Climate Desk
Protesters rally  in December against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Protesters rally in December against the Dakota Access Pipeline.|Michael Nigro/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

Trump Resurrects Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline

Environmentalists pledge to fight back against Trump orders to greenlight the controversial projects.

Rebecca Leber

Environmentalists and social justice advocates scored long-shot victories during the Obama years when they successfully pressured the administration to block construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. But it turns out those victories may be short-lived.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders and presidential memeorandums to move along the two projects. The White House did not immediately release the text of the orders, leaving many of the details unclear.

According to NPR, one of the executive orders is to expedite environmental review for "high-priority infrastructure projects." Trump told reporters, "We are going to renegotiate some of the terms" of the Keystone XL project, such as requiring that the steel be made in the United States. The Dakota Access pipeline will be "subject to terms and conditions negotiated by us," Trump said. Trump framed the move as a boost for American jobs.

Much remains unclear about what what exactly the new orders will mean for the Dakota Access Pipeline—which sparked controversy in large part because it was slated to cross Lake Oahe near land owned by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe—and Keystone, which would have required a federal permit to cross the US-Canadian border and transport tar sands crude oil to the Gulf Coast.

EarthJustice, the group that has represented the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is planning to file a new lawsuit challenging the Dakota Access Pipeline once it sees the text of the executive order. In December, the Army Corps of Civil Engineers rejected an easement for pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners, citing a need to study the full environmental impacts on the tribe and water quality.

"President Trump appears to be ignoring the law, public sentiment and ethical considerations with this executive order aimed at resurrecting the long-rejected Keystone XL pipeline and circumventing the ongoing environmental review process for the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline," said EarthJustice President Trip Van Noppen. "This move is legally questionable, at best."

Presumably the next step for the 1,179-mile Keystone XL will be for pipeline operator TransCanada to resubmit its application to the new administration. There are two ways Trump could greenlight Keystone from there. He can eliminate the need for a National Interest Determination, which would involve the State Department collecting reviews from multiple federal agencies about whether the project is in the national interest. (The Obama administration previously declared that the project did not serve the national interest.) Or he and his Secretary of State could simply reverse the Obama administration's ruling and declare that building the pipeline is indeed in the national interest.

Though Trump is clearly hoping for construction to being quickly, environmentalists are already making plans drag the process out. Jane Kleeb, who runs the Bold Alliance and opposes Keystone, noted that TransCanada doesn't yet have the land it needs to complete the pipeline. "We are headed to the courts to challenge the right to use eminent domain," Kleeb said.