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

The 13-year saga of the Keystone XL pipeline came to a close yesterday when TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, announced that it is terminating the project.

Though the pipeline project has experienced multiple turns of fortune intersecting all three branches of the federal government and multiple state regulators since it was first proposed in 2008, President Joe Biden’s January reversal of the cross-border permit that had been issued by his predecessor is widely regarded as having sealed the project’s fate. If completed, the pipeline would have moved 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast.

Biden had forecasted that he would revoke the permit even before he was elected to office. In the days leading up to his inauguration, Montana’s governor and congressional delegation pushed 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. 

Biden was not swayed. In an executive order signed on his first day in office, he said the pipeline “disserves the U.S. national interest” and argued that it’s time for the country to become a global leader in the clean energy economy. 

In a statement about its decision to terminate the project, TC Energy touted it’s “first-of-its-kind, industry leading plan to operate the pipeline with net-zero emissions” and said it would look for opportunities to apply that strategy in other areas of its business, including the possibility of powering its existing U.S. assets with renewable energy. 

Montana’s Republican congressional delegation took to Twitter to express their displeasure with the development. Rep. Matt Rosendale said the Biden administration has “reversed over a decade of planning for our local governments, cut funding for our school systems, and sacrificed the communities that were dependent on this revenue from this project to get through the pandemic.”

Sen. Steve Daines called the news a “huge blow that has killed all hope for the jobs, tax revenue and national security that KXL would have provided.”

Jon Tester, Daines’ Democratic counterpart in the U.S. Senate, said in a statement that he’s “bitterly disappointed” about the project’s termination. 

“It’s frustrating that national politics killed a project that would have yielded big benefits for our state, but I am going to keep fighting to create jobs in rural Montana, ensure our energy independence, and get our state’s economy firing on all cylinders.”

The Montana Petroleum Association highlighted how the project would have impacted tax rolls in a Facebook post about the news. “The proposed pipeline would have gone through 27 counties, including six in Montana. The total estimated property tax that would have been generated from the pipeline’s first full year in operation was approximately $55.6 million spread across 27 counties.”

Environmental groups, which have long argued that the emissions associated with tar sands oil would be disastrous for the climate and that transporting crude through northeastern Montana would jeopardize the area’s water supply, celebrated the announcement.

“This is an enormous victory for our climate and all of the people that depend upon it. Thanks to all of you who spoke up, wrote comments, showed up to rallies, and fought against this disaster,” the Montana Environmental Information Center said in a Tweet. 

“Today’s decision means a brighter future for all Montanans and we should celebrate,” Montana Conservation Voters Executive Director Whitney Tawney said in an emailed statement. “The Keystone XL Pipeline put over 71,000 outdoor recreation jobs reliant on a clean and healthful environment in jeopardy and even more importantly threatened our tribal partners’ water supplies.”

The Fort Peck Tribes have opposed the project for several years out of concern for impacts to the tribes’ water supply. Tribal chairman Floyd Azure told Montana Free Press he wants to meet with the tribal council before offering a statement on the project’s termination.

Pipeline construction has been at a standstill for most of the year. TC Energy ordered a halt to the project when Biden’s executive order was imminent. Now the company will be working through how to undo the construction that was already completed. The company said it will coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to ensure a “safe termination and exit from the project.”

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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.