Trump administration approves Keystone XL pipeline permit

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration issued a construction permit Friday for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, reversing a decision by former President Barack Obama that allowing the project to move forward would undermine U.S. leadership on climate change.

The decision marks the latest twist in a years-long fight between environmental groups and the energy industry over the $8 billion pipeline, which would bring carbon intensive oil sands from western Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The State Department, responsible for reviewing the project because it crosses an international border, said Friday it determined that building it serves U.S. national interests, citing the importance of Canadian crude in maintaining U.S. energy security and the administration’s goal of improving the country’s energy infrastructure.

“It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North America and energy independence,” President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Friday.

The State Department also dismissed the concerns of the previous of the administration that approving Keystone might lead to a global shift away from climate change policies.

“Since [2015], there have been numerous developments related to global action to address climate change, including announcements my many countries of their plans to do so. In this changed global context, a decision to approve this proposed project would not undermine U.S. objectives in this area,” a 31-page report released by the State Department Friday read.

TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that first applied for a presidential permit in 2008, called the decision a “significant milestone.”

“We greatly appreciate President Trump’s administration for reviewing and approving this important initiative,” said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling. “We look forward to working with them as we continue to invest in and strengthen North America’s energy infrastructure.”

The 1,700-mile pipeline, as envisioned, would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The pipeline would move roughly 800,000 barrels of oil per day, more than one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the U.S.

Yet even with a presidential permit, the pipeline still faces obstacles — most notably the route, which is still being heavily litigated in the states. Native American tribes and landowners have joined environmental groups in opposing the pipeline.

FILE – In this Nov. 3, 2015, file photo, the Keystone Steele City pumping station, into which the planned Keystone XL pipeline is to connect to, is seen in Steele City, Neb. Senior U.S. officials say the State Department will recommend approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, clearing the way for the White House to formally approve it. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

TransCanada said Friday it would continue engaging with “neighbors throughout Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to advance this project to construction.”

In an unusual twist, the presidential permit was signed by Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving in a senior State Department role, rather than by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The former CEO of oil company Exxon Mobil recused himself after protests from environmental groups who said it would be a conflict of interest for Tillerson to decide the pipeline’s fate.

Oil industry advocates say the pipeline will improve U.S. energy security and create jobs, although how many is widely disputed. Calgary-based TransCanada has promised as many as 13,000 construction jobs — 6,500 a year over two years — but the State Department previously estimated a far smaller number. The pipeline’s opponents contend the jobs will be minimal and short-lived, and say the pipeline won’t help the U.S. with energy needs because the oil is destined for export.

President Donald Trump has championed the pipeline and backed the idea that it will prove a job creator. In one of his first acts as president, he invited pipeline company TransCanada to resubmit the application to construct and operate the pipeline. And he had given officials until next Monday to complete a review of the project.

The announcement Friday drew cheers from both sides of the aisle among Texas’ representatives in Congress, though not without a lament that the delay in getting the permitting approved left the project in danger.

“The State Department’s approval of Keystone XL proves that the Trump administration is serious about being a champion of creating energy jobs,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said in a statement.

“While I support the Administration’s decision, the approval comes five years too late,” said Gene Green, D-Houston. “Unfortunately, we’ve allowed a government permitting decision to delay a private investment decision to the point where it becomes uneconomical.”

A Trump presidential directive also required new or expanded pipelines to be built with American steel “to the maximum extent possible.” However, TransCanada has said Keystone won’t be built with U.S. steel. The company has already acquired the steel, much of it from Canada and Mexico, and the White House has acknowledged it’s too difficult to impose conditions on a pipeline already under construction.

Portions of Keystone have already been built. Completing it required a permit to cross from Canada into the U.S.

Environmental groups also say the pipeline will encourage the use of carbon-heavy tar sands oil which contributes more to global warming than cleaner sources of energy. President Barack Obama reached the same conclusion in 2015 after a negative recommendation from then-Secretary of State John Kerry.

TransCanada first applied for a permit in 2008. Years of politicking, legal wrangling and disputes over the pipeline’s route preceded Obama’s decision to nix the project. The various delays meant Hillary Clinton never issued a recommendation during her four years as secretary of state.

In rejecting Keystone, the Obama administration argued it would undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was reached weeks later in Paris. Kerry’s recommendation against the permit came after lengthy State Department reviews, and it was unclear what justification the agency might now use to explain the change of position.

The Trump administration has dropped fighting climate change as a priority and left open the possibility of pulling out of the Paris deal.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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