Trump stacks his cabinet with pro-Keystone XL picks
When President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, it likely won’t take long for the controversial TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline to get the rubber stamp. A spate of recent cabinet picks indicate the incoming U.S. leader won’t be wasting any time getting it built.
“[Regarding] the Keystone pipeline, you’re going to have a decision fairly quickly, and you’ll see that,” Trump told Fox News on Sunday.
Even as many residents north of the border are fretting about Trump’s plans to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), his administration is already a clear fan of one Canadian product: oil.
The Trump transition team confirmed Wednesday that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the pick for secretary of energy. That came a day after they announced that ExxonMobil’s chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson is Trump’s pick for secretary of state, and that Montana congressman Ryan Zinke would be appointed Interior Secretary.
The markets are already taking notice. TransCanada’s stock is already $2 higher since Trump’s upset victory in November.
Zinke has been a vocal champion of Keystone XL, which would pass through his home state of Montana. When outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama rejected a presidential permit for the project, the congressman called it “just wrong.”
“President Obama turned his back on Montana, turned his back on American workers, and turned his back on our closest neighbor and ally, Canada,” he said in a statement in November 2015.
Obama rejected Keystone XL in November 2015, after finding it didn’t pass a climate test he had implemented for energy projects.
“President Obama is making phony claims about the impact of the Keystone that his own State Department says is not true,” Zinke said after that decision. ” A 2014 environmental impact study by the State Department concluded the Keystone would not have a negative impact on the environment.”
Trump confirmed Tuesday he had nominated Tillerson, an oil executive who ranked number 24 on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people, and who is also a champion for North American energy security, namely through extraction and building pipelines.
In a speech at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. in March 2015, Tillerson told the crowd: “The United States and Canada both need this vital pipeline for delivering oil from Alberta to refineries in the US gulf coast. Keystone XL would improve US competitiveness, it would increase North American energy security, and it would strengthen the relationship with one of our most important allies and most valued trading partners.”
Tillerson has also accused politics of getting in the way of the regulatory process when it comes to Keystone. He’ll likely be doing a lot of the diplomatic heavy lifting with Canada, as Trump’s main foreign representative.
Tillerson’s company, Exxon, owns 69.6 percent of Canada’s largest petroleum refiner, Imperial Oil.
When he ran for president in 2015, Perry said one of the first things he would do, should he be elected, would be to approve Keystone XL.
In a 2012 op-ed to the Wall Street Journal, Perry wrote that “this cross-border connection would have provided a golden opportunity to partner with our neighbors to the north in producing massive amounts of energy, both for our country and the globe.”
But Perry has also been a proponent of a different, but equally controversial, project: the Dakota Access Pipeline. Perry sits on the board of directors of the Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota line.
Trump is also a fan of that project, telling Fox News on Sunday: “When I get to office, if it’s not solved, I’ll have it solved very quickly.” The Army Corps of Engineers recently refused to grant an easement under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe along the pipeline route, saying it would consider other options, after months of protests by thousands of “water protectors.” However, the pipeline company has said it plans to go ahead with the current route.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, too, is in favor of Keystone XL, and it could be the third Alberta oil pipeline approved in only the first two years of his mandate, following closely behind Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and Enbridge’s Line 3.
“We supported the project before, and it was quashed by President Obama. We regretted that,” Trudeau’s National Resources Minister, Jim Carr, told reporters after Trump’s victory in November. “We know that all of the approvals for that pipeline are in place north of the 49th parallel. It’s now up to their proponent, it’s now up to the company to determine whether or not it wants to pursue another application or to resuscitate the old one, and we’ll watch what they do.”
While there might be some common ground on pipelines, Trump and Trudeau are likely to butt heads over climate policy. The Canadian leader pushing through a carbon pricing scheme, while the incoming U.S. president threatens to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
If Trump pushes Keystone XL through, it would be a major win for Calgary-based Enbridge, which is the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, and which also holds a stake in the pipeline.
The Republican-heavy Senate now has to confirm Trump’s nominations.
Cover: Illustration by Ralph Damman/VICE Canada