Environmental groups sue Trump administration over Keystone reversal

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

As with so many of President Trump’s other environmental decisions, the approval of Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile long pipeline rejected by the Obama administration, has triggered a lawsuit.

In a Montana federal court on Thursday, environmental groups—including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Plains Resource Council, and Bold Alliance—filed a challenge to the permit granted by the White House.

“The Trump Administration broke the law by arbitrarily approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada project said in a statement. “And it ignored public calls to update and correct a required environmental impact statement that should have led to one conclusion: Piping some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through America’s heartland would put at grave risk our land, water and climate.”

If completed, the pipeline would transport 800,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands to refineries along the Gulf Coast each day, adding billions of tons of greenhouse gases to the environment over the life of the pipeline.


According to the complaint, the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a cornerstone of environmental law that outlines permitting processes for major projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline. The complaint alleges the administration “ignored significant new information that bears on the project’s threats to the people, environment, and national interests of the United States.”

NRDC contends that the State Department, which issued the permit, needed to update the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, under NEPA.

In late January, in one of his first acts as president, Trump requested that developer TransCanada resubmit its permit application. On March 24, TransCanada announced it had received the permit.

“We’re going to renegotiate some of the terms, and if they’d like, we’ll see if we can get that pipeline built,” Trump said at the time.

It is not immediately apparent that any of the terms in the permit were changed. Specifically, Trump’s statement that the pipeline would be built with “U.S. steel” was quickly walked back by White House officials.

The Obama administration rejected TransCanada’s permit application in 2015, saying that it ran counter to the country’s interests, including a national interest in playing a global leadership role on climate issues.


Arguably, approving Keystone now — following Trump’s reversal of the Clean Power Plan, dithering over pulling out of the Paris climate agreement entirely, and backtracking on plans to reduce methane emissions — won’t appreciably diminish the country’s reputation on climate change further.

During a White House press call in advance of Trump’s wide-ranging energy and environment executive order issued Tuesday, a senior official said that in regards to climate change, the new administration is “taking a different path.”

One change in the federal government’s “path” was to revoke scientific documents and guidance to agencies on the social cost of carbon, a critical metric in the cost-benefit analysis of infrastructure programs that was, under the Obama administration, standardized into the NEPA process.

Still, critics of the pipeline seem willing to try any legal maneuvers to put an end to the Keystone XL pipeline. Tar sands is a particularly dirty and high-carbon fuel. It is also thick and sticky, making it difficult (and high-energy) to transport and nearly impossible to clean up in waterways.

“This tar sands pipeline poses a direct threat to our climate, our clean water, wildlife, and thousands of landowners and communities along the route of this dirty and dangerous project, and it must and will be stopped,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Halting the development of Canadian tar sands has been an environmental goal for years, and it’s expected that the latest lawsuit is just the first step in a full-court press to reverse one of Trump’s most climate-damaging decisions.