Keystone Pipeline Hits Permit Snag Over Environmental Concerns

This photo provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a storage yard north of Saco, Mont., for pipe that will be used in construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Al Nash/Bureau of Land Management via AP)

(CN) — The long-disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline, intended to create over a thousand miles of pipeline between Nebraska and Canada, has once again found its progress halted after a federal judge pulled a crucial permit for the project on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris from the District of Montana ruled that a river-crossing permit for the pipeline was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers without first properly considering the kind of influence the pipeline would have on the local environment.

The judge said that the Army Corps of Engineers had a legal responsibility to evaluate how the pipeline would specifically affect locally endangered species, such as the pallid sturgeon river fish, and it was in this regard where the corps did not fully satisfy their responsibilities.

Wednesday’s ruling comes after environmental advocates Northern Plains Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity and other groups challenged the permit’s legality last year.

The groups claimed that if construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline were allowed to continue without first properly reviewing its environmental impact, the local environment could face severe ecological harm and numerous animal species could face dangerous consequences.

Judge Morris largely agreed with the groups’ claims.

“The Corps failed to consider relevant expert analysis and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts it found and the choice it made,” the ruling states.

The judge has remanded the permit back to the Army Corps of Engineers with orders that the corps is prohibited from authoring dredge or fill activities under the permit until it has fully adhered to proper environmental regulations.

Wednesday’s decision is another setback for the Keystone XL pipeline project that was first proposed over ten years ago.

The project is reportedly set to be able to transfer roughly 35 million gallons of oil from Alberta to Nebraska, where it could then distribute even further to refineries in Illinois and Texas. But in the years following its initial commission, the pipeline became the center of an intense political fight that garnered widespread attention from both the media and political leaders.

Opponents to the pipeline say that it could do untold harm to numerous environments, with many suggesting the pipeline serves as a symbol for America’s dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. Supporters of the pipeline say, however, say that the construction of the pipeline supports American jobs and could be a boon to the economy.

This dispute ultimately resulted in crucial work on the Keystone XL pipeline being delayed twice under the Obama administration, citing potential environmental issues with the project. The Trump administration pushed to reverse these delays in 2017 and has made efforts to see the project completed.

Doug Hayes, senior attorney for the Sierra Club, says that these efforts by the Trump administration have not followed environmental law and that Wednesday’s ruling should serve as another reminder on the pipeline’s dangers.

“The Trump administration has repeatedly violated the law in their relentless pursuit of seeing this dirty tar sands pipeline built,” Hayes said in a statement. “Today’s ruling confirms, once again, that there’s just no getting around the fact that Keystone XL would devastate communities, wildlife, and clean drinking water. It was true a decade ago, and it’s just as true today: Keystone XL would be a bad deal for the American people and should never be built.”

The legal fight over the pipeline’s permit is not its only current battle. Judge Morris is also set to hold a hearing on Thursday regarding a request from tribal and environmental groups to have the construction of the pipeline stopped at the border. Another lawsuit seeks to challenge the broader approval of the pipeline itself.

TC Energy, the company that currently sponsors the Keystone XL pipeline, also made waves in recent weeks when they announced in March that work on the pipeline would begin even as the American economy continues to reel from the coronavirus pandemic.

This has led to some concerns being voiced over the potential safety of such a venture, warning that constructions efforts could result in the continued spread of the virus for some communities.

An official for the company has said the company is reviewing the order from Judge Morris.

Terry Cunha, a spokesperson, says that the company remains dedicated to the construction of the project.

“We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project,” Cunha said in a statement.

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