Keystone XL pipeline

Joe Biden Is Shutting Down the Keystone XL Pipeline on Day 1 as POTUS

It’s more than just a gesture, but it is symbolic of things to come over the next four years.

President-elect Joe Biden will shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline on his first day as President, say sources close to Biden.

The pipeline has become a poster issue, first for President Obama, who rejected the permit in 2015 on sustainability grounds. And then, for President Trump, who reversed that decision in 2017. That was part of his move to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and his continued climate change denial.  

Biden, in line with his former boss, says the pipeline strays from the nation’s commitment to sustainable fuels. Environmentalists and sovereign nation leaders have taken issue with the proposed 1,200-mile pipeline for years. 

Whooping Crane | Shutterstock

Pipelines and Wildlife

One of the biggest concerns over pipeline construction has been the likely threat to wildlife, including endangered species, like the whooping crane. They’re not affected by the pipeline construction; it’s the addition of 300 miles of power lines the pipeline would require.

“The whooping crane is a species that we’ve really homed in on,” Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told National Geographic. “Power lines account for about 40 percent of juvenile whooping crane mortality, which is a big deal when you’re talking about a bird that has a population of about four hundred in the wild. Those concerns have never really been taken seriously.”

Another threatened species is the swift fox. It’s an animal that needs “endangered” status, according to the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. The pipeline’s impact on its habitat could all but ensure that. 

“It’s like they took a map and drew a pipeline along the remaining locations of known bands of the swift fox,” Amy Atwood, senior attorney for the CBD told National Geographic. “That’s where the fox lives, because those are the areas that are not being used for agriculture and are on public land. That’s where pipeline companies like to site things these days to minimize landowner conflict or having to deal with eminent domain. And that’s where the wildlife is. They’ve been pushed out of other areas.”

Photo by Andrew James on Unsplash

Sovereign Nations Under Siege

The pipeline would also pose serious threats to Native American tribes up and down the map. The pipeline would stretch from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s adding insult to injury for Indigenous communities that have not had a great year; they are some of the communities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The Keystone pipeline, though, could be like a pandemic that never goes away. 

With an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil moving through the pipeline every day, tribes say there is a serious threat to drinking water should there be an oil spill. It’s a likely scenario. Since 1986, there have been more than 76,000 barrels of oil spilled on average per year. That’s about three million gallons worth, or 200 barrels per day. According to the CBD, oil is the most commonly spilled substance.

This has also been a touchstone issue for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over the Dakota Access pipeline. The tribe’s reservation is immediately downstream from where that pipeline will cross the Missouri River.

Tribes are also concerned about sacred land and ancient burial grounds that could be damaged or lost in construction.

The pipeline construction areas are also breeding grounds for sex trafficking of Native women and girls. According to Faith Spotted Eagle and Kendall Mackey, that’s due to the temporary housing “for mostly male pipeline workers,” they wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian. 

This is already an issue plaguing Native tribes. In 2015, the National Congress of American Indians found that nearly 40 percent of female sex trafficking victims identified as American Indian, Alaska Native, or First Nations.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to shut down the Keystone KL pipeline as part of his sustainability and climate commitments.
Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

A Sustainable Future

Keystone XL could cause further damage by expediating climate change through forced reliance on fossil fuels. With investments tied to the oil pumping through the pipeline daily, it makes it harder for renewable technologies to succeed. That slows the progress of the Paris Agreement — which Biden is also expected to re-enter — aimed at moving us toward a more sustainably-fueled future. 

“Stopping these pipelines is completely within Joe Biden’s purview and responsibility,” said Spotted Eagle and Mackey. “Biden must also reverse over 100 environmental and climate protection rollbacks brought on by the Trump administration.”

But for Biden to be a “true climate president,” he will need to be aggressive, say Spotted Eagle and Mackey. That goes beyond disenfranchising pipeline projects. “Just as pipelines will inevitably spill, any new or existing fossil fuel project would inevitably fail a climate test,” they wrote. “There is no safe or clean way to extract, transport, or refine coal, oil or gas without poisoning our communities and driving us past [Paris Agreement target] 1.5C of warming.”

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