Energy & Environment

Keystone approval kicks off new fight over pipeline

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Friday’s approval of a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is just the opening act of a renewed fight to get the project built. 
Environmentalists who waged a yearslong war against the controversial project during the Obama administration have lined up to fight it again now. 
President Trump’s decision to give Keystone developer TransCanada a presidential permit does not clear the path for the $8 billion project. 
{mosads}With regulatory approval still pending in Nebraska and greens promising a fresh round of legal challenges and public protests, getting the Keystone XL from Canada up and running is still a long-term process for its developers and supporters. 
Even so, Trump celebrated the permit announcement on Friday, calling it “a historic moment for North America and energy independence.”
The Obama administration’s rejection of the project “demonstrates how our government has too often failed its citizens and companies over the past long period of time,” he said. “Today we make things right.”
Pipeline foes say Trump is too optimistic about the fate of the project. 
TransCanada still needs to secure permitting at the state level, something the company’s CEO acknowledged during an Oval Office event on Friday. 
The company in February asked state officials to approve the project’s route in Nebraska, which would be bisected by Keystone before it joins an existing pipeline route. 
The approval process — conducted by a five-member commission — will last at least into the fall, and potentially longer. 
“We’ve been working there for some time and I do believe that we’ll get through that process, but obviously we have to engage with local landowners, tribal communities,” TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling said from the Oval Office on Friday. 
“So we’re reaching out to those over the coming months to get the other necessary permits that we need, and then we’re looking forward to starting construction.”
That regulatory process is likely to be a focal point in the fight over the pipeline. Jane Kleeb, an anti-pipeline activist who founded the group Bold Alliance, said lawsuits in the state could extend that timeline for years.
She said opponents there will push the commission to oppose the project.
‘We, in Nebraska, will treat this as a political campaign, just as if we were trying to get healthcare reform to be secure and not overturned,” she said. 
“We will never allow an inch of this foreign steel pipeline, carrying foreign tar sands that can pollute our water and take away property rights and threaten treaty rights of tribes here in Nebraska. … We will not allow that to happen,” Kleeb said.
Environmentalists are also gearing up to sue against the project. 
The State Department approved the project using an environmental assessment conducted in 2014. Greens argue that the facts of the project and the energy markets have changed so much since then that a new environmental review is necessary.
“Needless to say, we are prepared to challenge a permit decision that ignores such fundamental requirements of our nation’s environmental laws,” said Anthony Swift, the Canada Project director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said his group also “expects to challenge it in court in the coming days.”
During the approval process under Obama, Keystone became a flashpoint for environmentalists and anti-fossil fuels activists, who vowed to fight a project they said was out of line with the need for action on climate change. 
Thousands rallied against the proposal in Washington, D.C., and around the country during the approval process. Their effort eventually convinced Obama that the pipeline “would not serve the national interest of the United States,” as he said when he denied it in 2015. 
Emboldened by that decision, activists and American Indian groups turned their attention to other fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline. They are now promising a fresh round of public protests against Keystone, including on-the-ground protest camps similar to those that cropped up around Dakota Access. 
“This fight is not going to be just in one location, or the focal point in this resistance is not just in one location, but it will be throughout the entire length” of the project, said Dallas Goldtooth, an Indigenous Environmental Network activist who was central to the Dakota Access protests.
Keystone supporters welcomed the permit announcement Friday, calling it a key victory in a contentious, persistent fight over a high-profile energy project.
“This is a very, very important day for us, for our company,” TransCanada’s Girling said. “We’re very relieved and very much just want to get to work.”
Others pushed regulators to quickly approve the project. In a statement, Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers International Union, said the review in Nebraska should be “completed swiftly so that the thousands of hard-working men and women of the building trades … can get to work.” 
Trump considers the permit a political victory. He said Friday that “other people were not going to be signing this, that I can tell you,” a reference to his former presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump promised to “call Nebraska” to push the project forward there, but green activists are preparing to put up as many roadblocks as they can to stop that.
“The president, as he approved this thing this morning, as he granted the permit, he turned to the CEO of the Canadian company that’s supposed to built it, and said, ‘When does construction start?’” Bill McKibben, founder of the climate group, said Friday. 
“The actual answer to that is: never. This project is going to be fought at every turn.”
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