(Courthouse News Service) A federal judge ordered an environmental review of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline Thursday, pushing back an attempt to fast-track construction of the $8 billion project.
In a long-standing legal fight, environmental and tribal groups have fought TransCanada and the State Department in order to stop construction of the pipeline, claiming that it will damage the environment and harm endangered species.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls decided not to vacate a permit endorsed by President Donald Trump to move forward with the project, but he did order the State Department to prepare an additional environmental review.
In his 13-page order, Morris said the government has the “obligation to analyze new information relevant to the environmental impacts of its decision.”
Plaintiffs in the case heralded Wednesday’s ruling, issuing a statement calling the government’s initial environmental review of the project a “sham.”
“We think it’s long past time for TransCanada to throw in the towel and scrap this boondoggle of a project,” said Mark Hefflinger, communications director for Bold Alliance, a group of allied ranchers and tribal groups. “The court saw through the sham fast-track environmental review that TransCanada and the State Department were trying to shove past Nebraska landowners and Tribal Nations, and ordered them to go back and conduct a thorough and legal review.”
The 1,180-mile pipeline, which was revised from its original path, is now planned to stretch from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. While an environmental review was carried out for the original pipeline, the State Department did not do so for the revised plan.
Morris said in his ruling that a supplemental review was necessary in order for the pipeline to move forward. TransCanada said it hopes to begin construction in the second quarter of 2019.
The pipeline was rejected by former President Barack Obama in 2015, who said the project would affect climate change and do little for the U.S. economy.
President Donald Trump reversed course in 2017, giving the project a green light.
According to the plaintiffs, they view the ruling as a significant win for their efforts.
“This decision rejects the Trump administration’s shameful attempt to ram through Keystone XL without bothering to take a hard look at its effect on wildlife and the environment,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Jared Margolis in a statement. “It’s always been painfully obvious what a disaster this pipeline will be – not just for our climate and local communities but for endangered species like the whooping crane. There’s just no excuse for approving this terrible project.”
The plaintiffs repeatedly called out President Trump Wednesday, celebrating the decision that could potentially push back his administration’s plans.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for clean water, climate, and communities that would be threatened by the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Doug Hayes, senior attorney with Sierra Club. “This proposed project has been stalled for nearly a decade because it would be all risk and no reward, and despite the Trump administration’s efforts, they cannot force this dirty tar sands pipeline on the American people. It’s time for TransCanada to give up on their Keystone XL pipe dream.”
Morris is still set to rule on whether the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.