High Court Keeps Block on Keystone Pipeline Work

Construction contractors for TC Energy install a section of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline at the U.S.-Canada border north of Glasgow, Mont., on April 13. (Credit: TC Energy)

WASHINGTON (CN) — In a blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court on Monday has kept in place a ruling that blocks construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

The order from the high court leaves undisturbed the portions of a Montana judge’s order that blocked the federal government from using a national permit to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

At the same time, Monday’s order puts a hold on other parts of the lower court order that blocked the construction of pipelines unrelated to Keystone. As is its practice, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasons for issuing the order.

“Today’s ruling makes clear that the builders of Keystone XL can’t rely on a flawed rubber-stamped permit to force the project’s construction through our wetlands, streams and rivers,” Cecilia Segal, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney who represented the environmental groups challenging the permit, said in a statement. “It’s a resounding victory for the communities and imperiled species living along this pipeline’s proposed route. Keystone XL is not in our national interest and should never be built.”

The pipeline, which would stretch from Alberta, Canada, into Nebraska, has long been controversial and the subject of frequent litigation from environmental and conservation groups who say it is a threat to the environment and endangered wildlife.

At issue in the case the court ruled in Monday is nationwide permit 12, a general authorization issued by the Army Corps of Engineers that smooths the permitting process for work on a range of projects, including oil and gas pipelines.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued the current version of the permit allowing for water-crossing work associated with pipeline construction in January 2017, but it has been in effect in some form since 1977.

Last year, a group of environmental advocates led by the Northern Plains Resource Council challenged the permit, arguing the Corps did not adequately consider its environmental impacts. In addition to taking on the permit as a whole, the groups challenged its application to Keystone in particular.

In April, a federal judge put the permit on hold and blocked the Corps from using it to authorize any dredging and filling work. The judge later revised the order to bar the dredge and fill work for new oil and gas pipelines.

The Ninth Circuit declined to stay the order in May.

Urging the justices to block the lower court ruling, the Trump administration argued the Montana judge’s order was “vastly overbroad,” as it extended to the construction of any new oil and gas pipelines across the country.

The order, the administration argued, would significantly delay the approval of new pipeline projects and gave relief to those who were not part of the case, reaching well beyond the scope of what courts may do under the Constitution.

“The district court’s nationwide injunction is not only improper under Article III and background equitable principles, but also serves no additional environmental purpose and is directly contrary to the comity that should be accorded to the litigation being conducted in other courts,” the Trump administration said in its application for a stay. 

Arguing in support of the injunction, the environmental groups argued the Trump administration has not shown it is likely to succeed on its claims that the Corps followed environmental laws when it reissued the permit in 2017.

The groups also argued the Trump administration has not shown it is likely to suffer serious injury due to the ruling, which cannot be said for the species pipeline projects could displace.

“The alleged economic and energy costs of the district court’s order — even assuming they are not exaggerated and speculative, pale in comparison to the need to ensure that the use of nationwide permit 12 to construct hundreds of new oil and gas pipelines across the country will not drive protected species toward extinction or permanently destroy critical habitat,” the groups said in their brief to the high court. 

A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers did not immediately return a request for comment send after business hours on Monday.

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