Before even being sworn in as the next President of the United States, President-elect Joe Biden is reaffirming campaign promises to adopt a stronger stance on fossil fuels as part of his strategy to combat climate change. Within days of his inauguration, Biden is reportedly planning to move to quash the Keystone XL pipeline—a controversial 1,200 mile-long expansion of an oil and gas pipeline system first blocked by President Obama in 2015 before being reauthorized under President Trump.
The news comes despite the Canadian project owner's recent attempt to save the $8 billion project by pledging the company will use only renewable energy to run the pipeline system between Alberta and Texas. The Canadian government continues to lobby the Biden transition team to find a positive outcome for the project, but it is hard to imagine how the President-elect could move forward with a pipeline at the heart of the climate change and environmental justice debates that played a key role in his campaign.
On top of political roadblocks, the Keystone XL pipeline continues to face challenges in court—with three separate Nebraska state judges ruling last December that project owner TC Energy may need to reapply for route certification with the Nebraska Public Service Commission after the company substantially and materially changed the pipeline's route since gaining approval in 2017. The Keystone XL pipeline is also tangled in litigation in a Montana U.S. district court dealing with the validity of Nationwide Permit 12 (a U.S. Corps of Engineers permit authorizing oil and gas pipeline activities) after environmental groups successfully challenged its application to the project in 2020. These obstacles combined with low oil prices may ultimately lead to abandonment of the project.
The announcement confirms that the oil and gas industry will be facing a much less friendly administration for the next four years, which could also impact other U.S. projects such as the Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Oregon. The move to reverse the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is one of many high-profile environmental Executive Orders that President-elect Biden is expected to issue in his first days in office, including the rejoining of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to undo many of the policy initiatives taken by the Trump Administration.