Trump takes action to move forward with Keystone, Dakota Access pipelines

President Trump on Tuesday moved two controversial pipeline projects forward by signing a pair of executive actions that could speed up approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects.

In an Oval Office ceremony, Trump said the actions would create new jobs in the United States, and that the pipelines should be built with U.S. steel and labor.

“We will build our own pipeline, we will build our own pipes, like we used to, in the old days,” Trump said as he held up one of his actions to television cameras brought into the Oval Office to broadcast the event.

The actions are a sharp turn from the Obama administration's policies, as the former president had rejected the Keystone pipeline and delayed Dakota Access.

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Tuesday's actions will not force the approval of either project, and Trump said he wanted to renegotiate terms with the pipelines’ developers. Those terms may include some way for the United States government to get a financial return from Keystone, a possibility he mentioned on the campaign trail.

The orders fulfill campaign promises Trump made to move both pipelines forward. They will gain ardent support from the oil industry and the GOP but strong opposition from Democrats and environmentalists. 

The two projects require different approvals. Keystone, which would run from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to the Gulf Coast in Texas, needs a presidential permit to build across the Canadian border. Dakota Access, developed by Energy Transfer Partners, needs an Army Corps of Engineers easement to build under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Trump’s orders will expedite both. 

TransCanada Corp., the company developing Keystone, thanked Trump for his memo. "We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so," spokesman Terry Cunha said in a statement.

Environmentalists on Tuesday vowed to remobilize the legal and grassroots forces that originally fought against the pipelines during the Obama administration. 

Jane Kleeb, an anti-pipeline organizer who leads the group Bold Alliance, insisted Keystone is years away from completion, noting it still has to overcome landowner disputes in Nebraska and legal challenges to government decisions on the project. 

“If they try to build without having permits, then you’re literally talking about hundreds of thousands of Americans who will descend on the state of Nebraska, and people of his own party, out in the sand hills, protecting land that’s been in their families since the 1800s,” she said.

Jan Hasselman, the Earthjustice lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux in its lawsuits against Dakota Access, said he expects to take the Trump administration to court if it approves the easement needed for constructing the project. 

“The easement still has to meet the standards of the statue,” Hasselman said in an interview. 

“An executive order can’t circumvent the law, and the previous administration found, correctly, that more work was needed and that the tribe’s treaty rights required more thorough analysis of risk and consideration of alternatives. An easement issued under this executive order violates the law, and we will take the Army to court.”

Keystone XL and Dakota Access have been major targets for greens, who coalesced against them when were working their way through the regulatory process under Obama.   

Environmentalists on Tuesday indicated they’re ready for another fight against the projects.

“This is a con — a con on a massive scale — and we will fight it, we will fight it with everything we’ve got,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of climate group 350.org

“It will be in the courts and it will be in the streets. We will fight it and we will fight it with a certain amount of hope that we will prevail in the end.”

Dallas Goldtooth, an anti-Dakota Access organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said he didn’t know if protest camps — 10,000-people strong last fall — would crop back up in North Dakota.

But he said the network will look to launch protest against the project around the country. 

“If Trump does not pull back from implementing these orders, it will only result in more massive mobilization and civil disobedience on a scale never seen of a newly seated president of the United States,” he said.

The oil industry and labor groups — whose workers would construct the pipelines — have a different take on the projects, and they welcomed Trump’s announcement Tuesday. 

“We are pleased to see the new direction being taken by this administration to recognize the importance of our nation’s energy infrastructure by restoring the rule of law in the permitting process that’s critical to pipelines and other infrastructure projects,” said Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute.

“Critical energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipelines will help deliver energy to American consumers and businesses safely and efficiently,” he continued.

Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North American, was also pleased.

“What we saw today was bold and decisive action by President Trump,” he said. “He said he was going to create middle-class jobs, and by what he did today, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.”

Jim Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, called Trump's move “a major step toward putting more Americans to work, building the infrastructure that we need, and creating economic prosperity.”

“It’s certainly confirms his commitment both to the rule of law and to job creation and energy security, which is pretty critical,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a close Trump ally whose state would contain segments of both lines.  

He called it a “pretty significant differentiation between the previous administration and this one.”

Scott Wong contributed.