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Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Groups Vow 'The Fight Is Not Over'

Nearly a decade after it first applied for a presidential permit, TransCanada is getting the green light from the Trump administration for its $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

POLITICO reported Thursday that the U.S. State Department's undersecretary for political affairs, Tom Shannon, will approve by Monday the cross-border permit needed for the project to proceed.


Reuters reported an update Friday saying President Trump will announce the approval of the tar sands pipeline at the White House today with the CEO of TransCanada.

Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, recused himself from the Keystone decision since Exxon stands to profit from the pipeline.

The Keystone XL was blocked by President Obama two years ago because the pipeline would "not serve the national interests" of the United States.

But the November election changed everything. On Jan. 24, President Trump signed an executive order that invited TransCanada to reapply for a presidential permit. The company did so two days later.

Environmental groups and grassroots citizens have long opposed the pipeline, painting it as a symbol of the threat of climate change.

Once complete, the 1,200-mile pipeline will carry Alberta tar sands to processing and export facilities in the southern U.S.

"Keystone carries Canada's oil through an unnecessary pipeline likely made of foreign steel, all while polluting our heartland, treading on the rights of Indigenous people and private landowners," said Greenpeace USA climate campaign specialist Diana Best in reaction to today's development.

"It isn't what this country wants or needs. President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline because of public outcry," she said. "We cannot let the Trump administration undo the progress that people all over the country have made to ensure we avoid catastrophic climate change."

Best suggested that the president should shift his energy policy to prioritize renewables instead.

"Instead of pushing bogus claims about the potential of pipelines to create jobs, Trump should focus his efforts on the clean energy sector, the key to America's future growth," Best said. "Trump's energy plan is more of the same—full of giveaways to his fossil fuel cronies at a time when renewable energy is surging ahead. Renewable energy is not only the future, but the only just economy for today. Keystone, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and fossil fuel infrastructure projects like them will only make billionaires richer and make the rest of us suffer."

"We will resist these projects with our allies across the country and across borders, and we will continue to build the future the world wants to see," she concluded.

Greenpeace is asking the State Department to provide documentation about the justification for Tillerson's recusal and any waivers obtained or requested.

Although TransCanada might have secured the permit, POLITICO noted that the company still needs approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission to build the pipeline through the state.

Additionally, Jane Kleeb, the president of Bold Alliance and Nebraska Democrat Party chair told the publication that construction will likely be delayed from landowners in the state who are unhappy with TransCanada's use of eminent domain along the route.

"Trump's decision will galvanize Americans, and further stiffen resistance to Trump's campaign to sacrifice our planet for Big Oil profits," Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said. "The fight over Keystone XL is not over."

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard agreed. "It takes money to build a pipeline, and the opposition movement to stop fossil fuel projects like Keystone will do everything it can to deprive TransCanada of any new funding for this ill-fated and unnecessary pipeline," Leonard said.

"TransCanada may have a permit, but can they find the funding? Financial institutions should have learned by now that it's risky to hitch themselves to a project that already faces historic on-the-ground opposition from private landowners and Indigenous sovereign nations and could unlock a massive environmental, health and climate disaster. Keystone was stopped once before, and it will be stopped again."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune shared the same sentiment. "This project has already been defeated, and it will be once again. The project faces a long fight ahead in the states, but the fact remains that the American people do not want more fossil fuels, we do not want our private and public lands destroyed by a pipeline carrying the dirtiest fuel around, and we do not want our future and our children's future to continue be threatened by climate change."

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An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

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"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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