HomeEnvironment & Climate NewsNew President Joe Biden Reverses U.S. Policy, Cancels the Keystone XL Pipeline
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New President Joe Biden Reverses U.S. Policy, Cancels the Keystone XL Pipeline

Among the first actions Joe Biden took just hours after being sworn in as the new President of the United States was to sign an executive order (EO) revoking the federal permit needed to complete the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

TC Energy, the pipeline’s developer, said in a statement it was “disappointed” with Biden’s action continuing the pipeline had undergone “an unprecedented, comprehensive regulatory process that lasted more than a decade and repeatedly concluded the pipeline would transport much-needed energy in an environmentally responsible way.”

In anticipation of a possible Biden presidency, TC Energy signed labor agreements with four pipeline unions in August 2020 and agreed to sell partial ownership in the pipeline to Native American tribes along its route. The company even committed to power the pipeline entirely with renewable energy, all in the ultimately vain hope of convincing Biden and other Democrats of the virtue of the project. Biden ended the project despite TC Energy’s outreach efforts.

After Biden signed the EO, TC Energy announced it was immediately suspending work on the project, resulting in the lay-off more than a 1,000 workers.

Pipeline History

The Keystone XL pipeline may be the most thoroughly examined pipeline in U.S. history. Initially proposed almost 15 years ago, as designed the 1,200 mile Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Canada to Nebraska, where it would be transferred to other pipelines for shipment to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

The vast majority of the pipeline did not need federal approval and has been built or connected in segments stretching from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the Midwest.

The U.S. State Department had to sign off on segment of the pipeline delivering oil from Canada to Nebraska.

In 2011, after reviewing 15,500 pages of documents and environmental impact statements the State Department determined the Keystone XL could be developed safely, was in the national interest, and would have no impact on greenhouse gas emissions or climate change.

The State Department and outside analyses also showed, during construction and the life of its operations, the Keystone XL pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. energy costs.

President Barack Obama rejected his own State Department’s conclusions and directed the agency to undertake another analysis. It did so and came to the same conclusion in 2014. Obama rejected the pipeline again in 2015, declaring it would contribute to climate change and was not in America’s national interests.

As a candidate for President, Donald Trump promised to reverse Obama’s Keystone XL rejection in order to reduce U.S. reliance on oil imported from often hostile foreign countries. Just two months after being sworn in as president, Trump directed the State Department to approve Keystone XL. In June 2017, after once again reviewing its impact on the environment and climate, the State Department approved the permit to build small remaining portion of the transnational pipeline. By September 2019, Nebraska regulators had also given the pipeline the final approval needed to begin construction.

Construction of Keystone XL’s final segments began 2019, bolstered by a $1.1 billion investment by the province of Alberta. Segments of the line built since 2019 include one portion crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Biden’s action makes Keystone XL a pipeline to nowhere.

Biden Ignores Geopolitical Considerations

Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta, and Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, requested Biden delay taking any action on Keystone XL until he had had a chance to review all the material in support of its construction. They also pointed out, Canada made good faith investments in the pipeline based on the U.S.’s approval under Trump.

According to a statement from Kenny’s office sent out on January 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration and EO, the premier asked Trudeau to point out “rescinding the Keystone XL border crossing permit would damage the Canada-U.S. bilateral relationship.”

Kenny also told reporters the province would have “very strong arguments for legal recourse for damages incurred” if Biden retroactively withdrew the existing permit.

For his part Trudeau said Canada had fought to change Biden’s long-held commitment to prevent the Keystone XL pipeline from operating.

“Our officials in Washington have continued to make the case for Keystone XL,” the Calgary Herald reports Trudeau saying. “We understand, of course, that it’s a commitment that the (incoming) administration made many months ago — or the candidate Joe Biden made — to cancel this pipeline.”

In the aftermath of Biden’s EO cancelling federal permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, Trudeau issued a statement saying, “While we welcome the president’s commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed.”

Business, Labor Groups Criticize Biden’s Ban

Biden’s decision to prevent the Keystone XL pipeline from being completed is scientifically and economically indefensible, it was a political decision pure and simple, Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said in a statement.

“The pipeline — the most studied infrastructure project in American history — is already under construction and has cleared countless legal and environmental hurdles,” Durbin’s statement said. “This is a politically motivated decision that is not grounded in science.”

Biden’s action was a slap in the face of American workers who he courted during the election, said an e-mail statement from the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters (UAUPP), sent to Bloomberg News.

“The Biden administration has chosen to listen to the voices of fringe activists instead of union members and the American consumer on Day 1,” UAUPP’s statement said.

‘Terrible Development for the American Economy’

Rescinding the Keystone XL pipeline approval is bad for the United States from a geopolitical and economic perspective and will do nothing to prevent climate change, said James Taylor, president of The Heartland Institute, in a press release.

“Joe Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline will destroy jobs in America, destroy jobs in Canada, create jobs in hostile foreign nations, have no impact on carbon dioxide emissions, and create political tension with Canada,” Taylor said. “In short, Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline is a terrible development for the American economy, American energy security, American national security, the American environment, and the global environment.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute's Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.


  1. Biden’s climate plans are energizing national security problems. Emulating California’s energy mistakes will weaken America as the country will be increasing its demands from foreign countries for crude oil supplies and for the materials needed to support the electrification of America. Published Jan 26, 2020 at CFACT https://www.cfact.org/2021/01/26/bidens-climate-plans-are-energizing-national-security-problems/

    Summary: Biden’s climate plan may be energizing national security problems with his efforts toward discouraging U.S. energy independence and place the country’s reliance, like California has done, on foreign countries for America’s energy needs. And, as he moves to electrify virtually everything, America’s needs for the exotic minerals and metals that China controls, to support wind, solar, and EV battery construction, will have America beholden to China and other developing countries for our “clean” energy supplies.

  2. Biden tries to curry favor with union trades by promising many jobs for infrastructure and green energy – promises he can’t deliver. Meanwhile he eliminates existing union jobs by executive fiat, which he can deliver, all purportedly to help prevent global warming, which it won’t. The oil that would have gone through Keystone XL will certainly go somewhere else. My bet is that it will go to China, seeing as they are building pipelines to the BC ports. As usual, progressives thinking they know how to solve problems and they implement bad solutions which cause other problems. When will they learn? (They won’t, seeing as they already know everything.)


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