Canadian tribes invested in the Keystone XL are pushing back against President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s reported plans to cancel the enormous pipeline project in what could present a delicate political balancing act for the incoming administration.
Reports that Mr. Biden will rip up the U.S. cross-border permit on Day One of his presidency met with a staunch rebuke Tuesday from Alvin Francis, chief of the Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan, who said such a move would be devastating to Indigenous peoples.
“If news of President-elect Biden potentially pulling Keystone XL’s presidential permit is true, I want to fully express how devastating this would be to my community and others across Canada and the U.S. who are benefiting from the Project,” Mr. Francis said in a statement.
Mr. Francis, president of Natural Law Energy, entered into a historic agreement in September between TC Energy, the pipeline’s developer, for the five-tribe company to become an equity partner with a $1 billion investment in Keystone XL.
“We, like many Indigenous communities across North America, have been inspired by President-elect Biden’s position to support minority communities and build an economy where everyone enjoys an equal chance to get ahead,” Mr. Francis said. “A decision against Keystone XL is the exact opposite of that pledge.”
Indeed, Mr. Biden stressed during his campaign his commitment to “working to empower tribal nations.” He then followed up by announcing that he would name Rep. Deb Haaland, New Mexico Democrat, to head the Interior Department, which would make her the first American Indian Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
On the other hand, Mr. Biden also has placed climate change at the forefront of his agenda, vowing to “transition from the oil industry” to wind and solar with the goal of achieving U.S. net-zero emissions by 2050, which would appear to put him firmly in the anti-pipeline camp.
Working in his favor are U.S. tribes that have come out in opposition to the latest phase of the pipeline, a 1,179-mile segment that would run crude oil from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska on its way to the terminal in Patoka, Illinois.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Fort Belknap Indian Community filed a lawsuit this month challenging the Trump Interior Department’s 2017 approval of the cross-border permit, arguing that the department failed to consult adequately with the tribes through whose land the pipeline would cross.
“Before we allow a foreign company to build another pipeline to haul dirty tar sands across any American soil, we should be taking a hard look at the possible impact on American land, water, health, and safety,” said Matthew Campbell, attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which represents the tribes. “In issuing the Keystone XL permit with shoddy and superficial analysis, the federal government not only didn’t do its job, it did not follow the law.”
The Biden camp may be rethinking its purported plan to kick off the administration by targeting Keystone XL after an outcry Monday from Canadian officials.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said the briefing document cited by the CBC that included the first-day directive “Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit” was a weeks-old draft slide, according to The Associated Press.
A source speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AP that everything on the slide “may not happen on Day One.”
‘An integral building block’
The day before the CBC report, TC Energy announced that KXL would achieve net-zero emissions across the project after flipping into service in 2023, and that the pipeline would be the first to be “fully powered by renewable energy sources no later than 2030.”
“We are confident that Keystone XL is not only the safest and most reliable method to transport oil to markets, but the initiatives announced today also ensures it will have the lowest environmental impact of an oil pipeline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” Keystone XL President Richard Prior said Sunday in a statement. “Canada and the United States are among the most environmentally responsible countries in the world with some of the strictest standards for fossil fuel production.”
TC Energy also sweetened the pot for U.S. tribes by saying it expected to invest $1.7 billion in “communities along the Keystone XL footprint creating approximately 1.6 gigawatts of renewable electric capacity, and thousands of construction jobs in rural and indigenous communities.”
After signing the Natural Law Energy agreement, TC Energy said it would “apply this ownership model to create opportunities for additional Indigenous communities along the Keystone XL corridor both in Canada and the United States.”
Mr. Francis said the partnership would provide “genuine reconciliation, one that for the first time allows us to work hand-in-hand with industry to develop environmentally responsible energy infrastructure.”
“At the same time, Keystone XL will provide intergenerational wealth to our communities, allowing us to directly tackle serious issues such as poverty and COVID-19 recovery,” he said.
The pipeline segment now under construction is expected to ship up to 830,000 barrels per day from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, linking to the existing Keystone XL pipeline network sending crude to the Gulf Coast.
The other Canadian tribes involved in the Natural Law Energy agreement with TC Energy are the Montana First Nation, the Louis Bull Tribe, the Ermineskin Cree Nation and the Little Pine First Nation.
“To lose Keystone is to lose an integral building block toward economic parity for Indigenous nations,” said Mr. Francis. “No other company or government has offered us this level of commitment. It is more than words; it is reconciliation in action.”
Pushing for Mr. Biden to stand tough on Keystone is Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel of the Lakota People’s Law Project, who was active in the 2016 Dakota Access pipeline protests near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.
“We in Lakota Country relate to the shutting down of KXL as a first step: next should come the Dakota Access pipeline, a tortured and dangerous piece of infrastructure that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continues to fight in court,” Mr. Iron Eyes said Monday in a statement.
He criticized the Trump administration for approving the final Dakota Access permit shortly after taking office in 2017.
“The National Environmental Policy Act must be respected now that President-elect Biden is arriving in Washington,” said Mr. Iron Eyes. “We will keep the pressure on.”