Why did Joe Biden revoke Keystone XL permit? Canadian leaders tell PM Trudeau they're 'ready for war' with US

For Trudeau, Friday’s call to Biden was the first opportunity to express the angry mood prevailing in Canada over the new president’s move to scrap the pipeline via executive order on his very first day in office

                            Why did Joe Biden revoke Keystone XL permit? Canadian leaders tell PM Trudeau they're 'ready for war' with US
(Getty Images)

He is one of the leaders from the world of America’s allies who would have been pleased to see the tenure of Donald Trump ending. But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who became the first world leader with whom President Joe Biden spoke since his inauguration on Wednesday, January 20, found his pleasure to be short-lived. The 49-year-old premier, who spoke with Biden over phone for around 30 minutes on Friday, January 22, was disappointed over the latter’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project between the two giant neighbors of North America. Trudeau is also facing a heat in his own country as ministers have been left fuming by Biden’s decision and were not even hesitant to challenge the nuclear-powered southern neighbor in war. 

For Trudeau, Friday’s call was the first opportunity to express the angry mood prevailing in Canada over the new president’s move to scrap the pipeline via executive order on his very first day in office. A dispute was inevitable because while the Canadian leadership had been backing the pipeline meant to carry crude oil to Nebraska from Alberta, Canada, Biden’s presidential campaign sought its cancelation.

Casey Camp of the Ponca Nation (L) shakes hands with Piscataway Indian Nation Chief Billy Redwing Tayac during a traditional opening ceremony to begin a demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool on the National Mall April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

In a news conference earlier on Friday, Trudeau said: “We have so much alignment — not just me and President Biden, but Canadians and President Biden. I’m very much looking forward to working with President Biden,” as per a report in the New York Times. The time-tested relation between the two allies came under stress during the previous Trump administration and Canada sincerely hoped that the bad days were behind once the mercurial Republican was gone.

However, Trudeau raised his country’s disappointment with Washington’s decision on the Keystone XL project, according to a readout of the two leaders’ maiden call. Canada’s Global News on Thursday, January 21, reported that some of the country’s provinicial premiers were so upset with Biden’s decision to cancel the project that they were even ready to go to war with the US. “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced anger from some of Canada’s premiers Thursday over U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project — including heated calls for punishment that could fracture ties between the two allies,” the report said.

Biden called 'bully' some of Canada's provincial leaders

Aides of those who participated in a meeting where the first ministers (top leaders of the provinces/territories) engaged in a heated discussion over the issue said on the condition of anonymity that Ontario Premier Doug Ford, along with his Alberta counterpart Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan counterpart Scott Moe, asked Trudeau to counter “a bully” like Biden on Keystone, Global News added. It said that the characterization of Biden as a “bully” even surprised some other premiers who were present on the call, considering the fact that the tag was originally associated with Biden’s maverick predecessor. 

“Ford, along with premiers of other non-oil producing provinces, fear that if Biden can cancel Keystone XL, he’ll also bring in “Buy America” policies to help the American economy recover from the pandemic. A “Buy America” policy, which Biden has promised on the campaign trail, could freeze out Canadian steel, aluminum, and manufactured goods — something that would cause widespread harm to the Canadian economy,” the report added. Ninety-eight percent of Canada's oil exports go to the US. 

Trudeau and Biden have agreed to meet next month to renew the two nations’ friendship but the much-debated Keystone project is expected to come up over there. Trudeau has underscored the economic and energy security benefits of Canada’s bilateral energy ties with the US and also his support for energy workers. 

What is the issue with the Keystone pipeline project?

The Keystone XL extension was proposed by energy infrastructure company TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) in 2008 and meant to carry the earth’s dirtiest fossil fuel to the market fast. The project worth $8 billion was considered to be a game-changer by dramatically raising the capacity to process 168 billion barrels of crude oil stocked in Canada’s boreal forest and transporting 830,000 barrels of Alberta tar sands oil to the refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas daily. 

However, the project has also found opposition from various quarters. From environmental activists and organizations to indigenous communities to religious leaders to farmers and even business owners who come along the proposed route of the pipeline have protested against Keystone. In August 2011, when Biden was the vice president in the Barack Obama presidency, a protest was held outside the White House against the project which led to the arrest of more than 1,200 agitators. Besides, leading scientists and economists and even foreign leaders like the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu objected to the project. Former president Jimmy Carter also spoke against it as did Nobel laureates. In 2014, more than two million comments seeking scrapping of the pipelines were submitted to the state department.

Former presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama (Getty Images)

Obama vetoed the project, Trump went with it

The Obama administration refused to grant approval to the project. The Democratic president said after his administration refused to give TC Energy’s Keystone pipeline a cross-border permit in November 2015 that the US’s stature as a global leader in the fight against climate change will be diminished if the project went ahead. The decision reflected a long state department review process with the Environmental Protection Agency that observed that the project would not serve national interests

But when everybody hoped that the project had been killed after the former Obama administration considered it to be a threat to the climate, ecosystems, drinking water and public health, Donald Trump changed the script. Soon after taking office in January 2017, he nullified Obama’s stance and signed an executive order to advance the project (along with Dakota Access Pipeline). Trudeau at that time welcomed Washington’s move even though he saw more downs than ups in his relationship with Trump.

In March 2017, the Trump administration controversially approved a cross-border permit for the project but it failed, thanks to a legal step taken by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other bodies. An undeterred Trump then went ahead to re-issue the cross-border permit himself. Trudeau also touted the project around then saying no country in the world would sit idle after finding 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground. “The resource will be developed. Our job is to ensure that this is done responsibly, safely and sustainably,” he had said.

Trump’s efforts to make the pipeline a success faced a backlash from the Americans in general and the pandemic-time economic slump. Low oil prices and growing environmental concerns have hit new tar sands projects despite investments from the government of Alberta. In the middle of this, Biden pledged during his presidential campaign that he would cancel the project if he won power. He kept his promise on the very first day, leaving the Canadian side shattered.

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