

Meanwhile, environmental groups hope the president’s executive order is just the start of aggressive government action to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

“These huge first steps show Biden is serious about climate action, but re-entering the Paris Agreement and canceling Keystone must be the start of a furious race to avert catastrophe,” Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Much more is needed, and we’re increasingly hopeful the administration will stop approving new fossil fuel projects and speed the transition to clean, distributed energy that climate science and justice demand.”

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