Canadian company TC Energy’s announcement this week that it was ending the Keystone XL pipeline project has been greeted with glee by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climatologists and other activists who have spent the past decade in fight against its construction.
The question now is whether this will be a one-time victory or a blueprint for action for the future – as it should be, whether we take climate change or human rights seriously. . The next big challenge looms in northern Minnesota, where the Biden administration is soon to decide whether to build the Line 3 pipeline by Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc. to replace and expand an aging pipeline.
It’s easy to forget now how unlikely Keystone’s fight really was. Indigenous activists and Midwestern ranchers along the route of the pipeline launched opposition. When it went national 10 years ago this summer, with mass arrests outside the White House, pundits scoffed. More than 90% of Capitol Hill “insiders” polled by the National Journal said the company would get its license.
But the more than 1,200 people who were arrested during the protest helped galvanize a national – even global – movement that has placed President Barack Obama under relentless pressure. Within months it had put the approval process on hold, and in 2015 it killed the pipeline, deciding it did not meet its climate test.
“America is now a world leader when it comes to taking serious action to combat climate change,” Mr. Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undermined that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face – failing to act. “
And that’s what puts the Biden administration in an impossible position now. Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which connects Canada’s oil sands deposits in Alberta through Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin, with a pipeline that follows a new route and would carry twice as much crude. It would carry almost as much of the same heavy crude oil as expected for the Keystone XL pipeline – some of the most carbon-rich crude on the planet.
Call Keystone Line 3, continued.
If Keystone failed the climate test, how could Line 3, with an initial capacity of 760,000 barrels per day, pass? It’s as if the oil industry gives an essay, gets a fail grade, ignores every comment and then gives the same essay again – except this time it was in ninth grade, not fourth. It’s not as if the climate crisis has improved in one way or another since 2015 – it has clearly gotten worse. At this point, approving line 3 would be nonsense.
Keystone’s announcement is no doubt boosting morale among protesters, led by Indigenous activists who currently occupy the headwaters of the Mississippi River where the Line 3 pipeline is to pass. They pitched tents along a quarter mile of boardwalk the pipeline company built to bring its drilling rig to the riverside, and now prayers and ceremonies are underway.
Authorities could attempt to drive them out – earlier in the week, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter flew over a group of protesters, throwing a huge cloud of dust, an action the federal government says is doing now. subject to investigation. But it is not only the climate that has changed in recent years; it is also the political climate. At a time when officials constantly talk about coming to terms with the darker parts of American history, I doubt Mr. Biden actually wants to kill the cops on the old natives as they sit at the source of one of the America’s most legendary rivers, on a land that, as Indigenous rulers point out, by treaty should fall under Indigenous control.
Instead, the administration should halt construction of Line 3 and reconsider river crossing permits granted by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Justice Department should stop trying to enforce the decisions of the last administration, which were made by people who thought climate change was a hoax. And the Biden administration is expected to issue standards to ensure that new fossil fuel infrastructure must pass a climate test – a test that takes into account America’s theoretical commitment to the Paris accords.
This pact commits us to trying to keep the increase in the temperature of the planet as close to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit as possible. Climate scientists say emissions must drop 45% this decade to meet that target. That’s why the International Energy Agency said last month that new investments in fossil fuels are due to end this year. But the Biden administration must also take a close look at any new infrastructure, from liquefied natural gas export terminals on the Oregon coast to gas compressor stations in suburban Boston.
The Mississippi sources are also, at least for now, the place where Mr. Biden’s climate commitment will be judged. Yes, Republicans will attack him if he blocks the pipeline, as will some of the unions whose workers are likely to fill many of the 8,600 jobs that Enbridge said would be created over a two-year period. But polls clearly show that those who elected Mr. Biden expect climate action. He cannot back down; the 2015 climate test means that line 3 in 2021 is an anachronism that must be blocked.
What we’ll find next is whether Keystone lives up to its name – whether, with its demise, much of the rest of the elaborate architecture of fossil fuel expansion begins to crumble. If so, it will have been a victory not only for a decade, but for the ages as well.
Bill McKibben, founder of climate advocacy group 350.org, teaches environmental studies at Middlebury College and is the author of “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?