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Biden's Cancellation Of Permit For Keystone XL Pipeline Faces Mixed Reactions

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, President Biden isn't just focusing on the pandemic. One of the first things he did after his inauguration yesterday was to cancel a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline. That pipeline would have transported crude oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. It would have entered the U.S. in Montana. From there, Yellowstone Public Radio's Kayla Desroches reports on the mixed reaction to the cancellation.

KAYLA DESROCHES, BYLINE: Tribes and environmental groups here and in other states the pipeline would have crossed have been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline in court for roughly a decade. Last year, in a video by Indigenous collective Buffalo Defense, roughly 10 Fort Peck tribal members protested in northern Montana. They lined up with their hands held up in fists and repeated a Lakota phrase that's become a slogan for the movement against pipelines like the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Mni wichoni.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Mni wichoni.

DESROCHES: Water is life. The Canadian company behind Keystone XL, TC Energy, operates a pipeline which spilled thousands of gallons of oil in South Dakota in 2017 and North Dakota in 2019. Activists and tribal members say the pipeline endangers water quality, breaks tribal land treaties and pipeline construction brings the threat of human trafficking. Biden's decision to revoke a presidential permit Donald Trump granted Canadian developer TC Energy in 2019 puts a hard stop to the $8 billion project. Among those celebrating was Fort Belknap Indian Community Council President Andy Werk, a member of the Aaniiih Tribe.

ANDY WERK: I'm just really happy. I'm really happy, and I'm really thankful.

DESROCHES: In South Dakota, the Rosebud Sioux tribal government joined Fort Belknap in suing to stop the pipeline. Rosebud Sioux President Rodney Bordeaux was busy coordinating COVID-19 vaccinations when he heard Biden cancelled the permit.

RODNEY BORDEAUX: It's a great victory. Hopefully, that's the end of it, but we'll continue to fight it. We're going to watch it.

DESROCHES: But pipeline supporters are seeing the collapse of 10 years of work. TC Energy, which declined to comment for the story, released a statement in anticipation of the permit cancellation yesterday and said it's suspending further activity on the pipeline. County commissioners in rural northeastern Montana, where agriculture is the dominant industry, said they had been looking forward to tax revenue, which the state estimated at $63 million a year.

MARY ARMSTRONG: Well, I'm extremely disappointed.

DESROCHES: Mary Armstrong is a commissioner in Montana's Valley County.

ARMSTRONG: We're a very large county with very few people - seems like a perfect place and perfectly compatible with us.

DESROCHES: Montana Republicans strongly criticized Biden's decision, but Keystone XL has also been supported by Democrats here, including former Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Jon Tester. Yesterday, Tester said he still supports the development of the pipeline but with conditions. He had encouraged the Biden administration to meet with supporters and opponents before making a decision. While the pipeline from Alberta looks dead for now, the premier of that province, Jason Kenney, yesterday pushed for consequences. The Canadian province of Alberta invested $1.5 billion in the project. In a statement yesterday, Kenney called for Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON KENNEY: If, however, the U.S. government refuses to open the door to a constructive and respectful dialogue about these issues, then it is clear that the government of Canada must impose meaningful trade and economic sanctions to defend our country's vital economic interests.

DESROCHES: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a statement, expressed disappointment in Biden's decision but acknowledged Biden's choice to fulfill a promise he made during his campaign run.

For NPR News, I'm Kayla Desroches in Billings, Mont.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARK BARROTT'S "SCHOPENHAUER'S GARDEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.