A federal judge in the US state of Montana has ruled that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) violated the law when it approved an important water-crossing permit for the contentious Keystone XL tar sands pipeline system which runs from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to refineries, oil tank farms and pipeline distribution systems in central and southern US states.
The 15 April ruling revokes a previous water-crossing permission and suspends all filling and dredging activities until formal consultations compliant with the US Endangered Species Act are conducted.
Specifically, the judge ruled that the USACE failed to adequately consider effects on endangered species including the massive, dinosaur-like pallid sturgeon, that inhabit rivers the pipeline would cross.
Although the ruling was based on one specific species of fish, the ruling will affect construction of pipelines nationwide. Nationwide Permit 12 is now invalid and the Corps is prohibited from using this “fast-track” approval process that had allowed avoidance of full assessment of the impacts of pipelines on local waterways, lands, wildlife and communities.
The Keystone XL pipeline was approved in 2010 by the Canadian national energy board, but the project was suspended in 2015 after then US President Barack Obama refused to grant required presidential permits amid resistatnce from a coalition of Native Americans, First Nations, ranchers and farmers, and environmentalists, who ultimately brought the legal action.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, current President Donald Trump issued the permits within days of taking office, with a stipulation that US steel be used in the work.
The permit cancellation comes after last month’s commitment from the government of Alberta, Canada to provide financing of $1.1 Billion USD and two weeks after TC Energy (the pipeline’s owner) commenced construction on the Canadian side after two years of setbacks. Work had already begun on construction camps.
TC Energy will review the ruling but the overall effect is that it will delay work on the US side, possibly indefinitely.
Campaigners welcomed the Montana ruling as a victory for tribal rights and environmental protection.
TC Energy faces a separate legal challenge arising from coronavirus. Tribal communities have requested an injunction to stop construction in light of the pandemic. The court will have to decide whether construction, which the plaintiffs argue will bring thousands of out-of-state workers to remote areas already ill-equipped to deal with the public health crisis, should be suspended.