US court halts construction of Keystone XL oil pipeline

Gladys Abbott
November 9, 2018

A federal judge temporarily blocked construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, ruling late Thursday that the Trump administration had failed to justify its decision granting a permit for the 1,200-mile long project created to connect Canada's tar sands crude with refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for Montana, who was appointed by Mr. Obama, handed environmentalists a huge victory by saying Mr. Trump's decision to sign the permit for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline shortly upon taking office did not have a sufficient basis.

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.

In doing so the administration overturned a ruling by then president Barack Obama in 2015 that denied a permit for the pipeline, largely on environmental grounds, in particular the United States contribution to climate change.

In Thursday's ruling, Morris ordered the government to issue a more thorough environmental analysis before the project can move forward.

The pipeline was being prepared by TransCanada.

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

Work can not proceed until the State Department completes a supplement to the environmental impact statement that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, Morris ruled. The project has been embroiled in legal battles for over a decade amid challenges from both Native Americans and environmentalists. He included pipeline leaks, the expansion of another pipeline called the Alberta Clipper and shifts in oil markets.

In his ruling, the judge noted that the Department's analysis fell short of a "hard look" and requires a supplement to the 2014 supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) in order to comply with its obligations under National Environmental Policy Act.

The judge also argued that the State Department failed to properly account for factors such as low oil prices, the cumulative impacts of greenhouse gases from the pipeline and the risk of oil spills.

"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".

Judge Brian Morris' 54-page order, issued late Thursday, overturns the Trump administrations's approval past year of the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline and at least temporarily prevents it from being built. He signed an executive order supporting its construction in March of a year ago.

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