A 2012 protest against the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House. Credit: Chesapeake Climate, via Flickr.

As he had indicated he would, President Joe Biden rescinded TC Energy’s cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office.

The move was part of a spate of executive orders Biden signed Wednesday. Others include rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, and working to establish vehicle fuel efficiency standards. As of Thursday morning, Biden has not halted oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands and waters, but a press secretary for the White House said he remains committed to doing so.

In the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration, Montana’s governor and congressional delegation had pushed for Biden to reverse course and keep TC Energy’s permit in play. TC Energy also made an attempt to change Biden’s mind, pledging to operate the pipeline with renewable energy and build it with union labor in an eleventh-hour bid to keep the project alive.

It appears Biden was not swayed. In a briefing about his revocation of the permit, Biden wrote that the project “disserves the U.S. national interest.” He highlighted plans for a shift to a clean-energy economy and said that it’s important for the U.S. to lead by example in its response to the climate crisis.

“We are encouraged to see the Biden administration taking serious steps to address the climate crisis. Farmers and ranchers have always had to deal with the uncertainties of weather, but the costs of more frequent and more extreme weather events are a real blow to the health and livelihoods of agricultural producers, and to all Montanans.”

Northern Plains Resource Council Chair Jeanie Alderson

The permit Biden revoked was granted by then-President Donald Trump in 2017. It’s just one of many permits required before the project could move forward in the U.S. TC Energy has been party to a number of lawsuits since it first proposed Keystone XL in 2008. Earlier this month, conservation groups filed an appeal challenging a water quality certification issued by Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality on Jan. 4. 

In a Wednesday evening Facebook post lamenting Biden’s decision to pull the pipeline’s cross-border permit, Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines wrote, “On day one, President Joe Biden has already started his attack on American energy projects.

“First, his disastrous Paris Climate Agreement action. Now his decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline which will jeopardize American energy security & destroy American JOBS. We must do everything we can to keep construction of the pipeline going.

“That’s why I’m introducing legislation to reverse course on Biden’s terrible decision and congressionally authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. I hope ALL my colleagues — especially Republicans & Democrats in rural and western states — join in this fight.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte and Montana U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale also pressured Biden to reverse course in letters to the president. 

Gianforte called the move “a symbolic gesture for your fledgling, hour’s-old administration” that has “real and devastating consequences in Montana.”

In a Jan. 19 letter to Biden, Rosendale wrote, “In a time when the nation is experiencing such economic uncertainty, I urge you to reverse your proposed decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and the thousands of good-paying jobs it would provide.”

A spokesman for Sen. Jon Tester wrote in an email to Montana Free Press that Tester is “disappointed by this decision and is reviewing appropriate next steps.” The spokesman reiterated Tester’s support for the project “as long as it is constructed with American steel, built to the highest safety standards, respects private property rights and includes significant consultation with impacted Tribes.”

Meanwhile, environmental and conservation groups have been heartened by Biden’s decision, saying it moves the country in the right direction in terms of climate change.

“First, his disastrous Paris Climate Agreement action. Now his decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline which will jeopardize American energy security & destroy American JOBS. We must do everything we can to keep construction of the pipeline going.”

Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines

Northern Plains Resource Council, one of the groups that appealed DEQ’s decision on the water quality certificate, celebrated the development.

“We are encouraged to see the Biden administration taking serious steps to address the climate crisis,” wrote NPRC Chair Jeanie Alderson in a statement emailed to Montana Free Press. “Farmers and ranchers have always had to deal with the uncertainties of weather, but the costs of more frequent and more extreme weather events are a real blow to the health and livelihoods of agricultural producers, and to all Montanans.”

Alderson went on to say that “many of the solutions to climate change will create new jobs and opportunities, whether in clean energy, innovative soil practices, or strengthening our local food systems.”

Anthony Swift with the Natural Resources Defense Council said Biden is “sending a clear signal that the United States is ready to turn away from dirty fossil fuels and invest in the clean energy solutions we know can power us forward into the 21st century” in a Wednesday blog post. NRDC has also been party to lawsuits to stop the pipeline.

Whether Daines’ attempt to resurrect the pipeline via congressional action is a viable lifeline for the project remains to be seen, but TC Energy appears to be pulling up stakes. An email distributed to company employees said TC Energy will halt construction of the pipeline and eliminate more than 1,000 construction jobs in the coming weeks. Pipeline construction had already been underway in Canada.

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Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.