Biden's Rejection of Keystone XL Signals a New Era

The Biden-Harris administration’s decision to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on its first day turns the page on a 12-year fight over the energy future of our country and sets the stage for a more prosperous future powered by clean energy.

President Biden’s announcement that his administration will reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline signals a decisive new era of climate leadership for the United States. Keystone XL would have enabled the expansion of the tar sands, one of the dirtiest sources of oil in the world, by transporting 830,000 barrels of carbon-intensive tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, where it could be refined and exported internationally. By rejecting Keystone XL on his first day in office, the Biden administration 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.

Biden’s rejection of Keystone XL affirms the process that led President Obama to reject the project after the State Department concluded it was not in the national interest. While the case for the embattled project has only further deteriorated, the Trump administration tried to revive it by creating rubber-stamp processes that circumvented environmental review and a national interest determination process. However, NRDC and our allies have successfully fought those efforts to circumvent our nation’s environmental safeguards in federal court, as a broad coalition of Indigenous Peoples, farmers and ranchers, and climate activists have continued to oppose the dirty energy project.

By providing access to new refiner capacity for the otherwise landlocked tar sands in northern Alberta, Keystone XL would have enabled the expansion of the tar sands, some of the most carbon-intensive, longest-lived oil projects on the planet. New tar sands production projects would have locked in high carbon production for decades at a time when the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources as rapidly as possible. Emissions associated with the production, refining, and combustion of the tar sands in Keystone XL would have resulted in 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year (equivalent to the emissions from 35.5 million internal combustion vehicles)—emissions we simply cannot afford to lock in.

Keystone XL also threatened the air, waters, and health of communities along its route, including First Nations living in Alberta threatened by the devastating impacts of tar sands extraction and processing; the communities and landowners who rely on over 700 rivers along the pipeline’s route threatened by spills we don’t yet have adequate techniques to contain and clean; and Gulf Coast refinery communities threatened by pollution from increased volumes of heavy crude in the region’s refinery feedstocks.

Rather than focusing on a project that will only generate 35 jobs after it's built, President Biden is signaling a much more ambitious course for our country by focusing on the millions of jobs that can be created by rebuilding America’s energy and manufacturing capacity to produce the clean energy technologies and vehicles that can be sold at home and abroad

In addition to supporting the U.S. economy, the Biden administration is offering a clear opportunity for the United States and Canada to focus their relationship on the basis of the shared economic opportunities that building clean energy infrastructure and manufacturing present both countries. It is also another sign for the province of Alberta, which provided TC Energy billions of dollars in public money to subsidize the speculative project, to decouple its economic future from an industry whose economic success is predicated on a global climate catastrophe.

The Biden administration is laying out a clear, courageous course for our country. The science is clear: We need to rapidly transition to cleaner energy sources, and that means first saying no to the expansion of the dirtiest energy sources. The case against Keystone XL was clear—but it is also the case against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline proposals, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other projects proposed to support new fossil fuel production. With the promise to uphold our nation’s environmental laws and bring science into our decision-making, Biden is signaling the end of fossil fuel expansion projects like these, which are inconsistent with our nation’s climate goals.

About the Authors

Anthony Swift

Director, Canada Project, International Program

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