Trump orders revival of Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines
Native American and climate change activists condemn president for ‘pledging allegiance to oil companies and Wall Street’ after signing of executive orders
Donald Trump was sharply criticised by Native Americans and climate change activists on Tuesday after he signed executive orders to allow construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.
Both pipe projects had been blocked by Barack Obama’s administration, partly because of environmental concerns. But Trump has questioned the science of climate change and campaigned on a promise to expand energy infrastructure and create jobs.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said an “energy revolution” was taking place in the US. He claimed that Tuesday’s orders would create “tens of thousands of new jobs” while still making the environment “a priority”.
Trump would sit down with all parties involved in the Dakota pipeline, Spicer said, and has “shown through his business life he knows how to negotiate a great deal”.
Trump signed five executive orders including one to revive the Keystone pipeline, which would span nearly 1,200 miles across six US states, shifting more than 800,000 barrels of petroleum daily from Canadian oil sands through Nebraska to refineries in the Gulf coast.
“This is on the Keystone pipeline, something that has been in dispute and it is subject to a renegotiation of terms by us,” he said, showing the document to photographers. “We are going to renegotiate some of the terms. And then if they like, we’ll see if we can get that pipeline built. A lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs. Great construction jobs.”
Studies have suggested that most of the jobs would not be permanent, however. A US state department study estimated the number of long-term jobs at 50.
The president’s decision to revive Keystone was welcomed by the Canadian government.
Speaking to reporters in Calgary, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said he had discussed the pipeline twice with Trump since the November election. “In both the conversations I’ve had with President Trump, Keystone XL came up as a topic and I reiterated my support for the project. I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it because it leads to economic growth and good jobs for Albertans.”
He saw little contradiction between Canada’s position on Keystone and its climate change obligations, pointing to the country’s national price on carbon and cap on Alberta oilsands emissions. Both initiatives are part of an environmental policy, he said, that allows Canada to “get our resources to market safely and responsibly while meeting our climate change goals.”
Trump also signed the executive order for the Dakota Access pipeline, a $3.7bn project that would transport crude oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois, “again, subject to terms and conditions to be negotiated by us”.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation is adjacent to the pipeline, staged protests that drew thousands of climate change activists to the rural area of Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Most of the pipeline was complete by last summer except for a small section under Lake Oahe, a reservoir that forms part of the river.
The Sioux won a significant victory late last year when the US army corps of engineers declined to allow construction of the pipeline under the lake, saying alternative routes needed to be considered.
On Tuesday, the Sioux said the pipeline risked contaminating tribal and American water supplies while disregarding treaty rights. “President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
“Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent. The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”
Energy Transfer Partners, the company that wants to build the pipeline, disputes the claim that it threatens the water supply and insists the pipeline will be safe.
Obama cancelled the Keystone project in late 2015 after environmentalists campaigned against the project for more than seven years. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change, and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that leadership,” he said at the time.
The house speaker, Paul Ryan, endorsed Trump’s decision to advance the pipeline projects. “It’s about time,” he said. “The unfortunate reality is that these important infrastructure projects were used by special interests to advance their radical anti-energy agenda and were therefore needlessly halted by the last administration – to the detriment of America’s national interest. These pipelines will strengthen our nation’s energy supply and help keep energy costs low for American families.”
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell agreed, saying the Keystone pipeline was “about much-needed jobs and energy independence for our nation. Unfortunately, President Obama sat on this important project throughout his entire administration, even though his own state department said it had no measurable impact on climate. It is refreshing to have an administration putting jobs and the economy ahead of extreme political views.”
But environmentalists expressed disappointment and vowed to fight on. Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said: “Donald Trump has made it clear that his America does not include the millions of Americans who fought to protect our land, water, sacred cultural sites and climate from dangerous pipelines. Trump has emphatically pledged his allegiance to the oil companies and Wall Street banks that stand to profit from the destruction of public health and the environment.”
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “It’s appalling that Trump wants to throw open our borders to big polluters. Eliminating the national interest determination process, used by both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades, cedes control of our borders to multinational corporations to jam through cross-border infrastructure projects. And it completely shuts out public engagement in decisions that affect our communities, air, water and climate.”
Democrats joined the criticism. Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, said: “Millions of people came together all over this country to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and say we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Today, President Trump ignored the voices of millions and put the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the future of our planet.
“At a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems, we cannot afford to build new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for years to come. I will do everything I can to stop these pipelines and protect our planet for future generations.”
It was also reported on Tuesday that the Trump administration had instituted a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants.
The Associated Press said emails sent to EPA staff since Trump’s inauguration on Friday detailed the specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts. The Trump administration has also ordered a “temporary suspension” of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors, according to the AP.
Spicer, the White House press secretary, denied any knowledge of the gag on the EPA.
The president signed the orders with Vice-President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and adviser Kellyanne Conway among those standing nearby.
He also put his name to an order for the pipes themselves to be made in the US. “We are – and I am – very insistent that if we’re going to build pipelines in the United States, the pipe should be made in the United States. So unless there is difficulty with that, because companies are going to have to sort of gear up. Much pipeline is bought from other countries.
“From now on we’re going to start making pipeline in the United States. If we build it in the United States, build the pipelines, we want to build the pipe. It’s going to put a lot of workers, a lot of steelworkers back to work. OK. We will build our own pipeline, we will build our own pipes. That’s what it has to do with. Like we used to in the old days.”
In fact, Democratic senator Al Franken proposed an amendment to legislation forcing the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015 that would have required the project to use only domestic steel; Republicans unanimously blocked the amendment from consideration. Trump’s own commerce secretary nominee, Wilbur Ross, bought down-and-out American steel companies Bethlehem Steel, LTV and Acme Steel in the early 2000s and revived them under the name International Steel. In 2005, Ross sold those companies to Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, one of the pipeline’s major suppliers.
Trump signed a further order to streamline the “horrible permitting process” and slashing regulations for domestic manufacturing. “The regulatory process in this country has become a tangled-up mess, very unfair to people. That’s a big one.”
Supreme court vacancy, Comey stays, Carson approved in committee
Asked by reporters when he would seek to fill the supreme court vacancy, Trump said: “I’ll be making my decision this week and we’ll be announcing next week. We have outstanding candidates and we will pick a truly great supreme court justice. But I’ll be announcing it sometime next week.”
Democrats are gearing up for a potential battle over the nomination after Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, was blocked by Republicans last year.
The president stirred up more controversy on Monday night when he reportedly told congressional leaders during a private White House meeting that he lost the popular vote only because 3 million to 5 million “illegals” voted. It is a claim he had made before with no evidence. Ryan said: “I’ve seen no evidence to that effect. I’ve made that very, very clear.”
Meanwhile it has emerged that James Comey, the director of the FBI, will be keeping his job under Trump. A justice department memo lists him among officials remaining in their positions.
FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms intended to carry across presidential administrations, even when a new party takes over the White House. Comey is in his fourth year in the job.
Trump criticised the FBI during the campaign for its decision not to recommend charges against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. But he also appeared to warmly greet Comey at a law enforcement gathering over the weekend. Clinton has blamed Comey’s later intervention in the election – a letter he sent to Congress regarding her private email server – as crucial to her eventual defeat.
Senate committees approved Trump cabinet nominees Ben Carson for housing, Elaine Chao for transportation, Wilbur Ross for commerce and Nikki Haley for UN envoy.
Later the Senate voted to approve Trump’s pick for US ambassador to the United Nations, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.