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Interior Department advances Keystone Pipeline permit despite Montana lawsuit

(CN) — The Interior Department issued a record of decision Wednesday that provides right-of-way permitting for the Keystone Pipeline — despite the fact that a federal lawsuit against the pipeline is underway in Montana.

Signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the record of decision permits the Bureau of Land Management to offer a right of way to TC Energy for 30 years and allows the construction of pipeline across 44 miles of federally managed lands in Montana.

Conservation groups sued in July 2019 over the government’s permit process of the pipeline and that lawsuit is still active.

“The Trump administration is continuing its agenda of promoting dirty fossil fuel consumption by pushing Keystone XL forward without an adequate consideration of the project’s devastating environmental impacts,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We will continue to fight Keystone XL to protect people and wildlife from this climate-killing disaster.”

The Center for Biological Diversity was one of several conservation groups that sued the Army Corps of Engineers over its permitting process for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The lawsuit says wildlife, streams and wetlands would be harmed by the pipeline; that the government had not properly evaluated the pipeline’s impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act; and the Corps violated the Administrative Procedures Act.

Keystone XL would transport Canadian crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. The 1,200-mile pipeline would connect to TC Energy’s existing pipeline network and would allow TC Energy to move about 35 million gallons of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast every day, according to the lawsuit.

“Today’s decision is an important milestone in constructing the Keystone XL pipeline and a great day for the common sense infrastructure improvement in our country,” Bernhardt said in a statement. “President Trump clearly recognizes the importance of having the infrastructure necessary to meet our energy needs and to fuel our economic progress.”

Keystone XL would cross 212 water bodies and 32 wetlands in Nebraska, 182 water bodies and 41 wetlands in South Dakota, and 194 water bodies and 27 wetlands in Montana, for a total of at least 688 jurisdictional waterways, according to the lawsuit filed in Great Falls, Montana.

Taking aim at the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline, the groups contend that the Nationwide Permit 12 permit process allowed the Corps avoids the comprehensive review that is normally required for major projects.

This permit process, among other things, does not require National Environmental Policy Act analysis for nationwide permit projects because “it purports to have discharged all of its NEPA obligations” after having issued one blanket Finding of No Significant Impact for all nationwide permits, according to the complaint.

Wednesday’s record of decision says the BLM has complied with all applicable environmental laws, and said “there is no longer any action for the secretary of state to take with respect to the project.”

Without mentioning the federal suit, the BLM said Wednesday that the decision to offer permitting to TC Energy “comes after an exhaustive environmental review, tribal consultation and public input.”

The project would create “thousands of American jobs” and provide “considerable property tax revenue for rural counties for years to come,” the bureau added in its statement.

The lawsuit is one of three that is running through the court system. Two other cases focus on Trump’s presidential permit issued in March 2019.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, to see the Trump administration trying to force through this dangerous, Canadian tar sands pipeline despite the concerns of farmers, ranchers, and tribal communities in Montana,” said Dena Hoff, a Glendive, Montana, farmer and member of Northern Plains Resource Council, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits.

“The issuance of this permit ignores the concerns of everyday Montanans given the environmental impact statement it relies upon was finalized barely one month after the comment period ended. Obviously, the extensive concerns expressed were barely acknowledged.”

In previous litigation over federal approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a federal court in Montana ruled that the U.S. State Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to supplement its 2014 environmental impact statement in light of a new pipeline route through Nebraska and new information about the project’s impacts, including new information about the risks and impacts of climate change, oil markets, and oil spills into waterways.

The court enjoined project construction and remanded the case to the State Department for further environmental analysis, but he Ninth Circuit dismissed the earlier suit as moot after President Trump issued a new permit for the project on March 29, 2019.