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An opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline holds a sign during a demonstration across the street where U.S. President Barack Obama will attend an event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
An opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline holds a sign during a demonstration across the street where U.S. President Barack Obama will attend an event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

YETIV and RICHMAN

With Trump win, Keystone XL revival now a near certainty Add to ...

Steve Yetiv is the Louis I. Jaffe professor of international relations at Old Dominion University. Jesse Richman is associate professor of political science and international studies at ODU.

What a difference an election makes. The rise of Donald Trump is likely to shake up domestic and global politics, even as he increasingly realizes that a president faces numerous obstacles and challenges that limit executive power.

Regardless of such constraints, we can certainly expect change in the world of energy. Indeed, Mr. Trump may well initiate a major shift in U.S. energy policy. He is the opposite of his predecessor on climate and energy.

Barack Obama has taken the boldest actions against climate change of any president. Among other things, he has achieved higher fuel-economy standards and significant regulatory actions targeting coal, and his administration helped spearhead the Paris climate-change agreement of 2015, which is now in effect. Mr. Trump, who appears to embrace coal production, may well try to reverse those moves and also go a different way on an issue that has been of much concern to Canadians: the Keystone XL pipeline. Under Mr. Obama, the Keystone project faced regulatory delays for years and then was finally denied a year ago, but now the tables have turned.

Presidents don’t always follow their campaign promises, but they can certainly indicate their intentions. In Mr. Trump’s case, he will almost certainly move Keystone forward, having asserted during the campaign that he would “absolutely approve it, 100 per cent.” But his approval won’t come without strings. Mr. Trump will likely seek greater financial awards for doing so.

What might he seek in a bargain? A special concession of a share of the profits, as Mr. Trump has suggested he wants, seems improbable. But perhaps assurances can be given that pipeline revenue will be subject to standard rates of U.S. corporate taxation. Given Mr. Trump’s broader message on trade, he might press for the pipeline to be built with U.S. or at least North American steel in order to broaden the economic impact of construction. Or maybe he will ask for Canada to make other concessions outside the Keystone deal itself.

There will probably remain intense U.S. opposition against the pipeline deal. Major elements in the Democratic Party strongly opposed the pipeline, which pushed Hillary Clinton to oppose it in the presidential primary. In some minds, building the pipeline is a metaphor for failure on climate change. The recent Dakota Access Pipeline protests provide a preview of the tactics that might be attempted. Environmentalists have become a much more organized force in recent years as concerns have mounted about climate change and fracking for oil and natural gas, and as their networks have deepened.

Yet, for Mr. Trump, approving Keystone will make sense politically, because it ties into his message of helping Americans obtain jobs – even if we can debate how many jobs it would yield. He may also believe that approving the pipeline would be an easy “win” early in his presidency, certainly compared with other, more complex policy goals. Approving the pipeline will also align him with the Republican lawmakers who tried to push Keystone XL approvals through Congress despite Mr. Obama’s opposition.

Many factors are in place to move Keystone forward, provided Mr. Trump gets a bargain he likes. Since Canada will probably want positive relations with the new president, it seems likely that this deal will get done.

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