Trump Moves to Advance Keystone XL, Dakota Access Pipelines

The actions drew applause from pipeline supporters, condemnation from opponents.

ByABC News
January 24, 2017, 8:09 PM

— -- President Donald Trump used his second weekday in office to sign memorandums aimed at advancing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which pleased supporters of the projects and brought immediate condemnation from environmentalists and other opponents.

Trump promised nearly 30,000 jobs as a result of the construction of the Keystone Pipeline while signing the memorandum for that project. He also signed a memorandum on the Dakota Access Pipeline and announced that construction of both pipelines would be "subject to terms and conditions to be negotiated by us."

"This is with regard to the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, something that's been in dispute ... We'll see if we can get that pipeline built," Trump said. "A lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs. Great construction jobs."

According to the 2013 State Department report on Keystone, the majority of the jobs created by the Keystone Pipeline are temporary, with only 35 listed as permanent jobs.

In a 2014 interview with ABC News, Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, the company developing the Keystone pipeline, said that the thousands of jobs created will be during the major construction period. “Yes, the actual operating jobs are about 50," he said. "But that doesn't include all the other jobs that come with it."

Trump's Keystone memorandum, addressed to the departments of State, the Army and the Interior, seeks to restart the presidential permit process for TransCanada, asking the company to resubmit its application. It calls on the State Department to decide within 60 days, utilizing the environmental impact study from 2014, as opposed to starting from scratch. The memo also asks the Interior Department and Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the decision.

The memo on Dakota Access also seeks expedited review and approval of the project, "including easements or rights-of-way to cross federal areas," but cautions that any private lands obtained must be acquired according to federal, state and local processes.

"Land or an interest in land for the pipeline and facilities described herein may only be acquired consistently with the Constitution and applicable state laws," the memo says.

The response, pro and con, was swift.

"Today's news is a breath of fresh air and proof that President Trump won't let radical special-interest groups stand in the way of doing what's best for American workers," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

Trip Van Noppen, the president of Earthjustice, a national environmental organization representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its court battle against the Dakota project, said, “Four days after taking the oath of office and three days after millions across the country and world marched in protest of his administration, President Trump appears to be ignoring the law, public sentiment and ethical considerations with this executive order ... He should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects."

The Keystone XL project was killed when President Barack Obama rejected in November 2015 a presidential permit that was necessary because the project would cross from Canada into the United States. The 1,179-mile pipeline, which would stretch from Canada through Nebraska to the Gulf Coast, was supported by Republicans and some Democrats who said the project wouldn't harm the environment and would create thousands of construction jobs as well as decrease America's dependence on oil imports from the Middle East. But opponents argued it would contribute to climate change by producing more greenhouse gases through the extraction of petroleum from oil sands.

Obama cited concerns over climate change in his decision and said Keystone XL's delivery system of crude oil from Canada "would not serve the national interests of the United States."

The other pipeline that Trump addressed today, the Dakota Access Pipeline, was put on hold in December 2016 when the Army Corps of Engineers denied a crucial easement needed for the project to cross under Lake Oahe, a large reservoir on the Missouri River in North Dakota just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation. The Corps said it made that decision in order to have other routes explored.

Construction of the pipeline prompted big, prolonged protests with thousands of Native Americans, environmental activists and allies camping out for months near the Standing Rock reservation. The tribe in July sued to block the four-state crude oil project, claiming that the tribe was never meaningfully consulted before construction began. That lawsuit is still pending and the Corps and pipeline company argued in court papers that they followed a standard review process. The tribe also cites an 1851 treaty that it says specifies that the land in question was designated for Native American tribes.

In response to Trump's memorandum today, the tribe said in a statement that the "administration's politically motivated decision violates the law, and the tribe will take legal action to fight it."

"President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process," said Dave Archambault II, the 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."

Earthjustice said it believes the president's "move is legally questionable, at best."

Trump's financial disclosure forms indicate that in May 2016 he owned $15,000 to $50,000 in stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project. That amount is down from the year before, when records show that Trump had $500,000 to $1 million invested in the company.

In December, Trump said, without offering proof, that he had sold all of his stocks.

Trump transition team talking points obtained by ABC News on Dec. 2 state that "his support for this project has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans."

The Associated Press reported on Dec. 2 that Trump's spokeswoman Hope Hicks said it was her understanding that he had sold all his stock in the company but did not confirm any further details.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and Trump's pick for energy secretary, stepped down earlier this month from the boards of two energy companies that are developing the proposed 1,170-mile pipeline. Perry said he still owns stock in both companies but will divest the stock within three months of his confirmation. He also said he will not partake in any decision involving the two companies for at least two years.

After signing the memorandums today, Trump said he wants to make it a requirement that when pipelines are constructed in the U.S., the pipes themselves are built in the country.

"If we are going to build pipelines in the United States, the pipes should be built in the United States," he said. "We build the pipelines, we want to build the pipe, going to put a lot of workers, lot of stee workers back to work."

Trump also signed actions to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects and to streamline what he called "incredibly cumbersome" regulations for domestic manufacturing.

"We intend to fix our country, our bridges, our roadways. We can't be in an environmental process for 15 years if a bridge is going to be falling down or if a highway is crumbling. So we're expediting environmental reviews and approvals," he said.

ABC News' Meghan Keneally, Meridith McGraw and Catherine Thorbecke contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.