Federal judge blocks $8B Keystone XL Pipeline construction
- A U.S. District Court judge in Montana has vacated the record of decision for the $9 billion to $10 billion Canada-to-Nebraska Keystone XL Pipeline and temporarily stopped construction until the U.S. Department of State has provided a more thorough review of the potential negative environmental and cultural impacts of the project.
- In the lawsuit, which named the department and pipeline owner TransCanada Corp. as defendants, the Indigenous Environmental Network and other advocacy groups argued that the federal government did not fully comply with regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when performing its required reviews. The plaintiffs' action included allegations that the defendants' review focused mostly on how the pipeline would benefit TransCanada; failed to consider all of the possible alternatives; ignored public comments; used outdated information for the market analysis portion of the review; did not evaluate the cumulative climate impact of the Keystone project in combination with other pipelines; and failed to take into consideration the impact on cultural resources and endangered species.
- In his opinion, Judge Brian Morris found that the department failed to take the required "hard look' at many aspects of the pipeline project and ordered the defendants to provide a supplement to its 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that complies with NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. The supplement, Morris said, must include a "full and fair discussion" of both direct and indirect effects of the project. On the project website, Keystone officials said, "We have received the judge’s ruling and continue to review it. We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project."
After former President Barack Obama's administration scuttled the project, one of the first actions President Donald Trump took when he assumed office was to direct TransCanada to resubmit its Keystone pipeline application. This played into the president's campaign promises to boost the construction and manufacturing industries, with the added benefit of possibly placating TransCanada, which had filed a $15 billion trade complaint against the U.S. for canceling the project. Trump even gave TransCanada an exemption from having to use American steel for the pipe infrastructure — another order early in his administration — because the project was already considered to be under construction and, according to the president, TransCanada had already made arrangements to purchase the steel.
Pipeline projects have the potential to be moneymakers for contractors, material suppliers and local communities, but that hasn't stopped officials from enforcing environmental laws and stopping construction if they see fit. This summer, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued brief stop-work orders for both the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the $4.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline until pipeline officials could resolve permitting and right-of-way issues.
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