Judge blocks pipe­line and or­ders en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION & WORLD - By Matthew Daly

WASH­ING­TON — In a set­back for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, a fed­eral judge has blocked a per­mit for con­struc­tion of the Key­stone XL oil pipe­line from Canada and or­dered of­fi­cials to com­plete an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view.

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

The 1,184-mile pipe­line would be­gin in Al­berta and shut­tle as much as 830,000 bar­rels a day of crude through a half dozen states to ter­mi­nals on the Gulf Coast.

Trump has touted the $8 bil­lion pipe­line as part of his pledge to achieve North Amer­i­can “en­ergy dom­i­nance” and has con­trasted his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s quick ap­proval of the project with years of de­lay un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

The pipe­line was first pro­posed by Cal­gary-based Tran­sCanada in 2008. It has be­come the fo­cal point of a decade-long dis­pute that pits Democrats, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes who warn of pol­lu­tion and in­creased green­house gas emis­sions against busi­ness groups and Repub­li­cans who cheer the project’s jobs and po­ten­tial en­ergy pro­duc­tion.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Brian Mor­ris put a hold on the project late Thurs­day, rul­ing that the State De­part­ment had not fully con­sid­ered po­ten­tial oil spills and other im­pacts as re­quired by fed­eral law. He or­dered the de­part­ment to com­plete a full re­view. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and Na­tive Amer­i­can groups had sued to stop the project, cit­ing prop­erty rights and pos­si­ble spills.

Becky Mitchell, chair­woman of the North­ern Plains Re­source Coun­cil, a plain­tiff in the case, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion is thrilled with the rul­ing.

“This de­ci­sion sends Tran­sCanada back to the draw­ing board,” Mitchell said, call­ing the rul­ing “the re­sults of grass­roots democ­racy in ac­tion, win­ning for wa­ter and peo­ple.”

Tran­sCanada said in a state­ment that it was re­view­ing the judge’s 54-page de­ci­sion. “We re­main com­mit­ted to build­ing this im­por­tant en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture project,” Tran­sCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said.

The fight over the project has spanned sev­eral pres­i­den­cies and in­volved stand­offs be­tween pro­test­ers and law en­force­ment.

After years of le­gal wran­gling, Obama re­jected a per­mit for the pipe­line in 2015. The com­pany re­sponded by seek­ing $15 bil­lion in dam­ages.

Trump signed ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions to again ad­vance con­struc­tion of the project in 2017.

Tran­sCanada had re­cently an­nounced plans to start con­struc­tion next year, after a State De­part­ment re­view or­dered by Mor­ris con­cluded that ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age from a leak is un­likely and could quickly be mit­i­gated. Mor­ris said that re­view was in­ad­e­quate.

Tran­sCanada has promised con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing and says au­to­matic shut-off valves would help of­fi­cials quickly iden­tify a leak or rup­ture.

Tom Gold­tooth, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the Indige­nous En­vi­ron­men­tal Net­work said the rul­ing was a win for tribes, wa­ter “and for the sa­cred­ness of Mother Earth.”

He called the pipe­line “the en­emy of the peo­ple, the cli­mate and life as we know it. It must be stopped.”

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