The Trump administration gave the Keystone XL pipeline its key federal permit Friday, clearing a major hurdle for the project that former President Obama rejected in 2015. The State Department announced Friday morning that its undersecretary for political affairs, Tom Shannon, issued the permit, two months after President Trump signed a memorandum to revive the project after Obama’s rejection.
“In making his determination that issuance of this permit would serve the national interest, the under secretary considered a range of factors, including but not limited to foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy,” State said.
The decision closes a significant chapter in the long-running saga over the controversial oil sands pipeline, which has been a flashpoint in the debate surrounding climate change and dependence on foreign oil. Obama rejected the application in November 2015, arguing, in part, that it would harm the United States’ standing in the world as a leader in fighting climate change.
“Ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky,” he said at the time.
“This is a significant milestone for the Keystone XL project,” Russ Girling, president of Keystone’s developer, Canada-based TransCanada Corp., said in a 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.”
The 875-mile line would carry up to 830,000 barrels a day of heavy oil sands petroleum from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska. From there, the oil would continue through existing lines to the Gulf Coast to be refined.
Despite the president’s promises, the $8 billion project is not subject to Trump’s promise that oil pipelines built in the United States would have to use American steel. The White House announced earlier this month that that would only apply to pipelines with new applications. TransCanada has already bought the pipe for the project. About half came from an Arkansas plant owned by an Indian company, a quarter from a plant in Canada owned by a Russian company and the remainder from Italy and India.
TransCanada needed a presidential permit to build the line because it is planned to cross an international border. The company first started applying to build Keystone XL in 2008. But in the ensuing years, it became a central point in the debate between weaning the United States off fossil fuels and increasing the use of energy from friendly allies.
Trump’s permit is not the final hurdle for the project. State officials in Nebraska still have to approve the line’s route through that state, something that could take another six months.
Environmentalists might also sue to stop the construction.
“The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was a terrible idea when it was first proposed nearly ten years ago, and it’s an even worse idea today. This dirty and dangerous export pipeline would run right through America’s heartland, threatening our water, our land, and our climate — all to pad the profits of a foreign oil company,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.
The business community welcomed the approval.
“After many years of unfortunate delays and partisan posturing, Keystone XL pipeline finally got the green light it has long deserved,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement. “This pipeline, and countless other projects around the nation, will improve America’s energy security, create jobs, and help get the economy back on track.”
The State Department previous estimated that the project would create 42,100 jobs. The vast majority of them would be temporary jobs related to Keystone’s construction, and about 35 would be permanent jobs operating it. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would usually have been in charge of considering the permit. But he recused himself from the process, due to his previous position as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., the country’s largest oil company.
Updated at 8:22 a.m.