Within hours of Donald Trump’s decision to issue a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, opposition groups were gearing up for a second round of battle, after dusting off and updating facts and arguments they had already spent years developing.
“The approval by the Trump administration is a setback, to be sure, but there are numerous roadblocks still standing in the way of the pipeline being built,” writes Oil Change International Campaigns Director David Turnbull. “There is still no approved route in Nebraska, and the #NoKXL movement in Nebraska is working to keep it that way.”
Turnbull cites six “best hits”—Keystone’s climate impact, its status as an export pipeline, the false choice between pipeline and rail, the fossil industry’s political influence, the hidden costs of the pipeline, and the substantive climate victory of stopping the project—as lead arguments against approval. But he notes that the scene has shifted since President Barack Obama refused the presidential permit the first time around.
“While not everything has changed,” Turnbull writes, “the oil market is of course constantly in flux—making it all the more concerning that Keystone XL may be pushed through by the Trump administration without a new and robust analysis of its potential impacts in light of current market conditions, and an ever-more-dire understanding of our climate crisis.”
Anthony Swift, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project, reinforced the view that surrounding circumstances have changed since Keystone first received U.S. State Department approval.
“Whenever Congress or TransCanada or its lobbyists have tried to create shortcuts to expedite approval, it tended to backfire and cause the process to be longer,” he toldInsideClimate News. “We’re seeing that again with the [administration] making a decision on the basis of an incredibly outdated environmental review.”
Environmental groups will argue that new scientific evidence—including a literature survey released last year by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences—has shed a harsh light on the environmental hazards of diluted bitumen spilling from pipelines. “It’s very, very difficult to imagine a legally defensible decision” based on the fast-tracked review leading up to Trump’s announcement, Swift said. “And if we see a legally indefensible approval, we will challenge that.”
ICN and Turnbull both refer to protests in Nebraska, where grassroot groups helped stop Keystone the first time and are gearing up for the encore. So far, ICN reports, “the five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission has said it does not expect to make a decision before September on TransCanada’s application for a state permit.”
That hurdle was no doubt on TransCanada CEO Russ Girling’s mind after Trump asked him when he expected to start construction on the project, and Girling declined to answer. “I’ll call Nebraska,” Trump said. “They have a great governor…I’ll call him today.” The exchange prompted Oil Change to tweet that “Donald Trump had no clue #KeystoneXL still lacks a permit in Nebraska & that the process takes months.”
While the self-described great dealmaker who failed to hammer out a U.S. health care bill last week may now be keen to turn his vaunted business acumen to Keystone, the solution he seeks won’t be as simple as a quick lobbying session with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
“The courts in Nebraska have ruled that it is not the governor’s decision alone, but that of the public service commission, which must hold hearings on whether the pipeline is in the interest of Nebraskans,” ICN notes. “TransCanada also will need the commission’s approval before it can use eminent domain to secure rights of way on private property.”
What’s more, “the company has to wait until September 2017 to renew the eminent domain proceedings. It had been barred for two years from doing so after it abandoned the dealings in September 2015, just before the Obama administration denied the federal permit.”
On the Canadian side of the border, meanwhile, Indigenous Climate Action pointed to the warm reception Trump’s Keystone announcement received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr. “The actions of both governments are a direct assault on the rights of Indigenous peoples, our waterways, and the safeguarding of the ecosystems critical for climate stabilization and Indigenous cultural survival,” the organization noted.
“The tar sands oil that will flow through the KXL pipeline is being extracted from lands and territories of Indigenous peoples who have been forced into economic hostage scenarios—putting communities in positions that forces them to choose between fighting for their cultural survival or putting food on the table and a roof over their heads,” ICA stated.
“Many Indigenous communities within the extraction zones now have lower life expectancies, higher rates of cancer and auto-immune diseases, and restricted access to traditional territories once guaranteed to them through treaty. No one should ever be forced to choose between feeding their children or protecting their culture and rights. Yet, we have allowed this to become a norm in Canada and the U.S.”