The federal government’s long-awaited approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is welcome news in Montana, with a key state lawmaker calling the decision a victory for local economies and for safety.

“We’re very happy,” Montana state Sen. Mike Lang (R) told Western Wire.

Lang is the sponsor of a pro-Keystone resolution in the state legislature. It cleared the Senate last month in a 41-9 vote, with almost half the chamber’s Democrats joining Republicans to pass the bill. The resolution calls for the prompt approval of the pipeline, which was blocked for years by the Obama administration under pressure from “keep it in the ground” environmental groups.

The U.S. State Department announced the approval of a presidential permit for the pipeline this morning. The State Department was the lead agency in the permitting process because the pipeline – which connects major oil fields in Canada with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast – crosses an international border.

Pipeline developer TransCanada issued a statement calling the federal approval a “significant milestone” for the project. The decision allows the company to work with state officials on securing the final approvals before construction starts. “TransCanada will continue to engage key stakeholders and neighbors throughout Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to advance this project to construction,” the company said.

In addition to construction jobs, Montana lawmakers anticipate $63 million in annual property tax revenues will be generated in the counties along the pipeline route. Another economic benefit will be the electricity sold by rural cooperatives to help power the pipeline system, Lang said. And when the pipeline is completed, it will also allow 100,000 barrels of oil from the Bakken Shale to be transported to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Photo credit: Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust

Increasing pipeline capacity for Bakken crude to reach the rest of the country is a major priority for Keystone XL supporters in Montana, Lang said. “Pipelines are the safest way to move this kind of product,” he said, adding that more than 5,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines are already operating in Montana.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, including, initially attacked the project because it would transport oil-sands crude from Alberta, Canada, and have a “massive carbon footprint.” But even under the Obama administration, the State Department’s environmental impact studies repeatedly found no significant increase in greenhouse gases from the project. In 2014, the New York Times reported that emissions from the oil transported via the Keystone XL pipeline “would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.”

In the years since the Keystone XL pipeline debate first began, the campaign against the project has transformed into all-out opposition to any kind of fossil-fuel development, with activists rallying under the slogan of “keep it in the ground.” As Bill McKibben, a central figure in the “keep it in the ground” campaign and the founder of, has said: “[F]rom now on anyone proposing a new pipeline, coal mine, oil well is effectively a climate denier.”

But McKibben’s argument conflicts with the stance of Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, an advocate for government limits on greenhouse gases who has pushed a carbon tax in his own country. At the same time, Trudeau says Canada will develop its energy resources. “There isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and just leave it in the ground while there is a market for it,” he said late last year.