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Pipeline activists ‘resist’ as Trump pursues reset

Meenal Vamburkar

As the Trump administration moves to push forward the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, environmental groups are gearing up for local fights.

One day after Trump invited TransCanada Corp. to reapply for its Keystone XL project and proposed a swift review of Dakota Access, Greenpeace activists hung a large banner from a construction crane in downtown Washington with the word “Resist.”

Trump’s embrace of the oil and natural gas industry was a blow to opponents who have argued against new infrastructure for fossil fuels. It may also help them raise money, according to Christine Tezak, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC in Washington.

“The adversarial environment can be good for the opponents, and the opponents are getting better at delaying and posing legal challenges,” said Tezak. Being the underdog is a good way to raise money, she said.

The local-level fights, where activists have already focused their efforts, will only continue. “This isn’t something where the president can wave a magic wand,” Tezak said. In an email, Greenpeace called for a sustained movement against what they deem to be attacks on “environmental, social, economic, and educational justice.”

Keystone Battle

The Keystone XL project was held up by questions about the pipeline’s route through Nebraska and a legal fight with landowners, even before the Obama administration rejected the line’s permit in 2015.

The new president’s cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry may be an obstacle, but it “forces the country to have this overly needed conversation about energy,” said Jane Kleeb, president of Bold Alliance, a national activist network that’s fought both controversial pipelines Trump addressed. The group is increasing its efforts to organize landowners and hiring activists to work regionally, she said.

The opposition’s fight should adapt to focus message on issues of land rights, eminent domain and water quality, Kleeb said. That’s where activists and Republicans can find common ground. Even Keystone, if revived, will face the same hurdles in Nebraska that it did the first time around.

Grassroots efforts at the state level still threaten to kill projects by delaying them until they’re no longer economic or feasible, Tezak said. Attacking the delivery mechanism for fossil fuels has been successful for environmentalists, and the change in administration doesn’t entirely diminish that, she said.

Close Eye

And pipeline companies are aware of the pushback they’ll continue to face. During an analyst day presentation, Kinder Morgan Inc. said the company’s kept a close eye on Dakota Access developments and will prepare for what the face of opposition may look like going forward.

“There’s no doubt in our minds that we’ve got to be prepared for it,” said Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada. “We’ve got to understand how it may present itself and where it may present itself.”

And, demonstrations like the women’s march that followed Trump’s inauguration show that citizens are engaged in policy issues and willing to speak out against the administration, said Doug Hayes, an attorney for The Sierra Club.

“This is not over by a long shot,” Hayes said. “It’s pretty clear that you’re going to see widespread opposition to a lot of the things the president tries to do.”