Trump abruptly issues new Keystone XL permit in boon to lobbyists

The controversial pipeline has faced nonstop legal challenges.

Trump approves Keystone XL in March 2017. CREDIT: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Trump approves Keystone XL in March 2017. CREDIT: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump handed a victory to a major North American energy company on Friday afternoon with a new presidential permit allowing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to go forward. Many say the move is an effort to sidestep judiciary and environmental review and is likely to face legal challenges.

Pipeline company TransCanada Corp. is authorized to “construct, connect, operate and maintain” pipeline facilities running between the United States and Canada, per the permit issued on March 29. It additionally allows the maintenance of a pipeline facility in Phillips County, Montana.

The presidential permit revokes and replaces a previous presidential permit granted by Trump in March 2017. In November 2018, a Montana judge invalidated that permit and it is currently being appealed, while a December lawsuit and subsequent injunction largely halted pre-construction activities on the pipeline. The Trump administration was, as a result of the November legal action, ordered to conduct a new environmental review of the pipeline — something the new presidential permit apparently seeks to sidestep.

“This permit supersedes the Presidential permit issued to the permittee, dated March 23, 2017,” the new permit notes. Some think that logic stems from the Justice Department’s previous argument that the permit isn’t subject to environmental review by the State Department if it is signed by the president himself.


The new permit notably removes a section from its older version that referenced a 2014 environmental impact statement assessing Keystone XL’s environmental consequences. That document includes references to climate change and environmental justice, along with threatened and endangered species. The word “environment” appears only once in the new presidential permit issued Friday, referencing environmental contamination. The word “climate” does not appear at all.

“What’s especially appalling about Trump’s move is that many parts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route in Nebraska are literally underwater right now with devastating floods impacting the Midwest, and instead of offering support to the communities who will face more of these kinds of disasters as the climate crisis worsens, Trump is offering a Canadian fossil fuel company another chance to build a gigantic fossil fuel project that would only unlock more climate pollution while putting already suffering communities further at risk,” said Greenpeace USA campaigner Rachel Butler to ThinkProgress in an email.

Keystone XL has been a raging source of controversy for years, due largely to the public health and environmental implications posed by the pipeline. President Barack Obama handed pipeline opponents a victory when he backed away from the project in 2015 amid heated pushback. But Trump has prioritized the project — it was among the first actions Trump made after taking office and he has worked repeatedly to ensure that the pipeline comes to fruition, despite legal setbacks.

Meanwhile, lobbyists have also been hard at work pushing for the pipeline’s construction. TransCanada spent around $200,000 each quarter of 2018 lobbying on issues including Keystone XL, according to disclosures. Documents also show the all-Republican D.C.-based lobbying firm CGCN Group spent $90,000 each quarter representing TransCanada last year and specifically targeting environmental reviews.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also lobbied on the Keystone XL environmental assessment specifically. On Friday, the organization celebrated the presidential permit almost immediately. “Keystone XL is in our economic and energy security interests, and review after review have found that it can be built and operated in an environmentally responsible way,” the statement read.

The permit announcement appears to have caught stakeholders and environmental advocates largely off-guard. The State Department, which is conducting the new environmental review of the pipeline, appeared surprised by the news. Environmental groups similarly expressed shock to ThinkProgress, but underscored that the move is likely to face immediate legal challenges.

“The courts have repeatedly rejected Trump’s attempts to get this pipeline built, so now he’s shamefully attempting to bypass our bedrock environmental laws for the benefit of a foreign pipeline company,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michal Brune told ThinkProgress. “We will continue to pursue every available avenue to ensure that this pipeline is never built.”