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News and informationOn The Water Front

Nevada U.S. Senator Dean Heller’s Support For Keystone Pipeline Enriches Trump, Endangers The Environment

Trump issues executive order to extend Keystone Pipeline project


On January 29, 2015, Nevada’s US Senator Dean Heller (R) joined with 62 of his Republican colleagues to pass (62-36) the construction of the 1,179-mile (1,897-kilometer) Keystone XL Pipeline. If completed, the pipeline would carry crude oil from the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska and ultimately to refineries on the Gulf Coast. On February 11, 2015, the House (270–152) approved the bill.

On February 24, 2015, President Barack Obama argued that approval should rest with the Executive Branch.  He vetoed the Bill. The Senate was unable to override the veto by a two-thirds majority, with a 62-37 vote.

On November 3, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a determination that the project was not in the public interest. Kerry found that there was a “perception” among foreigners that the project would increase greenhouse-gas emissions, and that, whether this perception was accurate, the decision would, therefore “undercut the credibility and influence of the United States” in climate-change-related negotiations.[i]

On Thursday, January 18, 2018, TransCanada said it plans to break ground on the $8 billion  Keystone XL oil pipeline next year, delivering a huge win for the energy industry and laying to rest rumors it was on the verge of walking away from the $8 billion project.

On January 24th, 2017, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to advance the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The order expedited the environmental review. Subsequently, he signed a presidential permit to allow TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline on March 24, 2017.[ii] 

On March 21, 2018, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ordered the Trump administration to release documents it relied on to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline last year.  Judge Morris said the government must provide any relevant documents or explain why they should be withheld.

Cherry Pickers

The ruling came in a lawsuit pending in federal court in Montana from environmentalists seeking to stop the pipeline. “The government provided a cherry-picked record,” said Jackie Prange, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We were asking the government to produce all the documents, or if it wasn’t going to, say which ones and why. Our concern is that there’s a black box here, and the public deserves to know what evidence the Trump administration relied on to approve the pipeline.”[iii]

Most famously, the president and his team have scrubbed mentions of climate change from government websites, kicked scientists off advisory boards, repudiated the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas regulations and made the U.S. the only nation on Earth to reject the 2015 Paris agreement on global warming.

Trump’s White House excluded rising temperatures from the list of threats in its December national security strategy, contradicting the approach of both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Last year, just before Hurricane Harvey drowned Houston, the White House rescinded requirements that projects built with federal dollars consider the way warming temperatures might intensify extreme weather.

President Donald Trump filled upper ranks of his administration with appointees who share his disbelief in the scientific evidence for climate change — giving them an opportunity to impose their views on policies, regulations and document releases ranging from disaster planning to national security to housing standards.

Not surprising Trump exaggerated Keystone XL pipeline jobs. Trump said the Keystone XL pipeline would create 28,000 jobs. The US State Department says the Keystone XL pipeline will create 50 permanent jobs.

Obvious dangers

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 1.3 million gallons (4.9 million liters) of petroleum are spilled into U.S. waters from vessels and pipelines in a typical year. A major oil spill could easily double that amount.

Since 2009, the annual number of significant accidents on oil and petroleum pipelines has shot up by almost 60 percent, roughly matching the rise in U.S. crude oil production, according to an analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

Trumps Investments

Trump owns shares in big pharma companies including Pfizer, Merck, Celgene and GlaxoSmithKline; retailer Walmart, and consumer goods firms Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. He also holds stakes in a variety of multinational oil companies like Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil. The connections to the energy industry don’t stop there. The climate-change skeptic owns shares in Phillips 66 PSX – a joint venture partner in the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, and in Kinder Morgan, another pipeline giant facing resistance for its plans to connect the Canadian oil sands to Vancouver, British Columbia. Trump also has a small investment in Canadian energy company TransCanada, the developer of Keystone XL pipeline.[iv]

Trumps other Canadian holdings, including $500,000 to $1 million investments in the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Toronto Dominion Bank, and $1 million to $5 million worth of shares in the Royal Bank of Canada. Such investments add to the array of connections Trump already has with foreign entities – including nine figure debts owed to German lender Deutsche Bank and China’s state-controlled Bank of China.[v]

Trump family

Trump will not divest from his business empire. Instead, he hands over control of his companies to sons Eric and Donald Jr., along with his longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg. [vi]

They’re going to be running it in a very professional manner,” Trump said. “They’re not going to discuss it with me.”[vii]

Alternatives to the pipeline

Other pipelines can move oil sands crude (including a controversial plan by the company Enbridge), but there’s not enough capacity for all the oil being produced in Alberta. Producers in Canada are pursuing transporting oil sands by rail cars, even though it’s more expensive than moving it by pipeline.

That becomes even less attractive as world oil prices fall, however. Crude from oil sands is some of the most expensive oil to produce in the world. When the extra cost of moving it by rail is added on, some producers will find it difficult to make money.


[i]  Kerry, John. “Department of State: Record of Decision and National Interest Determination” (PDF). Archived on Wikipedia from the original (PDF) on 21 November 2015.

[ii] Jamieson, Amber; Vaughan, Adam (March 24, 2017). “Keystone XL: Trump issues permit to begin construction of pipeline”. The Guardian.

[iii] Brown, Matthew, Judge orders gov’t review of Keystone pipeline documents, February 25, 2018, at:

[iv] Wang, Jennifer, “Trump’s stock portfolio: Big Oil, Big Banks and More Foreign Connections, Nov. 29, 2016, at:

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Alexandeer, Dan, Peterson-Withorn, Chase, Wang, Jennifer, Forbes, Jan. 13, 2017 at:

[vii] Ibid.[amazon_link asins=’1496100808′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’nevadatoday-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f07fbb3e-322d-11e8-841b-4b9a73f3f8f9′]

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Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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