State Department Issues Keystone XL Permit

By Yessenia Funes Mar 24, 2017

The Department of State issued the presidential permit needed to build Keystone XL Pipeline, announced developer TransCanada today (March 24).

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t sign the permit after recusing himself from involvement in Keystone on March 9 for his previous involvement as former ExxonMobil CEO, reports BBC. Instead, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon signed it.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order January 24 to steamroll the approval process for the $8 billion pipeline, as well as for the Dakota Access Pipeline—both controversial energy projects that Native American tribes and nations heavily oppose. This is the first official step to make the order come to fruition. The president spoke out about the move earlier today, where he called this a "historic moment for North American and energy independence."

"This is a significant milestone for the Keystone XL project," said TransCanada CEO and President Russ Girling, in the online statement. "We greatly appreciate President Trump’s Administration for reviewing and approving this important initiative, and we look forward to working with them as we continue to invest in and strengthen North America’s energy infrastructure."

Meanwhile, environmental organizations have responded with disappointment. The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, wrote on the organization’s Twitter page that the pipeline is "one of the worst deals imaginable for the American people, so of course Donald Trump supports it." The Natural Resources Defense Council described the pipeline as "all risk, no reward." Environmental law firm Earthjustice, which represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its litigation concerning Dakota Access, also issued a statement

“This decision defies all logic, not to mention the wishes of 75 percent of Americans who want our leaders to regulate climate pollution,” wrote Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation for Climate and Energy Abigail Dillen in the statement. "In combination with all of their recent missteps, it’s as if the Trump administration is determined to go down as the most irrational and destructive presidential administration in history.”

And many point out that the project still needs permits in the Midwest, including in Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana. The company said, in its statement, that it “will continue to engage with stakeholders and neighbors” in these states to secure the necessary approvals.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the developer behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, has spoken out in an exclusive interview with Forbes. Kelcy Warren is a billionaire who has the biggest stakes in the $3.8 project. He says that he believes anti-fossil fuel groups funded the opposition to the pipeline, though he doesn’t name any particular organizations.

“We were never on any Indian property,” Warren told Forbes. “We complied with every rule and regulation, and yet here we were painted [like] we had somehow come in and violated rights of Native Americans. That was never true.”

Though the pipeline doesn’t technically cross through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation, it does cross the Missouri River, from where their water comes. And the land that the pipeline goes through is also historically where the tribe existed, and water protectors who oppose the 1,172-mile long project say that the land is home to ancient burial grounds and sacred sites.

As the Forbes piece makes clear, none of this opposition or controversy impacted Energy Transfer Partners’ bottom line: Their shares have seen a 200 percent increase in the last year, and Warren’s value itself rose 164 percent to $4.5 billion. Forbes claims that’s the “largest percentage gain of any American billionaire in that period.”

The company has seen entities remove their money from the Dakota Access project—either through banks who are funding it (like Wells Fargo), other energy companies with partial ownership (like Phillips 66) or directly from company holdings (like Norwegian bank DNB)—as a result of the opposition, but it appears that the more than $1 billion in divestments hasn’t proven effective in stopping the pipeline.

(H/t BBC, Forbes)