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Trump Pushes to Jump-Start Completion of Keystone Pipeline System First Proposed in 2005

Keystone XL, Trump
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PENNY STARR

Fourteen years after TransCanada Corporation first proposed the construction of the Keystone Pipeline System to transport crude oil from Canada through points in the United States to the Gulf Coast, President Donald Trump issued a presidential permit on Friday in the hopes of finally getting the job-creating, energy-producing project finished.

Because the pipeline traverses an international border, the project has been under the jurisdiction of the U.S. State Department, which has issued several environmental impact statements, all of which concluded: “Keystone XL will have a limited effect on the environment.”

And although key portions of the pipeline have already been completed, the final construction of the Keystone XL part of the remaining pipeline has been held up in lawsuits brought by environmental activists and some Native American tribes.

President Donald Trump first issued a presidential permit to allow TransCanada to complete Keystone XL in March of 2017, which resulted in more lawsuits.

On Friday, Trump issued another presidential permit to replace the one issued two years ago, drawing the ire of critics of Keystone XL in particular and fossil fuels in general.

The Associated Press (AP) reported:

A federal judge blocked the project in November, saying the Trump administration had not fully considered potential oil spills and other impacts. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ordered a new environmental review.

A White House spokesman said the new permit issued by Trump “dispels any uncertainty” about the project. 

“Specifically, this permit reinforces, as should have been clear all along, that the presidential permit is indeed an exercise of presidential authority that is not subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act,” the spokesman said in the AP report.

The Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University describes the current state of the pipeline project this way: 

The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed extension of the existing Keystone Pipeline System, which currently transports up to 600,000 barrels of oil per day between Canada and the US. The Keystone Pipeline System runs from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Texas, and also to oil tank farms and an oil pipeline distribution center in Cushing, Oklahoma. TransCanada is the sole owner of both the Keystone Pipeline System and Keystone XL.

The Keystone XL pipeline would connect to the existing pipeline system to bring oil from Hardisty in Alberta, Canada directly to Steele City, Nebraska. It would run through Baker, Montana, where American-produced oil from the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota would be added to the pipeline. The proposed 875-mile route of Keystone XL would cross the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

The Keystone XL Pipeline has received all the necessary federal permits to complete the project, but it faces continuing litigation at the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana regarding the project’s compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Reaction to Trump’s move has been swift. TransCanada and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the president.

“The president’s action today clarifies the national importance of Keystone XL and aims to bring more than ten years of environmental review to closure,” TransCanada said in a press release and statement.

“President Trump has been clear that he wants to create jobs and advance U.S. energy security and the Keystone XL pipeline does both of those things,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer said. “We thank President Trump for his leadership and steadfast support to enable the advancement of this critical energy infrastructure project for North America.”

“The magnitude of the work on this project has been extensive,” Girling said. “The Keystone XL pipeline has been studied more than any other pipeline in history, and the environmental reviews are clear – the project can be built and operated in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way.”

“Keystone XL will create thousands of jobs and deliver economic benefits across North America while being the safest, most efficient and environmentally sound way to move crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast,” the TransCanada press release said.

“We’re pleased to see action that will help clear the way for development of the Keystone XL pipeline,” the Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. “The Keystone XL pipeline is one of the most studied pieces of infrastructure in American history.”

“Over the course of a decade, it has been through five environmental reviews on the main route and an additional two on an alternative route,” the press release said. “As our president and CEO, Tom Donohue, recently said during recent Congressional testimony, ‘It shouldn’t take longer to approve a project than to build it.”  

“Keystone XL is in our economic and energy security interests, and review after review have found that it can be built and operated in an environmentally responsible way,” the press release said. “It’s time to move forward.”

But environmental activists and their supporters are raising the same objections to the project. Now with Trump as president, the criticism is taking the shape of a personal attack.

Stephan Volker, a lawyer for environmental activists who sued to stop completion of the pipeline, called Trump’s move “illegal,” according to AP.

“By his action today in purporting to authorize construction” of the pipeline despite court rulings blocking it, “President Trump has launched a direct assault on our system of governance,” Volker said Friday in an email to AP.

Trump’s attempt to “overturn our system of checks and balances is nothing less than an attack on our Constitution. It must be defeated,” Volker said.

“Anthony Swift, director of the Canada project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said the pipeline ‘was a bad idea from Day One, and it remains a terrible idea. If built, it would threaten our land, our drinking water, and our communities from Montana and Nebraska to the Gulf Coast. And it would drive dangerous climate change,’” AP reported.

Aside from the legal challenges, in 2015 President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline outright, saying it was not in the “national interest.”

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