Revived Keystone XL Pipeline Suffers a Major Setback in Court

Looks like these pipes won’t become the Keystone XL Pipeline just yet.
Looks like these pipes won’t become the Keystone XL Pipeline just yet.
Photo: Getty

Having been struck down by former President Barack Obama and revived by President Donald Trump, the embattled Keystone XL pipeline just suffered a new setback in court that has opponents cheering.


A federal court ruled late Wednesday night that the proposed 1,179-mile long crude oil pipeline needs a supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) for the new route the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved in November. Construction was slated to begin next year, but now, developer TransCanada’s got to get this done first.

The project was initially leaning on an EIS from 2014, but that one focused on developer TransCanada’s preferred route through Canada, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Instead, the Nebraska commission approved the Mainline Alternative Route, which would be longer, cross different bodies of water, and require additional infrastructure, per the court order.

“Federal Defendants cannot escape their responsibility under [the National Environmental Policy Act] to evaluate the Mainline Alternative route,” the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Great Falls Division wrote.

Now, the Department of State and TransCanada have to get this updated environmental review on and popping before construction revs up for the project next year—and opponents are glad. They worry this giant pipeline could contaminate their waterways and land.

“It’s an answer to our prayers,” Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and a fierce opponent to the project, told Earther. “It all comes down to water.”

The elder is grateful that people are finally listening to what tribal defenders have to say. Their fight over land and water isn’t new; they’ve been contesting this pipeline since 2008. As someone who’s not directly involved in the suit, she’s even more grateful to those who filed this lawsuit: the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), the North Coast Rivers Alliance, and the Northern Plains Resource Council. All are environmental groups based in Montana, where the oil pipeline will run through.


“This decision amplifies what we have been saying all along: that is ludicrous to approve a project without fully considering its impact on the land, water, communities, and tribal nations along its route,” wrote Dallas Goldtooth, a campaign organizer with IEN, in a Facebook message to Earther. “The government did a piss-poor job last time in regards to consultation with tribes on KXL. Now, let’s see if they can get it right.”

Groups filed the suit in March 2017 in response to President Donald Trump’s quick revival of the project, which former President Barack Obama had shut down. They also challenged the president’s approval of a presidential permit, which is ultimately what got the project back in action. District Court Judge Brian Morris decided to reject that challenge, however, writing that Trump’s issuance of this permit was in compliance with the law.


Meanwhile, those on the frontlines are preparing for what comes next. They want to ensure the pipeline isn’t just delayed but stopped for good.

“We are entering a water war,” Spotted Eagle told Earther. “Corporations believe they are above us in that hierarchy and that they can do whatever they want with our water and that’s not true. It’s never going to be true.”


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


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A new or supplemental EIS would probably only be necessary for a small portion of the pipeline in Nebraska. The old route already had an EIS and was approved. The new route parallels along the existing Keystone line - assuming an EIS was done back then. The original Keystone was planned during the Bush administration and got built around the transition between Bush/Obama.

So if there’s Indians living in Madison County and maybe Seward County - the second EIS submitted could be expedited. According to wikipedia, Madison county is one percent native american.

Here’s Madison County, Nebraska from space:

EIS language for existing site conditions:

County section 1: corn field - and not much else

County section 2: corn field - and not much else

County section 3: ...