Keystone XL Pipeline Put on Hold as Federal Judge Rules U.S. Government Illegally Issued Permit

Montana Chief District Judge Brian Morris ruled Wednesday that the construction permit obtained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) for a section of the Keystone XL Pipeline was invalid on the grounds that allowing the construction could potentially harm the environment.

According to the ruling, the COE failed to properly ascertain the effect of the pipeline on the surrounding areas including waterways, communities and animals in the areas. This decision invalidates Nationwide Permit 12, which allows the COE to build pipelines across waterways nationwide.

In 2019, a consortium of landowners and conservancy groups filed suit against the COE alleging that oil spills from the pipeline would have a detrimental effect on the surrounding environment. The lawsuit claimed that the approval of Nationwide Permit 12 did not fulfill the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Newsweek reached out to the COE for comment.

Judge Morris wrote in his ruling that the COE has an "ongoing duty" under the Endangered Species Act "to ensure that its actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat."

"The Trump Administration has gone out of their way to repeatedly and unlawfully ram through permits for this destructive pipeline," said legal director for Friends of the Earth Marcie Keever in a Wednesday statement. "Keystone XL and other proposed fossil fuel pipelines would devastate frontline communities and wreak havoc on our environment. Today's ruling sends a clear signal nationwide that people and the planet must come before profits for polluting corporations."

Kystone XL Pipeline
Indigenous leaders and climate activists disrupt business at a Chase Bank branch in Seattle on May 8, 2017. Demonstrators protested bank funding for the tar sands development and projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty

Still under construction, the Keystone XL pipeline is expected to run from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska for a distance of 1,179 miles. It was designed to be an expansion of the current Keystone pipeline. Potentially, the Keystone XL pipeline could transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

Construction on the Keystone XL was thwarted by the Obama administration in November 2015 on the grounds that the pipeline would be averse to fighting climate change.

"If we're going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes," Obama said at the time, "we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

In 2017, the Trump administration kickstarted the pipeline's construction. During a news conference, Trump called work on the Keystone XL a "historic moment."

"It's a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North American and energy independence," Trump remarked in March 2017. "This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families—and very significantly—reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America."

"And I also would like to add I think it's a lot safer to have pipelines than to use other forms of transportation for your product," Trump continued.