In one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on a broad range of environmental protections that included stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is the second time a president has pumped the brakes on the embattled pipeline. Barack Obama denied a permit for the project in 2015. Then in 2017, Donald Trump reversed that decision and issued a permit.
The order directed federal agencies to review environmental rollbacks made under the Trump Administration, according to the Huffington Post and The New York Times. That includes revisiting fuel efficiency standards, and the boundaries for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments. It also temporarily halts oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Gina McCarthy, national climate advisor, said Biden’s moves “begin to put the U.S. back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs,” according to Agence France-Presse.
830,000 barrels of crude oil were expected to flow through the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline every day. In an apparent last-minute attempt to get the project in Biden’s good graces, on January 17th, the company said it would spend $1.7 billion to purchase enough renewable energy to match the pipeline’s power consumption by 2030. Keystone XL developer TC Energy suspended work on the pipeline today and said in a statement that it is “disappointed” with Biden’s decision.
For more than a decade, Native American tribes, activists, and environmentalists have fought to stop the 1,210-mile-long pipeline from being built. Obama backed away from the pipeline just before the adoption of the Paris climate agreement, saying that approving the project would do little for the US economy and would instead undercut US leadership on climate change.
The pipeline continued to face opposition and legal challenges after Trump gave it the green light in 2017. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation filed lawsuits against the administration. They say that the administration failed to consult with the tribes and that the pipeline poses a danger to their lands and water sources.
This is just one piece of Biden’s plan to transition the US away from fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. The climate change plan he developed while on the campaign trail includes goals to get the US to “100 percent clean energy” by 2050. Biden also recommitted the US to the Paris climate agreement today, a global pact to avoid that tipping point.
Activists are pushing Biden to stop the construction of other pipelines, including the Dakota Access pipeline — which Trump similarly expedited, despite high-profile protests in defense of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and land. There are also calls to stop the Enbridge Line 3 project, a plan to abandon an aging pipeline that runs between Alberta and the Midwestern US and replace it with a new one that can transport more oil.
“Suspending one big oil expansion project through Native territory and approving another is the opposite of climate leadership and respect for Indigenous sovereignty,” Tara Houska, a citizen of Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe and prominent attorney, said in a statement penned by Indigenous women leaders on January 14th. “The Biden administration can uphold their climate justice claims by acting to Stop Line 3, Stop Keystone XL, and Stop Dakota Access Pipeline, now.”