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Obama-Nominated Judge Blocks Keystone Pipeline

By  Hank Berrien

On Thursday, a federal judge in Montana blocked the Keystone XL oil pipeline and President Trump’s permit for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, which Trump signed within days of taking office in January 2017. The Keystone XL is designed to transport heavy crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, then connect with another pipeline to travel to Illinois.

Judge Brian Morris of the District Court for the District of Montana, who was nominated to his position by former President Barack Obama, ruled that the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama’s denial to give the pipeline a permit lacked proper justification. Morris claimed that the State Department, which analyzed the pipeline, “simply discarded” climate change concerns related to the project.

Morris stated that the State Department did not factor in low oil prices, the cumulative impacts of greenhouse gases and the risk of oil spills when it executed its analysis. He said, “The major spills that occurred between 2014 and 2017 qualify as significant. The department would have evaluated the spills in the 2014 [environmental review] had the information been available.”

Morris added, ““The department’s 2017 conclusory analysis that climate-related impacts from Keystone subsequently would prove inconsequential and its corresponding reliance on this conclusion as a centerpiece of its policy change required the department to provide a ‘reasoned explanation’ … The department instead simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal.”

The Sierra Club celebrated; senior attorney Doug Hayes said, “Today’s ruling makes it clear once and for all that it’s time for TransCanada to give up on their Keystone XL pipe dream. The Trump administration tried to force this dirty pipeline project on the American people, but they can’t ignore the threats it would pose to our clean water, our climate, and our communities.”

In August, Morris ordered the State Department to do a full environmental review of a revised route for the pipeline. He sided with the Indigenous Environmental Network and other plaintiffs against the State Department and the TransCanada Corporation, writing:

Federal Defendants still retain a meaningful opportunity to evaluate the Mainline Alternative route. The Mainline Alternative route differs from the route analyzed in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). The Mainline Alternative route crosses five different counties. The Mainline Alternative route crosses different water bodies. The Mainline Alternative route would be longer. The Mainline Alternative route would require an additional pump station and accompanying power line infrastructure. Federal Defendants cannot escape their responsibility under NEPA to evaluate the Mainline Alternative route. Federal Defendants first argued that it was too early to evaluate the Mainline Alternative route before the approval of the Presidential Permit. They now argue that it remains too late to evaluate the Mainline Alternative route. NEPA requires a hard look.

The Court further agrees that Federal Defendants must address the Mainline Alternative route as it proves to be a “connected action” to the proposed action. Similar to Thomas, the Mainline Alternative route represents an interdependent part of the larger action of Keystone. The entire pipeline remains interrelated and requires one EIS to understand the functioning of the entire unit.

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