GREAT FALLS, Mont. (CN) – A tribal group joined forces with environmentalists Tuesday to sue the U.S. Department of Interior, hoping to halt construction and operation of TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline.
In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Montana, the Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance say the project poses “grave risks to the environment, including the climate, water resources and wildlife,” as well as to human health and safety.
The groups say the review of the project was inadequate and failed to provide a detailed and independent analysis of its purpose and need, its transboundary effects, and the pipeline’s environmental impacts. They add that the final supplemental environmental impact statement is “irredeemably tainted” because it was prepared by the company Environmental Management, which represents clients in the oil and gas business.
The 1,200-mile pipeline and related facilities for the Keystone pipeline are meant to transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken shale formation in Montana to existing pipeline facilities near Steel City, Nebraska, and on to the Gulf Coast region.
In 2015, then-Secretary of State John Kerry issued an order determining that a presidential permit for the pipeline's border facilities would not serve the national interest, and denied the permit application.
But four days after his inauguration in January, President Donald Trump issued a presidential memorandum on the pipeline and invited TransCanada to resubmit the application for the pipeline’s construction and operation. At the same time, Trump also issued an executive order to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects including the Keystone pipeline.
On Jan. 26, officials with TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, a Delaware partnership owned by affiliates of TransCanada Corporation of Canada, resubmitted the project proposal. On March 23, the Interior Department said it would issue a presidential permit to construct the pipeline.
While the permit grants permission to construct and operate the pipeline, it only applies to 1.2 miles of the project, according to Fred Jauss, a former attorney with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He notes that various regulatory bodies in the United States and Canada also need to approve the work, including state agencies in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Both Montana and South Dakota have issued those approvals, but the Nebraska Public Service Commission is only beginning discussions.
In addition, TransCanada needs to comply with local zoning regulations and building permits.
“For example, they’re still subject to local regulations such as county regulations regarding access to roads for large earth-moving equipment,” Jauss said.
He wasn’t surprised to hear the lawsuit was filed, and called it “the tip of the iceberg” regarding legal challenges to the pipeline.
“I think you will see a lot more activity challenging the pipeline on the local and state levels,” Jauss added.
Neither James Patten or Stephan Volker, attorneys for the plaintiffs, could be reached for comment by press time. The Department of Interior directed questions to the Justice Department, which couldn’t be reached for comment.
Defendants in the lawsuit include Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon, and Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service James Kurth.
Plaintiff Indigenous Environmental Network is a nonprofit network of indigenous people throughout North America. The North Coast Rivers Alliance is an unincorporated association of conservation leaders from western and northern United States and Canada.
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