Liberals celebrate the demise of the Keystone XL pipeline, but conservatives promise to keep the issue alive

Canadian gas company TC Energy announced Wednesday that it had terminated its Keystone XL pipeline project after President Biden revoked a key permit on his first day in office because of concerns over the pipeline’s impact on climate change.

This decision by TC Energy concludes a 13-year battle surrounding the building of the pipeline and represents a victory for environmental groups that have been calling attention to the harmful effects of processing oil-sands crude oil since the Keystone project was first proposed in 2008.

In its press release Wednesday, TC Energy said it “will continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments, ensure a safe termination and exit from the Project.”

The proposed 1,179-mile pipeline would have eventually carried 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of tar sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb. Its construction was stalled in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama but resuscitated in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump, who signed a presidential permit that allowed TC Energy to effectively “construct, connect, operate and maintain pipeline facilities ... for the import of oil from Canada to the United States.” Since construction began last year, only about 300 miles of pipeline has been built.

Pipes for the Keystone XL
Pipes for the Keystone XL in a yard in Alberta, Canada. (Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Biden’s decision in January to cancel the cross-border permit for the project was the final blow. “The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. ... Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives,” Biden announced in an executive order signed on his first day in office.

In addition to the pipeline’s generation of excessive carbon dioxide emissions, Keystone XL would have cut through the Ogallala Aquifer, a source of water for those living in the High Plains, which includes many Native American communities.

Opponents of the pipeline, including environmental activists and tribal leaders, celebrated TC Energy’s decision.

Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, said in a Thursday statement: “On behalf of our Ponca Nation, we welcome this long overdue news and thank all who worked so tirelessly to educate and fight to prevent this from coming to fruition. It’s a great day for Mother Earth.”

In another statement, Fort Belknap Indian Community president Andy Werk said, “We were not willing to sacrifice our water or safety for the financial benefit of a trans-national corporation. We are thrilled that the project has been canceled.”

'Kayaktivists'
A pipeline-resistance training camp in the San Juan Islands, off Washington state. (Tim Exton/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Vice President Al Gore joined the chorus of those applauding the pipeline’s demise, tweeting, “Congratulations to the Indigenous communities & activists who for a decade have said #NoKXL. We must continue to put the planet and its people ahead of polluters by saying no to #ByhaliaPipeline, #DAPL, #MVP, #Line3 & other reckless fossil fuel pipelines.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also celebrated on Wednesday. “The Keystone XL pipeline was a giveaway to foreign oil lobbyists that put our communities, environment, and tribal lands at risk,” she tweeted. “I’m glad it’s dead, and I’m grateful to everyone who fought to make this day happen.”

For many Republicans, however, the pipeline was seen as a way to create much-needed energy sector jobs.

“President Biden killed the #KeystoneXL Pipeline & with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., tweeted. “On Inauguration Day @POTUS signed an executive order that ended pipeline construction & handed 1000 workers pink slips. Now 10x that number of jobs will never be created.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has repeatedly criticized Biden over his decision to revoke the permit for the pipeline.

Keystone XL “is a project that right now, today, has 1,200 good-paying union jobs. And in 2021, the Keystone pipeline was scheduled to have more than 11,000 jobs, including 8,000 union jobs, for contracts worth $1.6 billion,” Cruz said during a Senate hearing in January.

A 2014 State Department report dissected those numbers, revealing that out of the 11,000 jobs Cruz cited, only 35 to 50 would have been permanent; the remainder would have been temporary construction jobs as the pipeline was being built.

In March, a coalition of attorneys general from 21 states sued the Biden administration for rescinding the pipeline’s permit. In their complaint they said: “The pipeline would have a negligible impact on the climate but significant impact on the economy and American energy independence.”

A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota, January 25, 2017. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)
A depot used to store pipes for the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline in Gascoyne, N.D., in 2017. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)

As the 2022 midterm elections approach, Republican lawmakers have made clear that the demise of Keystone XL will resurface as an issue on which they will attempt, despite a robust economy, to pummel Democrats as job killers.

Many Republicans are also attempting to portray Biden as a hypocrite over his decision to ease sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, operated by a German citizen with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

“After facing insurmountable opposition, the company behind the Keystone Pipeline abandoned the project today,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Wednesday. “Thousands of jobs destroyed and our energy independence jeopardized. Meanwhile, President Biden is meeting with Putin next week to tell him he can keep his pipeline.”

Along with 10 other Senate Republicans, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, introduced the Defending Keystone Jobs Act, which would require the Biden administration to submit a report to Congress detailing the number of jobs lost as a result of the canceled pipeline.

Enbridge Energy pipeline drilling pad
An Enbridge Energy pipeline drilling pad near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. (Jim Mone/AP)

Despite this backlash from Republicans, the termination of the pipeline is a notable victory for those trying to hasten the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels and a model for the battle that lies ahead. Earlier this week, hundreds of activists from environmental and tribal groups blocked access to the site where the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline is being built in northern Minnesota. TC Energy’s withdrawal from Keystone XL has given hope to opponents.

“The termination of this zombie pipeline sets precedent for President Biden and polluters to stop Line 3, Dakota Access, and all fossil fuel projects,” Kendall Mackey, campaign manager of 350.org’s Keep It in the Ground campaign, said in a statement.

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