Ninth Circuit Nixes US Bid to Revive Keystone XL Pipeline Permit Program

A sign for TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline facilities in Hardisty, Alberta, on Nov. 6, 2015. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

(CN) — The Ninth Circuit denied a request from the Trump administration Thursday to revive a permit program for oil and gas pipelines, serving yet another blow to the feds in a legal battle that originated with the long-disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The appellate court turned down a request to stay an earlier ruling that revoked crucial oil and gas pipeline construction permits across wetlands and other bodies of water. This included the construction of the well-disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has long been the source of controversy and intense environmental debate.

U.S. Circuit Judges Barry Silverman and Jacqueline Nguyen, appointed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively, made up the two-judge panel that ruled against the request. The current cancellation of the program is now expected to remain in effect while an already lengthy legal battle plays out in the coming months.

Doug Hayes, a senior attorney with environmental group Sierra Club, said the panel made the right call to ensure that construction of the XL pipeline cannot continue while the courts handle the matter going forward.

“The Trump administration has repeatedly violated the law in its relentless pursuit of seeing Keystone XL built, and it would have been unconscionable to allow this pipeline to be built through rivers, streams and wetlands while it remains tied up in court,” Hayes said in a statement. “We’re glad to see the court recognize the threat this dirty, dangerous pipeline poses to communities, wildlife, and clean drinking water along its route, and we’ll continue to fight to ensure it is blocked for good.”

The dispute over permits began last year when a series of environmental advocacy groups challenged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue certain permits related to the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The groups alleged the pipeline, currently sponsored by TC Energy, was granted construction permits that were issued without proper consideration for local environments and appropriate consultation with wildlife agencies.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris, an Obama appointee, ruled largely in favor of the environmental groups in April, stating that the federal government did not properly take into consideration expert environmental analysis during its decisions.

This decision proved to not just be a setback for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The court barred the government from issuing related permits under the permit program altogether, a decision affecting numerous oil and gas pipeline proposals nationwide.

The federal government would later argue that the pause on the permit program could delay the construction of pipelines needed to deliver important fuel to some critical destinations, such as power plants.

This led to the government to request a partial stay on the order that froze the pipeline permit programs.

The Ninth Circuit panel was not persuaded. In a single-page ruling, they held that the government failed to show that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim and have not properly illustrated they would suffer the kind of “irreparable harm” needed to justify a staying order.

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that Thursday’s ruling further solidifies the importance of protecting the environment from potential threats.

“This decision confirms the importance of protecting the most vulnerable wildlife from fossil fuel pipelines’ devastating threats,” Margolis said in a statement. “Contrary to what the Trump administration has argued, the law is clear. We won’t sacrifice imperiled species so giant corporations can profit from the dirty fossil fuels that pollute our waters and climate.”

Margolis said he was also heartened to see that the court specifically made a note of the fact that the government did not show the likelihood of succeess on appeal.

He stated that the man focus of the case was the Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to conduct the kind of rigorous and required environmental evaluation on how these permits and construction efforts could harm natural wildlife.

As a result, Margolis said the court’s ruling on the matter was a tremendous win for the environment.

“The court’s decision is consistent with the law requiring such programmatic analysis, but even more importantly it is consistent with the protective purpose of the Endangered Species Act, which puts the protection of listed species above the economic concerns of private corporations,” Margolis said in an email. “This is a huge win for imperiled wildlife, and for the waterways that people and species rely on.”

Representatives for the government in this case did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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