ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Dishonest, two-faced and weak are a few of the words former President Donald Trump used to describe Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. Needless to say, it was often a rocky relationship. President Biden is aiming for a fresh start today, making Trudeau his first official call with a foreign leader. But mending that relationship is made a little bit harder by Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline. Reporter Emma Jacobs has more.
EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: The Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought crude from Alberta's tar sands oil fields to Gulf Coast refineries, was killed by President Obama. President Trump brought it back. Biden's decision to cancel it again was assailed by the head of Alberta's provincial government, Jason Kenney.
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JASON KENNEY: This is a gut punch for the Canadian and Alberta economies. Sadly, it is an insult directed at the United States' most important ally and trading partner.
JACOBS: Canada's oil and gas industry, which exports overwhelmingly to the U.S., makes up about 5% of Canada's GDP, but it's 20% of Alberta's. Kenney's government has invested more than a billion dollars in the pipeline and said the province and the company behind it might take legal action to recover their losses. Canada's federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson sounded less surprised about Biden's move to revoke permission, but he still argues continued Canadian oil exports don't contradict a transition to clean energy.
JONATHAN WILKINSON: We're not in a situation where you're going to flip a switch and, overnight, everybody's going to drive an electric car; all coal-fired power plants are going to be gone.
JACOBS: But Sara Hastings-Simon, an energy researcher at the University of Calgary, says it was already unclear whether there was enough demand to fill the Keystone XL.
SARA HASTINGS-SIMON: A reason for that is just the decrease in growth for oil, you know, compared to where we were certainly five, 10 years ago.
JACOBS: She says tar sands production is expensive while oil prices are low, and interest is growing in renewable energy. Minister Wilkinson says Canada hopes to increase other energy exports, like of its abundant hydropower to the United States. And he says the U.S. and Canada could work together to roll out lower- and zero-emission vehicles across North America.
WILKINSON: Given that the auto sector is an integrated sector, I think it's a perfect example of how working together can allow us to be more effective.
JACOBS: Prime Minister Trudeau is speaking with Biden today and said he would express his disappointment with Biden's decision on the pipeline. But Tzeporah Berman, an environmental activist in Vancouver, is glad Biden is pushing Trudeau on the contradictions in his policies.
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Trudeau wants to have his cake and eat it, too - to expand the fossil fuel industry and have a leading climate plan.
JACOBS: Trudeau has said he wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050, but the country's missed past emissions targets. The government has also been slow to deliver on promises to diversify its economy, says Eriel Deranger. She's executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and from a First Nations community in northern Alberta. Some of her family members work for oil companies.
ERIEL DERANGER: And a lot of these people that work in this industry, they know the beauty and the fragility of our ecosystems. They've seen it. And when you have these conversations with them like, have you seen what these projects have done to the land, they will be like, well, yeah, I have. But this is the only place you can make enough money in order to afford the cost of living.
JACOBS: Now that the Keystone fight is over, she and other activists say they'll also move on to other proposed pipeline projects. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.
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