WASHINGTON – The Keystone XL pipeline is back on – maybe. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday potentially reviving the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, the subject of a multi-year saga that cast a long shadow over Canada-U.S. relations.
Trump signed a series of executive orders related to infrastructure and construction, the highest profile of which involved the pipeline project that if completed would carry more than one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the U.S..
It remains far from a done deal: there’s ongoing uncertainty on multiple fronts, including anticipated legal and political fights, as well as less-predictable wrinkles introduced by the president himself.
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An order signed by Trump invites pipeline-maker TransCanada Corp. to re-submit an application for a permit. It also encourages U.S. federal regulatory agencies to respond the opposite way the Obama administration did: quickly, and favourably.
“(It) directs agencies to approve it without delay,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday.
“There’s an energy revolution that’s gonna happen in this country. In spite of the bureaucratic and political barriers that have happened in the past, we’re ready to move forward.”
TransCanada responded with an official statement thanking President Trump.
“We appreciate the President of the United States inviting us to re-apply for KXL. We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so.
KXL creates thousands of well-paying construction jobs and would generate tens of millions of dollars in annual property taxes to counties along the route as well as more than $3 billion to the U.S. GDP.
With best-in-class technology and construction techniques that protect waterways and other sensitive environmental resources, KXL represents the safest, most environmentally sound way to connect the American economy to an abundant energy resource.” — TransCanada official statement.
But there was some confusion Tuesday.
The promise of a quick approval appeared to contradict statements from Trump and his own spokesman, both of whom said Tuesday they would seek to negotiate a better Keystone deal for U.S. taxpayers. As he signed the presidential order, Trump said: “We’re going to renegotiate some of the terms. And if they’d like, we’ll see if we can get that pipeline built.”
Trump also signed an order demanding that U.S. steel be used in U.S. pipelines; the bulk of the stockpiled Keystone XL pipe has already been purchased, much of it from outside the U.S.
The lack of clarity lingered through the afternoon in the absence of a published text of the executive orders.
Other promised challenges to the pipeline were entirely predictable.
Jane Kleeb, a political activist who initially organized Nebraska farmers against the project, listed a half-dozen remaining obstacles, including: a constitutional battle over the state’s pipeline law, a new permitting process in Nebraska, and potential protests and legal actions by indigenous peoples in South Dakota.
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Even if everything works out for the company, Kleeb said Tuesday, the earliest it could start building is next year – and that’s without the multiple political and legal fights she predicted would now occur.
“It’s absolutely disgusting that Donald Trump is now going to use eminent domain for private gain against American farmers for a foreign pipeline,” she said.
WATCH: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Canadian government would “welcome” President Donald Trump’s executive order to advance construction of the Keystone pipeline.
“(He) wants to build a wall to protect America from Mexico – and yet here he is saying that any foreign country can now pierce our border with a pipeline without any federal review.
“That should terrify (every) single American.”
Keystone XL would carry more than one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the United States, taking it to the already-built southern leg that connects with major refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Stopping that pipeline has not slowed the flow of Canada’s exports.
The amount of Canadian oil sent to the U.S. has increased more than 60 per cent since TransCanada Corp. first applied for a permit in 2008. Those exports have largely rolled into the U.S. on trains.
In a 2015 interview, a leader of the anti-Keystone movement explained the long-term goal: sabotaging the oil industry. Bill McKibben of the group 350.org helped organize the first big national protest against the project, which had previously been a localized land-rights issue in Nebraska.
The goal is to make it less efficient, less profitable to force a faster transition to clean energy. He said the bid to stall projects was part of a broader effort – which also included pressuring companies to divest their fossil-fuel investments.
“We can’t bankrupt the fossil-fuel industry. But we can begin to politically bankrupt them – and we’re trying,” McKibben told The Canadian Press.
“(It’s) a holding action. If we can keep them from expanding and building pipelines and infrastructure for a little while longer, nobody’s going to use this stuff again. Why would you, when you can make use of the sun and the wind and whatever else?
“And they know that too – which is why they’re so desperately trying to get it done now.”
In a statement Tuesday, McKibben promised Round 2 of the fight: “This is not a done deal. 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.”