On March 2, the Trump White House clarified that it would not require the company proposing to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to use American steel. But it appears that President Trump would rather ignore that fact and keep on promising the moon. When he signed his executive memo in late January, reviving the hopes of Canada’s oil industry and its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, he made a bunch of promises: It was going to be a construction job bonanza (“A lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs. Great construction jobs”)! It was going to be built with U.S. steel (“I am very insistent that if we’re going to build pipelines in the United States, the pipe should be made in the United States”)! On its face, it looks like he wants to take credit for doing something that his administration has made sure will never happen.
Here he is just last night, talking at a campaign-style rally in Kentucky:
“We’ve also cleared the way for the Keystone . . . pipeline. And as I was signing it, I said where are they getting the steel? Where? And I said you know what? If people want to build pipeline in the United States, they should use American steel and they should build it and create it right here, that pipe is going to be manufactured right here. . . . We believe in two simple rules, buy American and hire American.”
The message seems pretty clear: If TransCanada wants to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a portion of which the State Department is expected to approve on March 27, they’re going to have to use American labor and America steel. There’s just one problem. President Trump’s White House has categorically rejected those conditions. Here’s what they said on March 2:
“The Keystone XL Pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipeline.”
Translated, that means: By the White House’s calculus, the Keystone XL pipeline is not subject to President Trump’s “buy American and hire American” requirements. Except that calculus is a lie. Keystone XL isn't “in the process of being constructed” in the United States.
Meanwhile, President Trump has taken his “buy American hire American” mantra regarding Keystone XL on parade and contradicted the White House's official position. Here he is over the course of one busy week of speechifying on this point in February:
- He told CEO’s from the U.S. steel industry on February 23: “And you're going to be doing pipelines now . . . We put you heavy into the pipeline business because we approved . . . the Keystone pipeline . . . but they have to buy . . . steel made in this country and pipelines made in this country."
- He told the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 24: “We have authorized the construction . . . of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. . . . I said, who makes the pipes for the pipeline? Well, sir, it comes from all over the world, isn't that wonderful? I said, nope, it comes from the United States or we're not building one. . . . American steel.”
- He told Congress in his address to a joint session on February 28: “We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines –thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs—and I've issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.” [And note: those jobs numbers aren’t right either.]
This cognitive dissonance between President Trump and his spokespeople is playing out against an even more disconcerting background: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recused himself from the government’s decision due to conflicts of interest. And TransCanada appears to be threatening to continue suing the United States under NAFTA if the United States presses a U.S. steel condition as part of its expected granting of a Presidential Permit.
Meanwhile, this zombie project remains what it always was for Americans: all risk and no reward. It remains an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen: a risk to our shared global climate, our precious fresh water sources, and our farms and ranches across America’s heartland. And more Americans are opposed to it than in favor: 48% to 42%. President Trump and his team would do well to stop trying to polish this tarnished project into something it can never be--a good deal for Americans, American workers, and our shared environment. Solar, wind, expanding the grid: These industries are creating jobs and saving Americans money, outcomes President Trump keeps promising. Why not promote them instead?