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Promise to cancel Keystone XL draws backlash

Last Updated May 20, 2020 at 6:06 am MDT

After U.S. presidential hopeful Joe Biden pledged over the weekend to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline if elected in November, the reaction from local politicians has been swift.

The former vice-president and presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party said in a statement that he would withdraw the project’s permit issued by U.S. President Donald Trump, his campaign acknowledged Biden felt cancelling the project was the correct decision in 2015 as a member of former president Barack Obama’s administration.

Alberta Minister of Energy Sonya Savage shot back immediately and argued the project’s success is an economic boon for Canada and the United States.

“The pipeline is the most studied in American history and has been deemed safe and in the public interest through multiple state and federal reviews, including two under the Obama administration,” Savage said.

On Tuesday, during an unrelated press conference, Premier Jason Kenney also fielded several questions on the issue and echoed Savage’s disappointment.

“If we don’t get that pipeline built, the United States refineries along the Gulf Coast will once again have to be dependent on OPEC oil imports, for heavy oil in particular, from dictatorships like Venezuela,” Kenney said.

He added that governors along the pipeline expansion’s route into Nebraska support it and it also has the backing of union groups whose members are assisting in construction.

In March, the province pledged to take a $1.5 billion stake in the project and provide a loan guarantee to ensure work started immediately.

Because of that, a portion of pipe has already been laid across the Canada-U.S. border.

“We made this strategic investment exactly because that there was obviously political risk, and the markets were not prepared to finance, on a conventional basis, a project with that kind of risk,” Kenney said.

Due to these factors, Kenney believes Biden’s pledge would be a hard sell to Americans and his colleagues in the U.S. government.

“As we hopefully begin to emerge from this pandemic, the public both in the United States and Canada will be increasingly focused on jobs and the economy. That is why this project needs to proceed,” he added.

Calgary’s mayor also chimed in on the comments during the city’s update on the local COVID-19 response.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Naheed Nenshi said.

“Regardless of what political party you support or what your beliefs are, there is such a thing as a rule of law. You cannot tell a company, well, first you can’t do it, now you can do it, now you’ve spent billions of dollars doing it, you’re well under construction and then we’re going to revoke the permit. I think that’s ridiculous.”

Nenshi said it is am important project for Calgary, and pointed out the Deputy Prime Minister’s office stated the project fits with Canada’s climate goals.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley also expressed disappointment at the snag in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“Keystone XL is an incredibly important project to our oil and gas sector, and province as a whole,” she said.

“It should come as no surprise that Joe Biden is opposed to the project. As the former vice-president, he was a vital member of the Obama administration and even stood next to president Obama as his administration rejected the permit in 2015.”

But Notley also took aim at the premier’s financial commitment to the project and calls for more details to improve the province’s legal standing.

“The project always came with significant political and legal risk. Premier Kenney has already committed $1.5 billion dollars to this project. And if the project fails, a further $6 billion will be paid by Albertans — for nothing. That’s why we asked for details of the deal and all economic and risk analyses when the Premier and his UCP Government committed up to $7.5 billion to the project,” Notley added.

“There are still ongoing legal challenges to KXL and because of Jason Kenney’s rushed deal, Alberta has no legal standing.”

Kenney is remaining firm on his resolve to get the project completed and said his government will have conversations with whichever administration goes into the White House after the election.

“Our focus is on continuing to demonstrate the widespread support that exists in the U.S. for this project that represents jobs, growth and energy independence.”

Nevertheless, he added it would be an unfortunate situation should Keystone XL be cancelled and Kenney pledged to do everything possible to recoup any financial losses and also make a complaint through NAFTA.

“It would require that thousands of miles of pipe be pulled out of the ground by the union workers who are now employed creating that project,” Kenney said.

“We would use any legal means at our disposal.”