Judge Puts Keystone XL Pipeline On Hold Pending Further Environmental Study


A federal judge in Montana has issued an injunction once again halting construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, saying that President Trump had "simply discarded" the environmental impact the pipeline would have.

The ruling by Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court for the District of Montana dealt a stinging setback to Trump and the oil industry and served up a big win for conservationists and indigenous groups.

Indigenous and environmental groups had sued TransCanada and the U.S. Department of State after Nebraska authorities approved an alternative route to the one TransCanada had proposed through the state.

Morris found that the United States 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. He had yet to rule on vacating the permit itself.

But it has been the subject of protests for more than a decade, both from environmentalists and Native American groups, who say it will cut through their sovereign lands. The State Department initially denied the pipeline a permit in 2015, under the Obama administration.

Then came policy shifts in the Trump administration.

"This is a complete repudiation of the Trump administration's attempts to evade environmental laws and prioritize oil company profits over clean water and wildlife", said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, which is part of a coalition of environmental and native groups that have attempted to stymie the pipeline.

That statement falls short of a "factually based determination, let alone a reasoned explanation, for the course reversal", Morris wrote.

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"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", Morris' judgement read.

The pipeline was first proposed in 2o08.

Trump claimed there would be "great construction jobs" stemming from Keystone XL, which involves the building of a 1,200 mile pipeline across six U.S. states in order to bring crude oil from Alberta in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The US stretch of line that needs to be built would be 875 miles (1,450 km) long.

In 2015, on the eve of the worldwide climate talks in Paris, the Obama administration appeared to bring an end to the seven-year-long saga when it announced it was halting construction of the pipeline, arguing that approval would compromise the country's effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

NPR reached out to TransCanada early Friday for comment on the ruling but did not hear back by the time of publishing.

Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, added that Thursday's ruling is "a decisive moment in our fight against the corporate polluters who have rushed to destroy our planet". The Trump administration has regularly run afoul of the courts in its attempts to repeal environmental rules and approve fossil fuel projects.