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Keystone XL Pipeline Delayed Again as Judge Revokes Permit

Protest against Keystone XL Pipeline in August 2011. (Photo: chesapeakeclimate)
Protest against Keystone XL Pipeline in August 2011. (Photo: chesapeakeclimate)

“Keystone XL and other proposed fossil fuel pipelines would devastate frontline communities and wreak havoc on our environment.”

The Keystone XL oil pipeline has encountered another obstacle to its competition. Montana Chief District Judge Brian Morris invalidated a permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) on environmental grounds Wednesday. The original Keystone pipeline was commissioned in 2010 and since then, three phases have been completed amid lawsuits and protests. The fourth phase, known as Keystone XL, connecting Alberta, Canada, to Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, is the last component to the decade-long project.

Stopped by a Fish

Morris’ ruling halts construction that was just announced on March 31. The judge determined the COE did not account for how the pipeline would affect endangered wildlife species, the Associated Press reported. One creature in particular, the pallid sturgeon, is unique to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, which the pipeline would have to cross.

Work at the Montana border crossing is allowed to continue, but “Regardless of whether they have the cross border segment … Keystone XL has basically lost all of its Clean Water Act permits for water crossings,” said Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council, part of a coalition the sued TC Energy, owner of the project.

The Endangered Species Act mandates the COE has an “ongoing duty to ensure that its actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat,” Morris wrote in his ruling.

The coalition suing the COE also argued the permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, Newsweek reported.

Decade of Litigation

The Keystone project has faced a slew of legal challenges since its inception. The initial project was supported by Republicans and Democrats. In 2008, President George W. Bush approved its construction and his successor initially supported it. During the third phase in 2012, former President Barack Obama declared, “Today I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”

However, the XL component did not enjoy the same support. In 2015, both houses of Congress passed legislation approving its construction, but Obama vetoed it and narrowly avoided a veto override with a 62–37 vote in the Senate. When President Donald Trump assumed office, one of his first acts was a memorandum to revive Keystone XL. Two months later, a permit came for the company to build anywhere in the US, known as Nationwide Permit 12.

The pipeline will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest in the world. Environmental groups oppose the XL pipeline because of the damage a leak could cause. The Keystone pipeline has already experienced leaks. In November, 2017, the company reported 210,000 gallons of oil leaked in South Dakota. A followup investigation revealed that number was underreported and the actual figure was 407,000 gallons, Argus Leader reported.

On Oct. 31, a crack created another incident in which 383,000 gallons were spilled in North Dakota, according to Reuters.

Morris’ ruling puts all of the pipeline’s construction in the US on hold as the company no longer has authority to build across water crossings. The judge was also scheduled to hear two other lawsuits against the pipeline on Thursday.

No Reaction from Trump, Yet

Environmental groups hailed Morris’ ruling as a victory in the long fight against TC Energy’s pipeline ambitions.

“The Trump Administration has gone out of their way to repeatedly and unlawfully ram through permits for this destructive pipeline,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth after the ruling. “Keystone XL and other proposed fossil fuel pipelines would devastate frontline communities and wreak havoc on our environment. Today’s ruling sends a clear signal nationwide that people and the planet must come before profits for polluting corporations.”

TC Energy only said, “We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project.” The COE did not issue a response yet, nor has Trump weighed in on the latest development.

Trump came to office with the intention of boosting American energy production and due to those efforts, the US is now the largest oil and natural gas producer in the world. Achieving that feat, however, has come at the cost of rolling back regulations to expedite construction.

He also proposed prison sentences of up to 20 years for protestors who disrupt pipeline construction. 

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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