Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recused himself from any department deliberations regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline, the controversial crude oil pipeline that would run from Canada to the Gulf coast.
Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, decided in early February he would have nothing to do with the project proposed by Canadian pipeline company TransCanada, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday.
“He has not worked on that matter at the Department of State, and will play no role in the deliberations or ultimate resolution of TransCanada’s application,” Toner said.
The proposed pipeline would stretch 1,179 miles and carry 800,000 barrels of petroleum each day from Canadian oil sands to oil refineries in Texas. Proponents argue its construction will create jobs and benefit the American energy industry. In his first week in office, President Donald Trump revived the project, which had been rejected by former President Barack Obama.
The State Department is involved in the process because the pipeline originates in Canada. On Wednesday, Greenpeace demanded Tillerson recuse himself from any decisions involved with the project. In a letter to the Office of Government Ethics and the State Department legal adviser, the environmental organization argued ExxonMobil stood to profit directly if the TransCanada project were approved.
“ExxonMobil could benefit from the approval of the pipeline if it has specific contracts or agreements with TransCanada either to transport their Canadian tar sands production, or to receive such shipments at their U.S. refineries,” Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard wrote.
Earlier Thursday, Toner declined to comment on the letter because he had not yet seen it, he said.
Keystone was originally scheduled to open in 2012, but hit roadblocks as the Obama administration considered the project’s environmental impact. In Feb. 2015, Obama vetoed a bill passed by Congress approving the pipeline’s construction, arguing that the executive branch had the right to make the decision. In November of that year, Obama rejected the pipeline. He said the project would jeopardize American global leadership on the issue of climate change.
Trump has suggested climate change is a hoax invented by China. He has said he would “renegotiate some of the terms” before fully approving Keystone.