PIERRE, S.D. — Within hours of taking the Oval Office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, President Joe Biden followed through on a campaign promise to yank the Keystone XL permit that President Trump issued just four years earlier, halting legal authority for construction of the oil pipeline that had been set to traverse Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.
The move, a win for tribal nations concerned over treaty rights and climate activists who've sought to end America's reliance on fossil fuels, came less than a day after South Dakota's all-Republican congressional delegation wrote the incoming Democratic president requesting Biden "reconsider" canceling a project the Obama administration nixed in 2015, given the company's pledge to invest in renewable energy and the projected jobs associated with the pipeline's completion.
"The Keystone XL pipeline of today is not the same project first reviewed by the Obama administration," wrote Sens. John Thune, Michael Rounds, and Rep. Dusty Johnson. They touted the pipeline's owner, Canadian-based TC Energy, had "adapted" to address environmental concerns for the $8 billion project.
But on Wednesday afternoon, in a flurry of executive actions, the 46th president revoked the permit needed for TC Energy to cross an international border, drawing a rebuke from the spokesman for South Dakota's Republican governor, Kristi Noem.
"It's unfortunate that President Biden is not standing up for American jobs and energy independence," said Ian Fury, in an email.
It's not certain what the future holds for the embattled pipeline first proposed over a decade ago. On Wednesday, TC Energy announced a pause on construction on the pipeline, which the company says comprises over 300 miles of pipeline already constructed.
"The company will cease capitalizing costs, including interest during construction, effective January 20, 2021," said the company in a statement on Wednesday.
In South Dakota, the permit's revocation would ostensibly mean the shuttering of a man-camp outside Philip, S.D. On Tuesday, Chris Nelson of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, said while it's typical for permits to require "remediation" of the land should a project cease, though he could not comment specifically on the Keystone XL case as he'd not reviewed the permit.
"That permit was issued, and that permit remains in place," said Nelson.
News that Biden intended to cancel the pipeline's legal authority broke on Sunday evening and was cheered by a number of tribal leaders in western South Dakota, including Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux, who said his tribe was never properly consulted about the pipeline which would cross near the reservation's boundaries.
"We want to thank President-Elect Joe Biden for his courage for standing up to Big Oil and putting a stop this very dirty oil pipeline," said Bordeaux, in an emailed statement.
On Wednesday, Candi Brings Plenty, an Indigenous justice organizer with the ACLU of South Dakota, also expressed disappointment in South Dakota's delegation's letter.
"This is just another example of the continuing clash between our tribal communities and South Dakota's elected officials," said Brings Plenty, in a statement.
TC Energy said it will "review" Biden's decision and "consider its options." But if Wednesday's move is the stroke-of-death for the project, it'll mark a decade-plus battle that has aligned strange bedfellows and pitted allies against one another.
The Keystone XL pipeline, which was to carry crude oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast, had gained the support of large petroleum companies but also Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had a rocky relationship with outgoing president Trump.
Advocates for the project had touted a unionized workforce and North American energy independence. But the project also attracted strange bedfellows in rural America, including liberal environmentalists and Native American nations as well as conservative, often white ranchers who oppose the lease terms.
On Monday, Tripp County, S.D., rancher John Harter told Forum News Service he voted for Trump but backed Biden's canceling the pipeline, which was to cross the land he'd been raised on. He also allowed himself to wonder if finally the pipeline project was over.
"Whoever is backing the fight to keep this thing going, how much more good money are they going to throw in a bad direction?" asked Harter.