USA court halts construction of Keystone XL oil pipeline

Greg Lawrence
November 9, 2018

A federal judge in Montana issued a "landmark" ruling temporarily blocking construction on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline Thursday in a decision welcomed by environmental groups.

Issued by Judge Brian Morris of the District of Montana, the ruling ripped President Donald Trump's State Department for blithely tossing out "prior factual findings related to climate change" to rush through the Keystone pipeline and using "outdated information" on the severe threat the tar sands project poses to endangered species, tribal lands, and the water supply.

Environmentalists and tribal groups cheered the ruling by a USA district judge in Montana, while President Donald Trump called it "a political decision" and "a disgrace".

In August, Morris ruled that the State Department was obligated to "analyze new information relevant to the environmental impacts of its decision" to issue a permit for the pipeline a year ago.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the complainants', called Morris' ruling "a landmark".

The pipeline would shuttle as much as 830,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta through a half-dozen states to terminals on the Gulf Coast.

Morris said in his decision Thursday the government's analysis didn't fully study the cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions, the effects of current oil prices on the pipeline's viability or include updated modelling of potential oil spills.

Keystone XL roused a major environmental protest movement during Barack Obama's presidency, leading to arrests outside the White House and promises by activists to harass construction along the pipeline's route. "As the court has made clear yet again, the Trump administration's flawed and unsafe proposal should be shelved forever".

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The permit approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid steadfast opposition from environmental groups.

President Donald Trump called the ruling "a disgrace" on Friday.

Energy producers in Canada already are struggling with a shortage of pipeline space that has hammered prices for their crude, sending its discount to USA benchmarks to the widest on record in recent weeks.

"Rejecting the destructive Keystone XL pipeline is a victory for the grassroots activists who have worked against the Keystone XL pipeline for the past decade", Keever continued.

Morris' ruling came as Canadian energy company TransCanada began delivering pipe to Montana in anticipation of construction in 2019.

"This decision further reinforces the need for Canada to export its oil and natural gas to new global markets - ensuring fair market value for our natural resources, helping to meet growing global demand and expanding our customer base beyond the US", she said.

Then came policy shifts in the Trump administration. At that time, the Department "relied heavily on the United States's role in climate leadership". He ordered the department to complete a full review.

"An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate", Morris' judgement read. "It's not over for us, we're just going to keep on going ahead".

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