Donald Trump signed two executive orders Tuesday, each advancing a controversial oil pipeline promised to boost the North American oil industry but also fuel battles with opponents to oil development.
Through one executive action, Trump reversed his predecessor’s decision to reject the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which, if completed, will move 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil across the American border per day through the Midwest to refineries in Texas and Illinois.
Trump also signed an executive order aimed at advancing construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, the source of months of protests at an encampment on the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. The President said Tuesday the orders are aimed at “expediting environmental reviews” — although it’s unclear what that means.
In what many called a victory, the Army Corps of Engineers underneath President Barack Obama denied the Dakota Access Pipeline an easement in December, delaying construction until a full environmental impact assessment could be completed. While Trump’s executive action is the first step toward advancing progress, the Dakota line is still undergoing an environmental impact assessment, which is key to the project proceeding. For Trump to bypass that, he would need to pass a bill in Congress excluding the pipeline from the National Environmental Protection Act.
The Dakota line would carry roughly 450,000 barrels a day of crude oil through the North and South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois — passing through a number of Native American nations in the process. The encampment at Standing Rock, which sits directly in the path of the intended Dakota Access route, has swelled exponentially, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous protesters arrived to oppose the pipeline over concerns of land sovereignty and water safety.
Asked directly on Tuesday about the protesters, Trump refused to answer.
Trump’s executive orders were met with swift opposition from environmental groups, and lawyers for the Sioux tribe opposing the pipeline announced that they would launch legal action against the pipeline.
“It’s a dark day for reason, but we will continue the fight,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibbon said in a statement, regarding both decisions. The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, called the Dakota approval a “slap in the face.”
Environmental activists have also vowed to oppose Keystone, while property owners have already fought back against efforts from the pipeline owner, TransCanada, to take control of their property through eminent domain — the right of the government to buy private property. Between those factors, Keystone’s completion also faces additional hurdles.
During the Republican primary campaign, Trump signalled he wouldn’t be afraid to make use of powers like eminent domain to get projects done. At a campaign stop in Iowa in January 2016, Trump said using eminent domain to take landowners’ property was a good thing. “You make a fortune with eminent domain,” he said, “unless you’re stupid.”
During that same speech, Trump said he wasn’t “in love with taking Canadian oil” and said he would force the Canadian company behind Keystone to fork over 25 percent of the profits to the United States or provide ownership stake.
In singing the executive orders on Tuesday, Trump vowed that he will “renegotiate some of the terms and, if they like, we’re going to see if we can get that pipeline built.”
Given the low price of oil, and the possibility of a cross-border tax that has been lauded by both the Trump White House and the House Republican leadership, such a cut seems unlikely.
Proponents have touted both lines for their potential to boost jobs in high-unemployment areas of the Midwest and to provide a shot in the arm for the flagging Canadian oil industry, beset by low oil prices. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has openly pushed for the pipeline, lauding Trump’s support for the project.
Stock prices for both TransCanada and Energy Transfer Partners jumped as the news broke.