Biden Administration

President Biden stabs Keystone XL in the back for good

President Biden signing executive orders on his first day in office. Photo credit: Evan Vucci / The Associated Press.

By Anders Lorenzen

An old foe was top of President Biden’s agenda as he took office last week.

The Keystone XL pipeline is one of the longest-running environmental sagas in US politics. Veteran climate scientist James Hansen called it ‘game over for the climate’ if it were ever to be built, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator who challenged Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, has passionately campaigned against it. 

It was an issue which had dominated Obama’s two terms as president. First, he delayed it several times and ultimately he cancelled it. But only for it to be brought back to life by Donald Trump.

Wasting no time

Biden did not waste any time after he was sworn in, tweeting there was no time to waste. Only two hours after his inauguration he sat down to sign 17 executive orders to turn back Trump-era policies. Revoking the controversial Keystone XL pipeline as well as re-joining the Paris Agreement was amongst the very first executive orders he signed demonstrating he is serious about ambitious climate action. He also signed executive orders for halting oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) wilderness. 

Fulfilling promises

Needless to say, these swift actions delighted climate activists and advocates.

Kierán Suckling, the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity celebrated the decision: “From Paris to Keystone to protecting grey wolves, these huge first moves from President Biden show he’s serious about stopping the climate and extinction crises. These strong steps must be the start of a furious race to avert catastrophe. Reversing Trump’s harmful actions is just the beginning, and we’re increasingly hopeful that our new president is on course to save America’s wildlife, to stop approving new fossil fuel projects and to deliver the rapid transition to clean, distributed energy that science and justice demand.”

Revoking Keystone XL might not have come as the greatest surprise. Biden had indicated months ago that he planned to cancel the pipeline, though supporters of the project had been hoping he would change his mind. Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was disappointed when Obama cancelled the project. And the Canadian government was hopeful that Biden in a move to strengthen US-Canada relations would not axe this project. 

Following Biden’s move on Keystone XL, Trudeau released this statement: “ 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. Workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and across Canada will always have our support. Canada is the single-largest supplier of energy to the United States, contributing to U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness, and supporting thousands of jobs on both sides of the border”, the prime minister said.

Keystone XL would have transported crude oil 1,900 km from the Canadian tar sands in Alberta to Nebraska where it would connect to other pipelines to transfer to Gulf of Mexico oil refineries, crossing indigenous populations and environmentally sensitive land. The pipeline would have transported 830,000 barrels of oil per day from the Alberta tar sands. The tar sands crude oil is a mixture of sand, water, clay and a thick substance called bitumen emissions of which are 30% higher than that of conventional crude oil. 

The project has been attacked by both environmental campaigners as well as Native American groups.

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