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Keystone approval kicks off new fight over pipeline

Keystone approval kicks off new fight over pipeline

Friday’s approval of a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is just the opening act of a renewed fight to get the project built.

Environmentalists who waged a yearslong war against the controversial project during the Obama administration have lined up to fight it again now.
President Trump’s decision to give Keystone developer TransCanada a presidential permit does not clear the path for the $8 billion project.

With regulatory approval still pending in Nebraska and greens promising a fresh round of legal challenges and public protests, getting the Keystone XL from Canada up and running is still a long-term process for its developers and supporters.

Even so, Trump celebrated the permit announcement on Friday, calling it “a historic moment for North America and energy independence.”
The Obama administration’s rejection of the project “demonstrates how our government has too often failed its citizens and companies over the past long period of time,” he said. “Today we make things right.”
Pipeline foes say Trump is too optimistic about the fate of the project.
TransCanada still needs to secure permitting at the state level, something the company’s CEO acknowledged during an Oval Office event on Friday.
The company in February asked state officials to approve the project’s route in Nebraska, which would be bisected by Keystone before it joins an existing pipeline route.
The approval process — conducted by a five-member commission — will last at least into the fall, and potentially longer.
“We’ve been working there for some time and I do believe that we’ll get through that process, but obviously we have to engage with local landowners, tribal communities,” TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling said from the Oval Office on Friday.
“So we’re reaching out to those over the coming months to get the other necessary permits that we need, and then we’re looking forward to starting construction.”
That regulatory process is likely to be a focal point in the fight over the pipeline. Jane Kleeb, an anti-pipeline activist who founded the group Bold Alliance, said lawsuits in the state could extend that timeline for years.
She said opponents there will push the commission to oppose the project.
‘We, in Nebraska, will treat this as a political campaign, just as if we were trying to get healthcare reform to be secure and not overturned,” she said.
“We will never allow an inch of this foreign steel pipeline, carrying foreign tar sands that can pollute our water and take away property rights and threaten treaty rights of tribes here in Nebraska. … We will not allow that to happen,” Kleeb said.
Environmentalists are also gearing up to sue against the project.
The State Department approved the project using an environmental assessment conducted in 2014. Greens argue that the facts of the project and the energy markets have changed so much since then that a new environmental review is necessary.
“Needless to say, we are prepared to challenge a permit decision that ignores such fundamental requirements of our nation’s environmental laws,” said Anthony Swift, the Canada Project director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said his group also “expects to challenge it in court in the coming days.”
During the approval process under Obama, Keystone became a flashpoint for environmentalists and anti-fossil fuels activists, who vowed to fight a project they said was out of line with the need for action on climate change.
Thousands rallied against the proposal in Washington, D.C., and around the country during the approval process. Their effort eventually convinced Obama that the pipeline “would not serve the national interest of the United States,” as he said when he denied it in 2015.
Emboldened by that decision, activists and American Indian groups turned their attention to other fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline. They are now promising a fresh round of public protests against Keystone, including on-the-ground protest camps similar to those that cropped up around Dakota Access.
“This fight is not going to be just in one location, or the focal point in this resistance is not just in one location, but it will be throughout the entire length” of the project, said Dallas Goldtooth, an Indigenous Environmental Network activist who was central to the Dakota Access protests.
Keystone supporters welcomed the permit announcement Friday, calling it a key victory in a contentious, persistent fight over a high-profile energy project.
“This is a very, very important day for us, for our company,” TransCanada’s Girling said. “We’re very relieved and very much just want to get to work.”
Others pushed regulators to quickly approve the project. In a statement, Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers International Union, said the review in Nebraska should be “completed swiftly so that the thousands of hard-working men and women of the building trades … can get to work.”
Trump promised to “call Nebraska” to push the project forward there, but green activists are preparing to put up as many roadblocks as they can to stop that.
“The president, as he approved this thing this morning, as he granted the permit, he turned to the CEO of the Canadian company that’s supposed to built it, and said, ‘When does construction start?’” Bill McKibben, founder of the climate group, said Friday.
“The actual answer to that is: never. This project is going to be fought at every turn.”
© Getty Images
© Getty Images
Source: The Hill
By Devin Henry –
from the New York Times:


U.S., in Reversal, Issues Permit for Keystone Oil Pipeline


HOUSTON — During his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump repeatedly hailed the Keystone XL pipeline as a vital jobs program and one that sharply contrasted his vision for the economy with that of Hillary Clinton.

“Today we begin to make things right,” President Trump said Friday morning shortly after the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for Keystone construction, a reversal of Obama administration policy.

The pipeline would link oil producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. It has long been an object of contention, with environmentalists saying it would contribute to climate change and the project’s proponents — Republicans, some labor unions and the oil industry — contending that it would help guarantee national energy security for decades to come.

When President Barack Obama rejected the project in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels.

The announcement on Friday said the State Department “considered a range of factors, including, but not limited to, foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy.”

The new secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, formerly the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, had recused himself from the decision. The announcement said the permit was signed by the under secretary of state for political affairs, Thomas A. Shannon Jr.

The pipeline still faces hurdles before it can be built. It needs the approval of the Nebraska Public Service Commission and local landowners who are concerned about their water and land rights. Protests are likely since the project has become an important symbol for the environmental movement, with the Canadian oil sands among the most carbon-intensive oil supplies. Mining the oil sands requires vast amounts of energy for extraction and processing.

In addition, interest among many oil companies in the oil sands is waning amid sluggish oil prices. Extraction from the oil sands, situated in the sub-Arctic boreal forest, is expensive. Statoil and Total, two European energy giants, have abandoned their production projects. In recent weeks, Royal Dutch Shell agreed to sell most of its oil sands assets for $8.5 billion. And Exxon Mobil wrote down 3.5 billion barrels of reserves, conceding the oil sands were not economically attractive enough to develop for the next few years at least.

Nevertheless, Canadian production continues to grow as projects that were conceived when prices were higher begin to operate. And the Keystone effort is central to the future of TransCanada, a major force in the Canadian oil patch.

The United States Chamber of Commerce and other business groups applauded the administration’s action. Jack Gerard, the president and chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, the primary industry lobbying arm, said the decision was “welcome news” and was “critical to creating American jobs, growing the economy and making our nation more energy secure.’’

Opponents say the pipeline is unnecessary at a time when American oil production is soaring and future demand has been put in question by increasingly efficient cars, electric cars and growing concerns over climate change.

“The Keystone pipeline would be a straw running through the heart of America to transport the dirtiest oil in the world to the thirstiest foreign markets,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Originally planned to open in 2012, the Keystone XL would transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian and North Dakota crude to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with existing pipelines to deliver the sludgy oil to refineries in Texas and Louisiana for processing. Most of the refined product would probably be exported, or it might enable domestic producers to export more oil produced in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

When the project was in the planning stages, the United States was highly dependent on oil from the Middle East. The drilling boom in shale fields in Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Colorado was still in its infancy.

But in recent years, domestic production has nearly doubled, and the United States now exports increasing amounts of oil and natural gas. Oil prices have been slashed in half over the last three years, although many analysts predict that petroleum prices will rebound in the next decade, when the pipeline would begin to operate.

For Canada, and especially Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the pipeline represents a mixed blessing. The pipeline would most likely raise the price of Canadian oil, which is now even more depressed than other international grades.

Mr. Trudeau publicly supports the pipeline as a tool to give Canada’s economy a lift, but an increase in oil sands production could undercut his commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as promised in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

“We are pleased with the U.S. decision,” said the natural resources minister of Canada, Jim Carr. “Keystone XL will create thousands of good middle-class jobs for Canadians during construction.’’

Though Mr. Obama ultimately took a different stand, his State Department concluded in an environmental-impact statement that the pipeline project would not add to carbon pollution because the oil would find its way to market one way or another. Proponents have argued that rail or truck transport is more polluting and dangerous than pipelines.

That argument has been weakened somewhat with the fall in oil prices in recent years that has made oil sands production less attractive on oil markets.

Protests helped sway the Obama administration to reject the project, and environmentalists have been further emboldened by demonstrations last year in North Dakota, mostly by Native American groups, that have delayed another project, the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Environmental groups are already promising to aid local groups in blocking the Keystone pipeline’s construction. “We’ll use every tool in the kit to stop this dangerous tar sands oil pipeline project,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The project would provide for thousands of construction jobs, and it has attracted the support of several labor unions.

Mr. Trump has made infrastructure-building a centerpiece of his efforts to spur economic growth.

“The fact is that this $8 billion investment in American energy was delayed for so long demonstrates how the American government has failed the American people,” Mr. Trump said on Friday as he met with his National Economic Council at the White House.

At the beginning of his term, he instructed the Commerce Department to establish a plan requiring that new pipelines be constructed with American-made materials like steel. But the White House has since suggested that the Keystone project would not be subjected to those rules because it is not a new project.

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