WASHINGTON (AP) — When signing orders to advance the stalled Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, President Donald Trump had the idea of requiring the projects to use pipes and steel made in the U.S.
He inserted a "little clause" to that effect and vows the projects will only happen if his buy-American mandate is met.
Now, it turns out, those projects are advancing without it.
In recent days, the White House exempted Keystone XL from the rule. It was a stretch from the beginning to think it would apply to Dakota Access because that pipeline is almost complete.
A look at Trump's comments a month apart and what really happened:
— "I was sitting at my desk and I'm getting ready to sign Keystone and Dakota. I said, where's the pipe coming from? And I won't tell you where, but you wouldn't be happy. I say, why is it we build pipelines and we're not using pipe that's made in our country? I say, let's put that little clause in, like it's a one-sentence clause, but that clause is gonna attract a lot of people and we're gonna make that pipe right here in America. OK?" — Jan. 26, at a Republican retreat in Philadelphia.
— "We have authorized the construction, one day, of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and issued a new rule. This took place while I was getting ready to sign. I said, who makes the pipes for the pipeline? Well, sir, it comes from all over the world, isn't that wonderful? I said, nope, comes from the United States or we're not building it. American steel. If they want a pipeline in the United States, they're going to use pipe that's made in the United States, do we agree?" — Feb. 24, at the Conservative Political Access Conference.
For starters, the buy-America improvisation Trump describes does not resemble the ceremony staged and recorded on video in the Oval Office on Jan. 24, when he displayed a series of executive actions that had been prepared for his signature.
Among them, he signed two reviving Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects — each close to 1,180 miles long — that had been sidelined by President Barack Obama. Neither directive specifies U.S. content. He signed a third memorandum aimed at having new, expanded or repaired pipelines made from U.S. material.
This memorandum does not name Keystone XL or Dakota Access and does not mandate all U.S. content in future projects. Instead it says materials and equipment should be made in the U.S. "to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law," and gives the Commerce secretary until July to come up with a plan.
Trump continued either to state or to imply that the two projects were subject to this directive until last week. A careful parsing of his speech to Congress shows that he was no longer saying explicitly that the projects were required to use U.S. steel or pipes, even if he left that impression.
"We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines," he told lawmakers, "thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs. And I've issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel."
By the end of the week, Trump's original story had come apart.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Keystone is not affected by the directive because "it's specific to new pipelines or those that are being repaired," and since "the steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back." Dakota Access, meantime, is almost ready to carry oil.
TransCanada said in 2012 that half the pipe for its Keystone XL pipeline would come from a mill in Arkansas, almost a quarter from Canada and the rest from India and Italy.
Trump's Keystone XL order invited TransCanada to resubmit its application, which it did, and laid out a fast track for a U.S. decision. He has stated prematurely that he has approved the project.