June 1, 2023

Lady Gaga’s version of The Star-Spangled Banner was still echoing the streets of Washington, D.C., when the freshly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden canceled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

By the strike of his pen, the new president set the stage for future conversations with his closest ally.

“President Biden has been clear throughout the campaign that this was something he would do because of his commitment to fighting climate change,” Rohinton Medhora, president of the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) told Spoke Online.

Keystone XL is the fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline System, which delivers oil from Alberta to the United States, solely owned by TC Energy, a North American corporation operating energy infrastructures in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. According to the company itself, the pipeline was supposed to create 10,400 jobs in the U.S. and 2,800 more in Canada.

The administration of the President Barack Obama, where Biden was a vice-president, rejected the project in 2015. His decision was reversed by President Donald Trump in 2017. While campaigning for 2020 elections against Trump, Biden made it clear if he was elected, he would cancel the permit. This was reinforced after he won the election when he made John Kerry, his Envoy for Climate. As a Secretary of State in 2015, Kerry was the person recommending Obama to reject the pipeline.

“The United States and the world face a climate crisis,“ Biden wrote in the executive order. “That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory … Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.“

Yet, it seems Biden’s decision came as a surprise. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was disappointed, while Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, said he’s “deeply disturbed.”

“A decision has been made without even giving Canada a chance to communicate formally with the new administration. That’s not how you treat a friend and ally,” Kenney wrote in a statement.

Even if there had been a conversation, Medhora thinks the decision wouldn’t be any different.

“It might have made us feel better that we were heard out, but whether it happened with or without conversation, my sense was that it was going to happen,” Medhora said.

Keystone XL was one of the main points of the first phone call between Biden and Trudeau this Friday.

“The Prime Minister raised Canada’s disappointment with the United States’ decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. The Prime Minister underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of our bilateral energy relationship as well as his support for energy workers,” according to a readout of the call provided by Trudeau’s office.

In a readout published by the White House, Biden “acknowledged Prime Minister Trudeau’s disappointment.”

Alberta is urging Ottawa to impose sanctions, and the province has floated the idea of taking the U.S. to court. But Medhora thinks Biden’s decision is irreversible.

“The provisions of CUSMA (Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement) have to do with compensation, not necessarily reversing a decision. So the question might be what kind of compensation do you get, but whether the decision might actually be reversed, I’m less certain about that,” Medhora said.

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