Joe Biden Exceeded His Authority in Canceling Keystone XL Pipeline Says Lawsuit

President Joe Biden signalled he meant business on climate change when he signed an executive order to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, but a legal challenge claims he has overstepped his authority.

Biden won plaudits from environmentalists for rejoining the Paris climate agreement and putting in place a moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic.

But his decision on the pipeline to pump oil from the tar sands of Canada through the U.S. has raised the ire of the energy industry, which has lamented job losses and questioned the environmental wisdom of shifting oil shipments onto roads and rail

Now attorneys general from 21 states—led by Texas and Montana, and including some across which the pipeline does not cross—have filed a suit arguing that the president's decision was "unconstitutional and illegitimate."

This is because the pipeline's origin in Canada and its route through the U.S. means it falls under the regulations of "international and interstate commerce."

Keystone XL pipeline protesters
Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline protest on January 24, 2017. President Joe Biden has canceled the permit for the pipeline, but his decision is being challenged in court. SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

Under a provision that was part of tax legislation in 2011, former President Barack Obama had to either approve the pipeline within 60 days or decide it was not in the national interest.

Obama rejected the proposal on the grounds he did not have enough time to consider it, but TC Energy Corporation (then TransCanada Corporation) was allowed to reapply. It was finally approved by Trump last year, but this was revoked by Biden when he took office.

The lawsuit filed by the attorneys general for Montana and Texas—Austin Knudsen and Ken Paxton—and backed by 19 other AGs said the president had "exceeded the scope of his authority under Article II of the Constitution."

"The decision to provide or withhold permission to construct and operate an oil pipeline across the international border with Canada is a regulation of international and interstate commerce.

"Under the Constitution, the power to regulate international and interstate commerce resides with Congress—not the President," states the suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Texas.

When contacted by Newsweek, the Justice Department declined to comment.

Climate activists and the oil industry have been at loggerheads over the proposed 1,200-mile pipeline for many years.

The project would move up to 830,000 barrels of crude each day from western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, and connect to other pipelines feeding oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

But it has faced numerous delays and has become a political football between climate activists, the oil industry and lawmakers.

TC Energy and unions, such as the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, said its cancellation had cost thousands of jobs. The lawsuit says around 42,100 jobs and $2 billion in associated earnings throughout the United States are at stake.

One of the lawsuit's signatories, Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter, said the pipeline had become "a shibboleth for those who are vocal advocates of an approach to mitigating the extent to which carbon emissions are impacting the climate.

"There has got to be a more thoughtful and pragmatic approach to how we are going to provide power and energy to this country over the next several decades," he told Newsweek last month.

"There is more threat to the environment if you are transporting these hydrocarbons from Canada by truck or rail than if you are transporting them by pipeline."

However, the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that opposes the pipeline, said the production, refining and combustion of the tar sands in Keystone XL would have led to annual carbon dioxide emissions of 168 million metric tons.