The Guardian • Issue #1947

Biden makes it official: no Keystone XL oil pipeline

President Joe Biden’s made it official. He yanked, effective immediately, the federal construction licence for the remaining section of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Alberta through the US.

Even before Biden took the oath of office at noon on the 20th January, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, citing DC lobbyists, reported Biden would cancel the Keystone permit on his first day in office. He did so late that afternoon, as one of seventeen executive orders.

News reports added Biden is also cancelling the US Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for another controversial project, the Dakota Access Pipeline, on grounds that it both endangers Missouri River drinking water and that it traverses sacred Native American lands.

Court orders have held up DAPL, whose construction drew opposition not just from Native Americans and environmental activists, but from several unions. National Nurses United delegates were among protesters arrested at the key DAPL site several years ago.

Biden’s Keystone cancellation drew cheers from “green” groups, who strongly oppose the project and have for years, due to its threat to increase global warming. But this move also set off on-line resistance, including a petition to Biden to keep the pipeline going.

Unions have split on Keystone ever since six construction unions, including the Teamsters, the Laborers and the Operating Engineers, signed a Project Labor Agreement with Keystone’s corporate sponsor, TransCanada Energy, more than a decade ago.

That means the 1,200-mile (2,000 km) pipeline was to be erected and maintained by union construction workers. North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU), citing government reports, states Keystone’s construction could provide at least 20,000 well-paying union jobs.

Other analysts put the jobs figure as low as 7,000, but with a US$900 million (AU$1,200) payroll over the life of the project.

Former President Barack Obama nixed Keystone’s northern segment on environmental grounds in 2015. Obama’s successor, GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, reinstated the construction permit, which Biden has now dumped.

Many unions, despite the position of the building trade unions, have opposed the pipelines. The union-created BlueGreen Alliance, the Steelworkers, National Nurses United, both mass transit unions, environmental organisations and others retort that past oil spills along Keystone’s route show the pollution danger is high.

They also contend you can create more construction jobs through retrofitting buildings and repairing other infrastructure, rather than building Keystone.

More importantly, the Keystone foes note the “heavy oil” from the Albertan tar sands would increase carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions responsible for global warming and climate change, in two ways: The oil itself is high in carbon and sulphur and the method used to extract it from the tar sands releases even more CO2 and threatens underground aquifers.

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