Just 72 hours into his presidency, Donald Trump has signed an executive order designed to move both the Dakota Access (DAPL) and the Keystone XL oil pipelines forward.
Keystone XL is the TransCanada pipeline that was defeated in 2015 after then President Barack Obama decreed it was not in the best interests of the United States. The pipeline needed U.S. Department of State approval because it crossed the international border with Canada.
DAPL has been on indefinite hold since December 4, when the U.S. Department of the Army declined to issue one last easement for pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.
Trump, meeting with automakers on Tuesday January 24, said he was committed to bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., and has said he was dedicated to creating jobs.
Pipeline opponents, however, insist that the environmental damage these projects will wreak far outweighs the few permanent jobs that will ultimately be created with these pipelines. Any construction jobs are temporary, and the promise of energy independence that has been touted is also in question, given that piping the oil to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast opens it up more to exportation than domestic use.
The move drew immediate fire from tribal leaders and environmental advocates.
“President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent. The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”
“These actions by President Trump are insane and extreme, and nothing short of attacks on our ancestral homelands as Indigenous Peoples,” said Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In The Ground Organizer at the Indigenous Environmental Network. “The executive orders demonstrate that this administration is more than willing to violate federal law that is meant to protect indigenous rights, human rights, the environment and the overall safety of communities for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. These attacks will not be ignored, our resistance is stronger now than ever before and we are prepared to push back at any reckless decision made by this administration.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer had indicated on Monday January 23 that Trump was going to prioritize energy project, naming DAPL and Keystone XL specifically. On January 24, his fifth day in office, Trump signed an executive order promoting the completion of the XL Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, fulfilling campaign promises to his supporters to bring jobs back in oil and mining.
With the Environmental Impact Statement study under way but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant funding frozen as per an executive order issued the previous day, the status of the inquiry was unclear. The public still has until mid-February to comment.
Industry and political analysts say it might be harder for Trump to stop the EIS than he imagined, but his Executive Order on January 23 to freeze hiring and cut EPA grants is a first shot. The EIS overturn itself will take time and attract lots of opposition.
Vermont Senator and former Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said the order flew against the voices of millions.
“Millions of people came together all over this country to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and say we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” he said in a statement. “Today, President Trump ignored the voices of millions and put the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the future of our planet.”
Sanders also spoke of the environmental impact.
“At a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems, we cannot afford to build new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for years to come,” he said. “I will do everything I can to stop these pipelines and protect our planet for future generations.”