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By Candice Bernd
March 5, 2012
Caption : Since the project doesn’t cross an international border, it doesn’t need the president’s approval.     

It seems TransCanada is trying to install the Keystone XL pipeline in bits and pieces.

The company announced recently that it was planning the construction of a 485-mile pipeline project from Cushing, Okla., to Texas Gulf Coast refineries—and the White House gave the $2.3 billion project the thumbs up.

Because the project does not cross a U.S. border it doesn’t require presidential approval, but this southern half of the Keystone XL is still pending approval from local, state, and federal governments and isn’t expected to be finished until next year.

President Obama rejected the construction permit for the larger Keystone XL pipeline—which would begin in Canada and end in Texas—in January after a wave of environmental pressure culminated at the White House last year over the 1,700-mile pipeline project that has climate scientists crying “game over” for the planet.

House Republicans tried to force President Obama’s hand during the payroll tax-cut debate, setting arbitrary and impossible deadlines on the permit decision. But the president rejected the pipeline outright, saying there was not enough time to conduct a proper environmental review of the full project.

Now, TransCanada officials say they’ll reapply for a cross-border construction permit to complete that missing piece of the Keystone XL, from the Alberta tar sands into the Midwest.

No matter—environmental activists say they will continue to resist the production of dirty tar sands oil and any limb of the Keystone XL that TransCanada attempts to build.

“TransCanada's decision to build its pipe from Oklahoma to Texas is a nifty excuse to steal some land by eminent domain,” 350.org Founder Bill McKibben responded to the announcement on Jan. 27. “It doesn't increase tar sands mining because there's still no pipe across the Canadian border, but it's the usual ugly power grab and land grab by the fossil fuel industry—we'll do what we can to stand by our allies in that arid and beautiful land.”

But environmental activists still have a fight cut out for them as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney indicated an overall favorable attitude toward the smaller project and toward TransCanada’s willingness to reapply for its larger ambition of finishing the Keystone XL.

Carney said President Obama’s decision to deny the permit in January “in no way prejudged future applications,” according to the Washington Post.

The president’s rejection announcement actually signaled support for the lower half of the pipeline in January when he said that “we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security—including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico.”

It’s clear environmentalists are working against a thoroughly entrenched system that coddles the fossil fuel industry with tax breaks and subsidies. But in this new chapter in the fight against what could be the most controversial pipeline in American history, climate justice advocates could find themselves working with some peculiar and unlikely allies—and even find that those allies may give them the leg up they need to overcome this rigged and dirty game.

As McKibben points out, the pipeline’s construction will require the use of eminent domain to seize land from owners across much of Texas. In Texas, the words “eminent domain” are practically blasphemous curse words.

On Feb. 24, Texans stood strong against the new pipeline project in Paris, Tex., and in support of one Texas woman, Julia Trigg Crawford, who is fighting an eminent domain case against TransCanada.

Climate activists can only expect further resistance from ranchers and landowners threatened by the Keystone XL project—and TransCanada can expect protracted battles to stall the construction process coupled with a new wave of climate justice actions to stop the ever-lurking Keystone XL zombie pipeline.

I plan to be a part of those actions in the fight against the pipeline as it rises from its grave right in my Texas backyard.

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