President Joe Biden Sued by 21 States over Keystone XL Pipeline

This photo depicts the pathway of the Keystone XL Pipeline through America.

This photo depicts the pathway of the Keystone XL Pipeline through America.

Evan Green, Staff Reporter

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a long-debated project in the United States that would serve to transport oil from Alberta, Canada through TC Energy to Nebraska, where the oil would be refined and then shipped south to the Gulf of Mexico where it could be exported to international markets. This pipeline mirrors another pipeline, also called Keystone, but takes a more direct route than the existing pipeline. On the first day of his presidency, President Joe Biden rescinded the presidential permit needed for the construction of the pipeline that had been approved by former President Donald Trump. President Biden is now facing a coalition of 21 lawsuits from various Republican-governed states including Texas and Ohio, who claim that the president does not possess the authority to halt the construction of the pipeline.

What are the Pros/Cons of the Pipeline?

The main benefit of the Keystone XL Pipeline is that it would reduce American dependence on foreign nations for oil production. Some of these nations are either hostile to the United States or have unstable governments that can cause oil production and cost to fluctuate heavily. Increased supply in the United States would also likely mean lower prices for consumers. Construction of the pipeline would also create many American jobs, with possible job estimates ranging from 1,000 to 8,000 jobs created through the pipeline’s development, especially considering the fact that former president Trump stipulated that all of the steel used in the construction be American-made. 

On the other hand, there are many potential negative outcomes involved in the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline, one of the most major being the environmental cost. One of President Biden’s major campaign promises was a push away from fossil fuel energy sources, and so the development of the pipeline would run directly counter to this promise, as the development of the Alberta tar sands would make fossil fuels more readily available. The type of oil developed in Alberta also requires more energy to develop than traditional oil, and so is even more costly for the environment than traditional oil production. The possibility of leaks and spills is another major factor leading to President Biden’s decision to reject the pipeline, as these types of incidents can be devastating for rural communities, possibly contaminating local water sources. It is also important to note that according to Politifact.com, less than 50 of the jobs created by the pipeline would be long-lasting positions, with most of them being temporary contracting jobs that would expire after around eight months, so the job growth isn’t as monumental as some pro-pipeline media outlets have claimed.

The Rocky History of the Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline was originally approved by the Canadian National Energy Board in 2010, but the president at that time, President Barack Obama chose not to sign off on the presidential permit needed to construct the pipeline after being advised by the Environmental Protection Agency not to approve the pipeline, on the basis that the pipeline would not lower oil prices, create long-term jobs, or affect energy dependence. 

From the moment of its inception, the Keystone pipeline became a political symbol in the United States, with Republicans strongly advocating for the economic benefits, and Democrats arguing against the pipeline due to the environmental risks involved. This culminated in January 2017, when President Trump took office. Within the first few days of his presidency, President Trump had reversed the White House’s stance on the pipeline, and finally issued the permits in 2019. President Trump’s only stipulation was that the steel used in the pipeline be American-made to further stimulate the economy. By the end of President Trump’s term, the pipeline had become so mired in lawsuits that little had been accomplished, with around 1.2 miles of the pipeline having been completed out of the nearly 900-mile-long plans.

What is the Basis for the Lawsuits?

The 21 state lawsuits currently facing President Biden are almost all led by majority-Republican states, many of which are not directly affected by the pipeline’s construction. The attorneys general of these states argues that President Biden is exceeding his authority in denying construction of the pipeline, as it deals with interstate commerce. The exact quote from the complaint is as follows: “Revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit is a regulation of interstate and international commerce, which can only be accomplished as any other statute can: through the process of bicameralism and presentment.” The lawsuits argue that the issue of interstate commerce should fall to Congress and is therefore out of President Biden’s jurisdiction. 

This is not the first time that Republican states have attempted to sue President Biden. In Feb. 2021, 12 states, many of which are also suing the president currently, sued President Biden over an executive order that issued a determination on the social cost of carbon. This cost is factored into many different things, including federal regulations and permitting decisions. These states claimed that President Biden was overstepping his authority and that this executive order would hurt rural economies particularly harshly.

How Will Gas Prices be Affected if the Law Suits Fail?

Gas prices have increased over the last few months since President Biden took office, and many have worried that the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline could be the reason for this, but an independent article from First Coast News claims that if anything this cancellation could actually lower prices on gas in the short term, as manufacturers become more secure in the fact that they will be exclusively using the existing pipeline as the more direct pipeline is no longer under construction. The real reasons behind these spikes in gas prices are more likely increased demand due to pandemic restrictions being lessened around the country and winter storms placing a strain on production. Specifically, the winter storm that occurred in Texas in February placed a major strain on production as many refineries are located along the Gulf of Mexico for easy transport. 

Therefore, if these lawsuits fail to progress any further and construction on the pipeline does not resume, which is likely, gas prices will not likely be affected in the long-term. The main thing to note is that since an American to Canada pipeline already exists, the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline is more symbolic than anything else. The pipeline represents how the two major parties view renewable energy versus fossil fuels, which is why debates over the pipeline are still being held over a decade after it was initially proposed. As President Biden has made climate change and environmental issues such a major part of his platform, it is not surprising that he canceled the permits on the pipeline, and the response from Republicans is also not surprising considering how strongly they have advocated for the project. With Democrats in control of Congress, however, even if this set of lawsuits does take the power to cancel pipeline construction away from President Biden, Congress will most likely just confirm his decision, and so these lawsuits are mostly symbolic in nature to indicate the strong disapproval held by Republicans towards this cancellation.