Federal judge in Montana blocks construction of Keystone XL pipeline

Doug Carpenter
November 9, 2018

A USA district judge has issued an order blocking construction of the controversial transnational Keystone XL Pipeline until the State Department conducts further study of its impact on the environment. Trump signed memoranda approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines early in his presidency in January 2017, promising the projects would provide jobs and stimulate the economy. The Obama administration stalled the project, only for Trump to revive it. The Trump administration claimed, with no supporting information, that those impacts "would prove inconsequential".

Doug Hayes, a lawyer for the Sierra Club environmental group, said the ruling made clear it was time to give up on the "Keystone XL pipe dream".

Tom Goldtooth, executive director for the Indigenous Environmental Network said the ruling was a win for tribes, water "and for the sacredness of Mother Earth". "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".

The pipeline was being prepared by TransCanada. Morris was appointed by Barack Obama and began his term in December of 2013. "Today, the courts showed the Trump administration and their corporate polluter friends that they can not bully rural landowners, farmers, environmentalists and Native communities".

Thursday's ruling deals a major blow to President Donald Trump and the oil industry.

Morris found that the U.S. government's use of a 2014 environmental review to justify issuing a presidential permit for construction of the cross-border pipeline violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. A presidential permit is required for infrastructure projects that cross worldwide borders.

Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has centered on climate change concerns, as well as potential damage to endangered species and to local landowners, including native Americans, whose property would be dug up for the pipeline.

The ruling is a victory for environmentalists, tribal groups and ranchers who have spent more than a decade fighting against construction of the pipeline that will carry heavy crude to Steele City, Nebraska, from Canada's oilsands in Alberta.

It met sustained opposition from environmental advocacy groups, as well as from Obama, who anxious about the contribution it would make toward climate change. There's simply no excuse for approving this awful project.

The decision to deny the pipeline permit came after the completion of a long-awaited final environmental impact statement - 11 volumes of analysis released in 2014. He included pipeline leaks, the expansion of another pipeline called the Alberta Clipper and shifts in oil markets.

Keystone XL was seen as a major step toward solving that problem. It "ignored its duty to take a "hard look" at these two connected actions". He ordered the department to complete a full review. "The Department appears to have jumped the gun".

Judge Brian Morris cited a finding in a previous case that "an agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, anymore than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate".

- The department's analysis that "climate-related impacts" from Keystone "would prove inconsequential" needed a "reasoned explanation".

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