Keystone XL pipeline faces new legal roadblock

Olive Hawkins
November 9, 2018

The permit approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid steadfast opposition from environmental groups.

Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court in Montana issued the order just as the TransCanada company was moving materials to begin building its end of the $8 billion pipeline in the northern part of the state early next year, reported the Great Falls Tribune.

He noted that the State Department denied the permit in 2015, relying on climate change information under the Obama administration, which the Trump administration simply dismissed.

In August, Judge Morris ruled that the State Department must supplement a more thorough study of potential environmental effects of the pipeline.

The reversal required a "reasoned explanation" but instead the State Department discarded prior "factual findings", he said.

According to a report in The Hill, Judge Morris said the State Department didn't properly take into account the effects of global warming, the risk of oil spills and worldwide oil prices.

In March 2017, President Donald Trump's administration issued a permit approving construction of the pipeline, reversing the Obama administration's decision to block the controversial project.

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The privately financed pipeline is projected to stretch 1,179-miles (1,897km) from the oil sands of Canada's Alberta province, through Montana and South Dakota, to rejoin an existing pipeline to Texas.

"An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate", he continued.

The order stems from a lawsuit filed by the Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance, which alleges that the State Department and TransCanada violated National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, the environmental law described in the order as "the basic national charter for protection of the environment".

The proposed USA portion of the pipeline would run about 875 miles through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. He signed an executive order supporting its construction in March of a year ago.

One of those litigants in this case, the Sierra Club, cheered the decision on substantive grounds.

"Today's ruling makes it clear once and for all that it's time for TransCanada to give up on their Keystone XL pipe dream", Sierra Club senior attorney Doug Hayes said in a statement. "The Trump administration tried to force this dirty pipeline project on the American people, but they can't ignore the threats it would pose to our clean water, our climate, and our communities".

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