A federal judge ruled today that the Trump administration violated bedrock U.S. environmental laws when approving a federal permit for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project. The judge blocked any construction on the pipeline and ordered the government to revise its environmental review.
The decision is a significant setback for a pipeline that investors are already seriously questioning. TransCanada has not yet announced a Final Investment Decision on whether to move forward and build Keystone XL should it receive all the necessary permits.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris found that the Trump administration's reliance on a stale environmental review from 2014 violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. This ruling follows the court's previous decision, on August 15, 2018, to require additional analysis of the new route through Nebraska.
The court required the U.S. Department of State to revise the proposed project's environmental impact statement to evaluate the extraordinary changes in oil markets that have occurred since the previous review was completed in 2014; to consider the combined climate impacts of approving both the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines; to study the many cultural resources along the pipeline's route; and to examine the harmful risks of oil spills on nearby water and wildlife.
The State Department must also provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to reverse course and approve the permit, after the Obama administration denied it just three years ago on the same set of facts.
Based on these violations, the court ordered the State Department to revise its environmental analysis, and prohibited any work along the proposed route -- which would cross Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana -- until that analysis is complete. Keystone XL would have carried up to 35 million gallons a day of Canadian tar sands -- one of the world's dirtiest energy sources -- across critical water sources and wildlife habitat to Gulf Coast refineries.
Plaintiffs Northern Plains Resource Council, Bold Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club filed the lawsuit in March 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.
Image above: NASA, Wikimedia Commons