On his inauguration day, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to halt construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, an $8 billion project routed from Alberta, Canada to the American Gulf Coast. This decision comes after an outcry from environmentalists concerned about increase of fossil fuel usage, as well as Native American tribes whose lands the pipeline would be built upon.
Although the Keystone pipeline would not have crossed through North Carolina, there are lessons we can learn from Biden’s decision to prioritize Indigenous people and the environment.
North Carolina is not immune to the environmental consequences of fossil fuels. In fact, two recent pipeline projects have sparked similar controversies. In August, the Colonial Pipeline spilled more than 300,000 gallons of gasoline in Huntersville — the largest such spill in North Carolina history. The contamination, which included known carcinogens, prompted Colonial Pipeline to redirect residents’ water sources and buy three homes located near the site of the spill.
Similarly, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Eastern North Carolina in response to delays and rising costs. Many feared it would disproportionately impact tribal communities (namely, the Lumbee tribe of Robeson County), who would make up 13 percent of those living within a mile of the gas pipeline’s route.
Meanwhile, North Carolina has the capacity to pursue more renewable energy programs and decrease its reliance on fossil fuels. The state is ranked second nationally in its installed solar generating capacity as of 2019. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, one-tenth of all NC energy is renewable, with solar and hydroelectric leading in this category.
It is clear that the expansion of pipelines and continued fossil fuel usage is not sustainable. North Carolina should take advantage of its capacity for renewable energy to lead the country toward a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly energy industry.
Furthermore, the protection of Native American communities should lie at the forefront of any discussion of fossil fuels. North Carolina has the largest Indigenous population of any state east of the Mississippi River. Decisions to build pipelines through tribal lands can have disastrous consequences, from the ecological destruction of sacred lands to the displacement of Indigenous people.
We cannot ignore the failures of pipelines elsewhere when making decisions that will impact all North Carolinians. The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline is just another step toward sustainable energy and the preservation of Native lands.
It’s time for North Carolina to take notes.