How the Keystone XL pipeline could — just maybe — find a path forward under Joe Biden

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How the Keystone XL pipeline could — just maybe — find a path forward under Joe Biden
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Final spring, a marketing campaign official for Joe Biden mentioned the Democratic nominee would cancel a key allow for the Keystone XL pipeline if he turned president. Though that could be a fairly clear sign, supporters of the undertaking have puzzled and debated if he’d actually pull the pin.

Now, together with his presidency set to start in a matter of days, they doubtless will not have to attend for much longer to search out out if Biden will transfer ahead with thwarting the controversial Alberta-to-Nebraska pipeline, as environmental teams say he should.

Final week, Calgary-based TC Vitality spoke optimistically of Keystone XL’s future as it invited oil shippers to bid for capability anticipated to be made accessible on the prevailing base Keystone export pipeline system when the brand new line opens in about two years.

“We’re very assured in our undertaking, and we’re persevering with to proceed with our deliberate actions to be in service in 2023,” a spokesperson mentioned.

The multibillion-dollar undertaking is a precedence for each TC Vitality and its high-profile investor, the Alberta authorities, which has additionally spoken confidently of the undertaking’s future.

Democrats and Republicans again sector

So regardless of the political clouds hanging over the pipeline, might its backers, together with Canada’s federal authorities, nonetheless discover a means ahead for the undertaking beneath Biden? Possibly.

“I am nonetheless not optimistic, however I do nonetheless see a pathway the place it might occur,” mentioned Gary Mar, who was Alberta’s consultant in Washington, D.C., for 4 years from 2007.

One is a political route operating by Congress.

Biden, proven in Georgia on Jan. 4, was vice-president when the Obama administration cancelled Keystone XL. It was then revived by U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

With the Democrats now in command of the Senate by a slim margin, Biden’s legislative path could also be smoother, however Mar famous that the oil and fuel sector has supporters on either side of the aisle. TC Vitality additionally solid offers with U.S. unions final summer time to work on the undertaking.

Permitting the pipeline, which might feed U.S. refineries, might be used as one option to discover the type of compromise wanted to assist the brand new administration pursue an bold legislative agenda that features local weather motion, greater company taxes and racial justice.

“I believe you have to be sensible in figuring out what you must have and what you can provide up as you progress ahead on an agenda,” mentioned Mar, president and CEO of the Canada West Basis, a public coverage think-tank based mostly in Calgary.

What stays to be seen — and Biden could already know — is whether or not Keystone XL has the type of assist amongst U.S. legislators that it will really present helpful leverage.

‘I am nonetheless not optimistic, however I do nonetheless see a pathway the place [Keystone XL] might occur,’ says Gary Mar, who was Alberta’s consultant in Washington, D.C., for 4 years from 2007. (CBC)

It is also prompt by Mar and others that Canada and the U.S. might work collectively on a North American vitality technique that features not solely local weather objectives but additionally a plan for safe oil and pure fuel provides because the transition to cleaner vitality unfolds.

In making the case for the pipeline beneath a broad strategy, Ottawa would doubtless level Biden to the federal authorities’s local weather methods — together with the carbon tax and proposed Clear Gasoline Normal — geared toward attaining net-zero emissions by 2050.

Because the Alberta and federal governments proceed to push for Keystone XL, they’re little doubt already stressing to the Biden staff the actions Ottawa lately introduced.

WATCH | The methods Alberta may benefit from a Biden presidency:

Some in Alberta see positives in Joe Biden’s election win, reminiscent of elevated demand for the province’s oil and higher promotion of inexperienced vitality. 2:02

Local weather fear for inexperienced teams

Teams anxious about local weather change, nonetheless, have mentioned a undertaking permitting for brand new growth of the oilsands is inconsistent with a 2050 net-zero emissions trajectory for North America. Keystone XL is a undertaking that is gained notoriety amongst environmentalists through the years. Biden himself has referred to it as “tarsands that we do not want.”

Former TC Vitality govt Dennis McConaghy mentioned that in a “logical world,” Canada might no less than get to the negotiating desk based mostly on the local weather plans it is introduced, such because the gradual hike within the federal carbon tax on fuels from the present $30 a tonne to $170 a tonne by 2030.

“Canada has really achieved one thing that is tangible by way of carbon coverage,” he mentioned.

However whereas there are “believable situations” the place the undertaking may proceed, McConaghy mentioned he believes the pipeline faces lengthy odds beneath Biden.

Keystone XL has been a goal of environmentalists for years. In 2014, college students protesting in opposition to the pipeline marched to the Washington residence of John Kerry, who on the time was U.S. secretary of state. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Photos)

“The stability of possibilities are very excessive [that] he’s going to discover a option to both outright rescind it or disable it by imposing extra environmental evaluations,” McConaghy mentioned.

However he thinks taking away a legally issued allow would doubtless result in litigation from Alberta, TC Vitality and whoever else has put cash into the undertaking.

In a latest interview with the Calgary Herald, Premier Jason Kenney mentioned he thinks Alberta would have “authorized choices” to recoup taxpayer cash ought to the allow be cancelled. The Alberta authorities agreed final yr to take a position about $1.5 billion as fairness within the undertaking, plus mortgage ensures.

Political threat of pulling allow

No matter any future authorized dispute, pulling the pipeline’s presidential allow might include some political threat for Biden, mentioned Christopher Sands, director of the Heart for Canadian Research at Johns Hopkins College in Washington.

Revisiting the allow might energize the U.S. Congress to attempt to restrict the presidential allow course of by a brand new statute, he mentioned, a topic that is been mentioned on and off since Barack Obama’s presidency.

As an alternative, Sands mentioned, he thinks Biden’s focus shall be on attaining extra from his broader agenda. These priorities, plus the COVID-19 pandemic and financial crises, are prone to preoccupy the administration whereas work on Keystone XL “can quietly chug alongside,” he mentioned in an e mail.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney marked the beginning of building of the Keystone XL pipeline within the province final summer time within the city of Oyen. The Alberta authorities invested $1.5 billion within the undertaking final yr and promised one other $6 billion in mortgage ensures in 2021. (Flickr/Alberta Authorities)

For an administration that hopes to enhance relations with its allies, Sands mentioned, blocking the pipeline might have a damaging impression on the connection with Canada. Inexperienced teams would notice, nonetheless, that the undertaking has opponents north of the border as properly.

Till there’s a choice, supporters of Keystone XL will proceed to tout the deserves of the pipeline, whether or not it is vitality safety, job creation or post-pandemic stimulus. Likewise, expectant environmental teams will remind Biden of his marketing campaign pledge amid rising concern about local weather change.

The incoming administration has certainly appeared to underscore its local weather priorities as Biden started selecting nominees for his cupboard.

They embody former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, an outspoken proponent of clear vitality, to be his vitality secretary, and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who supported anti-pipeline protests in North Dakota, to steer the Inside Division.

The U.S. secretary of the inside has the primary say within the approval of pipelines. Biden’s decide, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, rose to fame for her staunch opposition to the Dakota Entry pipeline. (Submitted by Deb Haaland for Congress)

As well as, the president-elect’s new particular envoy for local weather is John Kerry, who in 2015, when he was secretary of state, introduced Keystone XL was incompatible with the objectives of the Obama administration.

Although the choice on what to do with the pipeline finally rests with Biden, it is not the type of group one imagines would advise him to reverse course on a pledge that resonated with inexperienced voters in his Democratic base.

So whereas there should be pathways to constructing Keystone XL, they’d actually appear to run uphill. These on either side of the problem might discover out quickly.

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