Judge Brian Morris blocks Keystone pipeline

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Judge Brian Morris blocks Keystone pipeline

A federal judge issued a major ruling Thursday halting construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline until the Trump administration carries out a valid updated environmental review of the project's impact.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls agreed with the groups' argument that a 2014 environmental impact assessment fell short of the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory standards.

Trump granted a permit that allowed energy firm TransCanada to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline shortly after taking office. However, in one of the first of many executive orders signed throughout his presidency, Donald Trump overturned the decision in 2017, arguing that construction would create thousands of jobs. The State Department initially denied the pipeline a permit in 2015, under the Obama administration.

The pipeline was being prepared by TransCanada.

TransCanada, which is pushing the project, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.

The ruling is a victory for environmentalists, tribal groups and ranchers who have spent more than a decade fighting against construction of the pipeline that will carry heavy crude to Steele City, Nebraska, from Canada's oilsands in Alberta.

The analysis of a cross-border project like this is done by the State Department.

Environmental and indigenous groups sued TransCanada and the State Department in March to halt the project.

Judge Brian Morris' 54-page order, issued late Thursday, overturns the Trump administrations's approval a year ago of the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline and at least temporarily prevents it from being built.

Since its conception, the pipeline has sparked a backlash from environmentalists and indigenous peoples who say it violates historical treaty boundaries and would bring environmental problems.

The same environmental analysis that the department carried out before denying the permit in 2015 was ignored when the department turned around previous year and approved it, the judge argued. Construction of the USA leg had been scheduled to begin next year.

"An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate", he continued.

An appeal of the decision is highly likely, as the legal back-and-forth looks set to continue in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

- The State Department, in issuing the permit, failed to "analyze the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions" of the Keystone project and the expanded Alberta Clipper pipeline.

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