Federal judge allows tribes to continue lawsuits against Keystone XL pipeline

The proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline in northeastern Montana. Sources: USGS, U.S. Census Bureau, Montana DEQ (Eric Dietrich/Montana Free Press)

(KPAX) A federal judge has ruled tribes, including the Fort Belknap Indian Community, can continue with a lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris issued the ruling on Friday.

The Fort Belknap and Rosebud Sioux tribes have claimed Trump exceeded his authority and violated their treaty rights when he issued a permit earlier this year, allowing TC Energy – formerly known as TransCanada – to go forward with construction of the pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

TC Energy and the Trump administration had filed to dismiss the tribes’ lawsuits, arguing that the president had clear authority to approve a cross-border pipeline and that the tribes didn’t have jurisdiction over the project. However, Morris found the tribes’ claims were plausible, and the litigation should be allowed to continue.

Also on Friday, Morris denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss a separate suit over the pipeline project, from two environmental groups. However, he declined to put an injunction on construction, as more work is not planned until next spring.

TC Energy is seeking to build the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline to transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to an existing line in Nebraska. The planned route would cross through six counties in eastern Montana: Phillips, Valley, McCone, Dawson, Prairie and Fallon.

The Keystone XL project has been held up in court for years. The Trump administration had previously issued a permit in 2017, but construction work was still on hold because of another ruling by Morris.