Residents and business owners affected by President Biden's executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline gathered Monday in southwestern South Dakota and appealed to three Republican congressmen in an effort to help restart the project.
During his first days as president, Biden revoked Keystone XL's permit and shut down construction of the long-disputed pipeline that was to carry oil from Canada to Texas. While the move was celebrated by the mainstream media and environmental activists, the decision dealt a costly blow to small-town business in the center of the country.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. organized the meeting and was joined by Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., who is sponsoring legislation to restart the pipeline.
Among those who spoke at Monday's event in Philip, S.D. was Jeff Birkeland, the CEO of West Central Electric Cooperative, which would have served pump stations across the XL route.
"We're out in the middle of nowhere. We are soon to be forgotten - nobody pays attention to us," Birkeland told Fox News. "We're trying to get the word out that they are affecting lives here."
Since the project was first put on hold in 2011, West Central Electric has lost $90 million in revenue. Additionally, the local school districts have lost $1.7 million in tax revenue and the state $4 million in sales tax revenue.
While these figures may not seem large compared to other locations, Birkeland said, for his small community in central South Dakota, it is an enormous amount.
"People made improvements in their businesses based on what they thought was coming and it's gone," said Birkeland. "Now they're left holding the bag and they can't make their payments."
One of those people is Tricia Burns, owner of a wellness center in Philip. She says that within 48 hours of the pipeline's cancellation, she lost 45 contracts worth a little more than $3,000 a month in revenue.
Owning a gym in a town of only 800 people means "there isn’t a ton of room for potential growth," Burns told Fox News.
"So many times I've heard in the last two weeks, 'There are other jobs. It was temporary work - they knew that.' Absolutely, there are so many points that we can argue," she said. "However, there are so many points that are being left out."
Birkeland claimed that due to the divisive political climate, crucial information about the Keystone XL Pipeline and TransCanada Energy’s commitment to green energy is being overlooked or ignored.
Since it was initially proposed more than 10 years ago, the Keystone XL project has evolved to accommodate North America’s push toward renewable energy. According to TC Energy, the pipeline would have operated at net-zero emissions when placed into service in 2023, and it would be the first pipeline of its kind to be fully powered by renewable energy by 2030.
"Trans Canada has committed to making this carbon neutral and putting up all the wind and solar energy to get their oil to market – how can that be wrong? It just seems like a win-win," said Birkeland.
Birkeland and Burns have both expressed hope for a possible revival of the project.
"I don’t ask for a lot, but I’m at the point where I’ve got to ask for help," pleaded Birkeland. "I’d like to meet with President Biden about it. I want somebody to listen instead of everyone just saying ‘no it’s done.’"