White House

Trump’s advocacy of pipelines comes with a string: They must use U.S. workers and steel

With a stroke of a pen, President Donald Trump revived a pair of controversial projects – construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

But the resuscitation of the controversial projects came with a complicated caveat: The pipes must be built by U.S. workers and with U.S. steel.

Trump, trying to make good on his campaign promise to create jobs and put America first, said Tuesday that both projects would be renegotiated, making their fate uncertain.

“From now on we’re going to start making pipeline in the United States,” he told reporters after signing a series of presidential actions. “If we build it in the United States . . . we want to build the pipe. It’s going to put a lot of workers, a lot of steelworkers back to work . . . Like we used to in the old days.”

President Barack Obama had blocked both pipelines because of potential environmental ramifications and because he didn’t believe they would offer the promised economic benefits. But Trump campaigned on a promise to create jobs and saw the pipelines as the kind of infrastructure project that could create thousands.

It’s unclear how viable it is to depend solely on U.S. workers and U.S. steel to build thousands of miles of pipelines. Estimates of the jobs the projects would generate varied, Trump said 28,000, others said 40,000; the Obama administration others doubt those numbers.

The news was immediately hailed by the oil industry and slammed by environmentalists and Native American groups who’ve been fighting to keep the pipelines from crossing their lands.

Oil executives said at this point it’s more important to focus on the benefits to consumers and the economy and leave it up to the company and the White House to determine what conditions are acceptable.

“We are pleased to see the new direction being taken by this administration to recognize the importance of our nation’s energy infrastructure by restoring the rule of law in the permitting process that’s critical to pipelines and other infrastructure projects,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.

Trump did leave the industry some wiggle room. In his directive to the Secretary of Commerce, Trump didn’t say all the materials had to be produced in the United states, but to “the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.”

The Keystone pipeline, a 1,179-mile pipeline that would carry crude oil from the Canadian oil sands to Texas, has faced legal challenges in Nebraska and South Dakota and has been at the center of one of the biggest battles in Washington in a decade.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee, said the decision will only weaken America’s economy and handcuff the nation to “dirty energy infrastructure projects that make no sense while ignoring the promise of clean energy.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, hailed the decision as long-overdue.

“In the last eight years, the only thing that prevented the United States from unleashing the jobs Americans have desperately needed was a stubborn, politically-calculated unwillingness from the previous administration to embrace the full potential of our domestic energy resources,” Cruz said.

TransCanada, the Calgary-based project owner, said it’s already preparing an application to continue the Keystone project.

“KXL creates thousands of well-paying construction jobs and would generate tens of millions of dollars in annual property taxes to counties along the route as well as more than $3 billion to the U.S. GDP,” Terry Cunha of TransCanada said in a statement, using the acronym for gross domestic product, a measure of the economy’s size.

On Monday, Trump met with leaders of labor unions that supported the pipeline projects, including the Building and Construction trades group and the Laborers International Union of North America.

“The Keystone Pipeline was stalled, delayed and ultimately blocked by the previous administration to appease extremist environmentalists, reducing working class men and women to pawns in an elitist game,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of LIUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

Nicholas K. Akins, chairman and CEO of American Electric Power and chair of the Business Roundtable’s Committee on Energy and Environment called the decision a victory for workers and American families.

“President Trump has kept his promise with today’s decisions, and they are another clear sign that Washington is open for business,” he said.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which fought the Dakota Access pipeline, vowed to continue its battle in court. Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the executive order infringed on treaty rights and would contaminate the water of the tribe and millions of Americans downstream.

“President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” Archambault said. “Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent. The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez