Keystone XL pipeline loses its Clean Water Act permits

The disputed pipeline project faces "another significant hurdle" because a U.S. judge canceled a key permit over concerns for endangered species. Tribal leaders and residents are asking for a complete halt of the construction during the pandemic.

Nati Harnik/AP
A truck drives past a Keystone pipeline pumping station near Milford, Nebraska, Jan. 9, 2020. Judge Brian Morris cancelled a key permit for the pipeline on April 15, 2020. The cancellation could have broader implications, challenging the construction work of pipelines.

A U.S. judge canceled a key permit on Wednesday for the Keystone XL oil pipeline that's expected to stretch from Canada to Nebraska, another setback for the disputed project that got underway less than two weeks ago following years of delays.

Judge Brian Morris said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately consider effects on endangered species such as pallid sturgeon, a massive, dinosaur-like fish that lives in rivers the pipeline would cross.

The ruling, however, does not shut down work that has begun at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Montana, according to attorneys in the case. Pipeline sponsor TC Energy will need the permit for future construction across hundreds of rivers and streams along Keystone's 1,200-mile route.

"It creates another significant hurdle for the project," said Anthony Swift with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that challenged the permit.

"Regardless of whether they have the cross border segment ... Keystone XL has basically lost all of its Clean Water Act permits for water crossings," he said.

TC Energy was reviewing the ruling but remained "committed to building this important energy infrastructure project," spokesman Terry Cunha said.

Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers did not have an immediate response to the ruling.

The Keystone authorization came under a so-called nationwide permit issued by the Corps in 2017, essentially giving blanket approval to pipeline or similar utility projects with minimal effects on waterways.

The cancellation could have broader implications because it appears to invalidate dredging work for any project authorized under the 2017 permit, said attorney Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case. It's unclear what projects would be included.

Mr. Morris is holding a court hearing on Thursday on two other lawsuits against the $8 billion pipeline. American Indian tribes and environmental groups want him to halt the construction at the border while a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump's approval of the pipeline last year works its way through the courts.

The pipeline was proposed in 2008 and would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily to Nebraska, where it would be transferred to another TC Energy pipeline for shipment to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

It was rejected twice under the Obama administration because of concerns that it could worsen climate change, then Mr. Trump revived it.

TC Energy's surprise March 31 announcement that it intended to start construction amid a global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic came after the provincial government in Alberta invested $1.1 billion to jump-start the work.

Tribal leaders and some residents of rural communities along the pipeline's route worry that thousands of workers needed for the project could spread the virus.

As many as 11 construction camps, some housing up to 1,000 people, were initially planned for the project. TC Energy says those are under review amid the pandemic and won't be needed until later in the summer.

Work on two camps, in Montana and South Dakota, could start as soon as this month, according to court documents filed by the company this week.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.