Energy & Environment

Judge orders new environmental review of Keystone pipeline

A federal judge has ordered the government to conduct a full environmental review of a new route for the Keystone XL pipeline in a blow for the Trump administration.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris in Montana made the ruling late Wednesday in favor of the Indigenous Environmental Network and other groups challenging the pipeline.

The decision is likely to delay the project, which was proposed more than 10 years ago.

Morris found that the State Department must prepare a new environmental impact statement (EIS) to reflect Nebraska regulators' November 2017 decision to reject TransCanada Corp.'s preferred route through the state, and instead approve an alternative.

The State Department, under President Trump, approved the preferred route in March 2017, based on an environmental review that only examined that route.

"The Mainline Alternative route differs from the route analyzed in the EIS. The Mainline Alternative route crosses five different counties. The Mainline Alternative route crosses different water bodies. The Mainline Alternative route would be longer. The Mainline Alternative route would require an additional pump station and accompanying power line infrastructure," wrote Morris, who was nominated to the bench by former President Obama.

"Federal defendants cannot escape their responsibility under [the National Environmental Policy Act] to evaluate the Mainline Alternative route," he continued, writing that State has "the obligation to analyze new information relevant to the environmental impacts of its decision."

Obama had in 2015 rejected an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

President Trump resurrected the project soon after he took office last year, leading to the State Department's approval.

The pipeline is largely favored by oil executives, particularly those in Canada who would receive lower prices, but fiercely opposed by environmentalists and indigenous groups who argue it would cause lasting damage.

State released a draft environmental review of the new Nebraska route last month, finding the possibility of some "moderate" damage from its construction. But that review was only an environmental assessment, a less comprehensive review than the environmental impact statement that Morris ordered.

Updated at 9:47 a.m.

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