‘Vindication’: Keystone critics welcome Biden nixing pipeline

Indigenous and environmental groups celebrate revocation of permit, while Canadian PM Trudeau is ‘disappointed’.

Indigenous activist protests the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines at the White House in Washington
Indigenous communities, environmentalists and landowners along the pipeline route have mounted years-long campaigns against Keystone XL [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Montreal, Canada – Opponents of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline are welcoming United States President Joe Biden’s decision to nix the multibillion-dollar project, saying the move provides a “sense of vindication” in their years-long fight.

Matthew Campbell, a staff lawyer at the Native American Rights Fund, which has represented Indigenous groups in lawsuits against the project, said the move recognises “that the tribes will be heavily impacted by the pipeline and so it should not be approved”.

Just hours after he was inaugurated, Biden cancelled his predecessor President Donald Trump’s approval of Keystone XL, a 1,947km (1,210 mile) pipeline that was set to stretch from the Canadian province of Alberta to the US state of Nebraska.

Former US President Barack Obama vetoed the project in 2015, saying it was not economically viable for the US, but Trump in 2017 signed an executive order allowing it to proceed.

Trump signed a presidential order in 2019 replacing his previous authorisation in an attempt to speed up construction.

A sign sits in the proposed path of the Keystone XL pipeline, in Silver Creek, Nebraska [File: Nati Harnik/AP Photo]

The pipeline, which was opposed by Indigenous groups, environmental advocates and landowners along the route who argued it violated their rights and would accelerate the climate crisis, was slated to ship 830,000 barrels of oil per day between the two countries.

“The tribes have long been pointing out that the approval of this pipeline was not in compliance with their treaty rights, that it didn’t take into consideration … the impact that the pipeline will have on their water, their lands, their cultural resources, their people,” Campbell told Al Jazeera before the decision was confirmed.

Revoking the presidential permit, he said, is “an important signal … that the Biden administration is going to honour and recognise the United States’ relationship to the Native people within the United States”.

Canada lobbying

The decision comes after a diplomatic blitz from Canadian government officials, who have been making the case for the project with Biden’s team since the US president won the November election. Biden had promised to nix the project if he won the vote.

Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta who invested 1.5 billion Canadian dollars ($1.1bn) in the Keystone project last year warned earlier this week that the province could lose one billion Canadian dollars ($784m) if the project were cancelled.

In a news conference on Wednesday evening, Kenney said Biden’s decision was a “gut punch”.

“Sadly, it is an insult aimed at the US’s most important ally and trading partner,” he said, urging the Canadian federal government to sit down with Biden to discuss the project.

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney’s Alberta government invested $1.1bn in Keystone last year [File: Candace Elliott/Reuters]

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that he spoke to Biden directly about Keystone in November and that Canadian officials, including the country’s ambassador to the US, had tried to make the case for the project with high-level administration officials.

“While we welcome the President’s commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the President’s decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL,” Trudeau said.

TC Energy Corporation, the company behind the project, which changed its name from TransCanada in 2019, also said on Wednesday that it was “disappointed” by Biden’s decision, which it said it would lead to thousands of layoffs.

“TC Energy will review the decision, assess its implications, and consider its options. However, as a result of the expected revocation of the Presidential Permit, advancement of the project will be suspended,” it said.

The company had said last year that it expected the pipeline to be operational by 2023 and to inject $8bn into the North American economy.

Climate leadership

Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law in Vancouver, said Biden’s actions on his first day in office, including a pledge to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, “put the US back on the path towards global climate leadership”.

“Now, Canada risks being left behind if it does not address the (white) elephant in the room: you can’t solve the climate crisis while expanding the oil sands and building new pipelines,” Kung told Al Jazeera in an email.

Trudeau’s government bought a contentious oil pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline, in 2018. That project, too, has faced staunch opposition from environmental groups and Indigenous leaders along its 1,150km (714-mile) route from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia.

“It was easy for Prime Minister Trudeau to play the role of climate leader with Trump in the White House over the past four years,” Kung said.

“However, on his first day in office, President Biden has now passed Trudeau by cancelling an unnecessary oil sands pipeline, while Prime Minister Trudeau continues to cling to Trans Mountain and support [Keystone XL].”

Indigenous - Canada work camps
Supporters of the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs camp at a railway blockade as part of protests against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline last year [File: Codie McLachlan/Reuters]

Other fights continue

Meanwhile, Indigenous groups said though they welcomed Keystone XL’s cancellation as “a substantial victory”, they would continue to exert pressure on the Biden administration to cancel other main pipeline projects.

The Indigenous Environmental Network advocacy group said that includes Line 3 – a multibillion dollar pipeline project between Alberta and the US state of Wisconsin – and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which spurred massive, Indigenous-led protests in the US state of North Dakota in 2016.

“It is imperative that we keep the pressure on President-elect Biden to put an end to ALL fossil fuel infrastructure and projects,” Tasina Sapa Win Smith, co-founder of Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective, said in a statement.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which opposes the Dakota Access pipeline, said it sent a letter along with other tribes to Biden “requesting quick, decisive action” on the project within his first 10 days in office.

Source: Al Jazeera