Biden’s climate credentials are challenged by pipeline fights

At a rally this month against a pipeline pumping heavy Canadian oil into the United States, actress and activist Jane Fonda raised a sign featuring a figure of Joe Biden. It said, “President Biden, which side are you on?”

The message, from protests against the expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3 project in Minnesota, briefly underscores a growing problem for Biden.

The president has been under pressure from militants to intervene to slow the development of a new fossil fuel infrastructure, but is reluctant to take an overly heavy approach.

On his first day in office, Biden flashed a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a $ 8 billion totem pole project that would also have brought Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries, leading to abandoned this month.

But in other projects it has been less decisive. Activists have hoped to lead the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reverse its position on permits for both the Line 3 project and the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), which transports oil to south by the Bakken schist of North Dakota. In both cases, his administration has shown, leaving the matter to the courts to decide.

He also settled a dispute between Canada and Michigan over another Enbridge pipeline, Line 5, where the Calgary company challenged an order from the state governor to close it.

This approach infuriated the militants.

“Biden’s climate credibility is in line,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of, a climate pressure group. “I think at this point it’s pretty clear that only the federal government can do what needs to be done on Line 3, in DAPL and even elsewhere.”

The president is running for office on a platform to fight climate change. But despite some of the steps he has taken – such as falling under the Paris climate agreement, offering unprecedented federal support for clean energy and pausing new drilling rigs on federal land – activists want him to ‘he took a tougher line against an industry that promised to‘ transition ’away from.

Pipelines have become a hotbed between climate activists and the oil and natural gas industry. The former argue that new projects will encourage greater production of fossil fuels for decades to come at a time when the world needs to shift towards cleaner energy sources. The latter maintains these projects which remain essential for the constant supply of fuel at a good price. U.S. oil demand averages 20m barrels per day.

The success of the campaign against TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline has stimulated many others against other projects in the United States.

“The idea was: you can’t organize people around hundreds of coal plants, but you can pick something really high that you can try to kill,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, director general of the Climate Policy Laboratory. Tufts University Fletcher School.

Some campaigns have proven to be effective. The Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would have brought natural gas from wells in West Virginia to the East Coast utility, was abandoned last year after legal challenges sent costs up. DAPL entered service in 2017 despite intense protests, but its future now hangs over a new environmental review after strictly avoiding an orderly tribunal. shut down last year.

Last week the courts gave another victory to environmentalists, who had taken a new approach in their efforts to prevent new construction. The Environmental Defense Fund argues that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has failed to establish the necessary market demand for the Spire STL pipeline in the Midwest, since the company had based contracts with a subsidiary to demonstrate the need. The court agreed.

“It’s an extra arrow in the cold of opponents,” said Paul Patterson, an analyst at Glenrock Associates. “Environmentalists seem to be going after the economy more.”

FERC President Richard Glick, who had opposed the initial certification, he said the ruling underscored the need for the review commission to assess new interstate pipelines with a “legally sustainable approach to assessing need”.

Despite the chain of shocks, pipeline executives have argued that too much attention has been given to certain cases while construction continues behind the scenes.

“Most people are focused only on the bright object,” said John Stoody, vice president of the Oil Pipe Lines Association, an industry group. “There’s a lot of pipeline development and construction going on in the United States every day.”

In the five-year period between 2015 and 2019, 16,000 miles of pipelines and 44,000 miles of pipelines were built, according to the United States. transport department – an increase of 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

The mileage graph of pipelines (thousands) showing pipeline construction in the United States has increased sharply
Pipeline mileage line graph (millions) showing natural gas pipeline construction is increased

Biden has enforced some environmental requirements that affect new pipelines. The Environmental Protection Agency has said it will empower states to deny water quality permits to infrastructure projects – giving it an effective veto – after the Trump administration dilute its authority in this regard.

On Line 5, the Army Corps of Engineers said last week that it would conduct a more rigorously environmental review, which Enbridge said delayed plans to upgrade the line.

“I think we’re going to see the permitting process become ever tighter and more robust on the front-end, so that risk changes where it was before the Trump administration,” said Christi Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners . Permits will become more difficult to obtain, but will be more legally binding once they are granted, he added.

However, when it comes to taking a stand on individual projects such as Line 3, Line 5 and the DAPL, the president walks a fine line. Government lawyers said in a legal filing on June 23 that the Army Corps of Engineers had correctly assessed the impact of the Enbridge Line 3 project and asked the court to dismiss objections from local tribes. and environmentalists.

Previous administrations had faced similar dilemmas between environmental and community interests and the country’s energy security, said Jaffe, of the Climate Policy Laboratory.

“So far, no one has done well,” he said. “What I will say about the Biden administration is that trying to treat him well and treat him well probably means everyone will be unhappy.”

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