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As Trump approves Keystone pipeline, opposition groups vow fight 'not over'

US President Trump has approved the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration's rejection of the project. But environmental and indigenous groups have already vowed to fight the move.

When Donald Trump on Friday gave the green light for the construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, it did not come unexpectedly. The president already in January had signed an executive order to advance the project, which had been blocked by the Obama administration.         

The presidential approval was hailed by supporters of the pipeline like the American Petroleum Institute, a major lobby group for the US oil and gas industry, whose president Jack Gerard in a statement lauded the move as "welcome news" that is "critical to creating American jobs, growing the economy, and making our nation more energy secure."

Gerard argued that this project "has been studied longer than any pipeline project in US history with exhaustive reviews by the State Department concluding that the project is safe for the environment and the best option for transporting domestic crude and Canadian oil to US refineries" and strongly urged the individual states involved to approve the pipeline.

New environmental review

But don't bet on getting the pipeline built anytime soon, warnedDoug Hayes, an attorney with the Sierra Club, one of the largest US environmental organizations and a staunch opponent of Keystone XL.

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Protesters battle Trump's decision to revive pipeline

 "It‘s not over by a long shot," he said. First, because a green light from the states involved like Nebraska could take between six months and one year. Hayes adds that at the local level opposition against the pipeline was the greatest. 

And second, because Hayes expected the Sierra Club to itself mount a legal challenge against the approval of the pipeline after reviewing the decision more closely.

"We will surely be seeking a new environmental review," he said, noting that the State Department in its approval decision apparently relied on an environmental review from 2013 due to the president's deadline that the department had to make a determination on Keystone XL within 60 days.

"President Trump's deadline for this decision was completely arbitrary and does not give the State Department enough time to comply with the environmental review laws," said Hayes. Much has changed in four years, he said, citing low energy prices and new scientific studies on the danger of oil spills that warrant a new review of the project.

Few jobs

Hayes also disputed the economic reasons advanced by supporters of the pipeline, which include business as well as labor groups - chief among them that it would create jobs and provide a boost to the economy.

"It would create some temporary construction jobs, a few thousand," said Hayes. "But once it is built the State Department estimates that it will produce only 50 total long term jobs."

Keystone XL Pipeline Protest (picture alliance/AP Photo)

The Keystone XL pipeline sparked large protests during the Obama administration

Sierra Club attorney Hayes also took a direct stab at President Trump, who had made the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline a campaign issue as he said it would create American jobs, a key goal for his administration.

The White House had stated earlier this month that Keystone XL would not be subject to the president's much touted "Buy American" policy requiring all US pipeline projects to be built with American steel.         

"Trump has gone back on his promise to use American-made steel because he exempted Keystone XL, so this would be using foreign steel to be constructed," said Hayes. "This is a foreign corporation that is building a pipeline through the United States and where most of the oil would be exported. It is really all risk for the US and no reward."

Indigenous resistance

Opposition to Keystone XL also came from Native American groups that would be heavily impacted by the pipeline, which crosses six states and numerous tribal territories.  

"Trump may have approved the project, but that does not mean our resistance is over," said Tara Houska, a tribal rights attorney and activist.

"Keystone XL poses a threat that would be devastating to the Lakota nations along the route," she said. "Contaminating the sole drinking water source of tribal nations is reprehensible, and a risk that outweighs the minimal benefits of oil bound for foreign export."

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