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Conservation Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Keystone XL Permit

Keystone Pipeline pumping station in Nebraska.
Flickr user shannonpatrick17 (CC-BY-2)
Keystone Pipeline pumping station in Nebraska.

It’s springtime in Montana and that’s keeping Glendive-area farmer Dena Hoff plenty busy these days:

"Oh yes, we’re lambing. It’s been crazy," Hoff says.

Hoff, an irrigated farmer on the Yellowstone River, is also keeping tabs on the Trump administration's activities in Washington D.C. Hoff is particularly disappointed by the President’s decision last week to approve a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline:

"For this administration, in the face of all the public opposition to this pipeline, to come in and by negating years of work is just – it's un-American." Hoff says.

Hoff is a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a group focusing on agricultural and conservation issues. NPRC Thursday filed as lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Keystone XL pipeline’s federal permit.

NPRC Chair Kate French says a lot has changed since the U.S. State Department determined in 2014 the pipeline would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions:

"The world has changed a lot since 2014. We have clean energy alternatives that were just not as available as back then," French says. "We feel the data is very stale; the data that they're relying on for these arguments. This needs a fresh look."

The pipeline would carry Canadian tar sands oil through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing pipeline network moving crude to Gulf Coast refineries.

Northern Plains Resource Council's Kate French says we also now know lots more about the corrosive nature of tar sands oil:

Kate French is the chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council.
Credit Courtesy NPRC
Kate French is the chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

"And how easily the pipelines can break and how often leaks have been occurring. We have seen spill after spill after spill. Now we have a better view about how fragile these pipes really are," says French.

"This pipeline's probably the most vetted pipeline that has ever not been built in the United State of America,” says Al Ekblad, executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO.

Ekblad says oil and gas prices will eventually go back up and fuel will have to be safely transported for the foreseeable future.

"There isn't a statistic in the world that says moving oil by truck or train is anywhere as close [safe] as moving it by pipeline. It's time to build this thing, not litigate it," Ekblad says.

Glendive-area farmer Dena Hoff was affected by the rupture of the Bridger Pipeline under the frozen Yellowstone River during the winter of 2015:

"I have family and friends living in town, and I was not happy to know that they had benzene in their water and weren't even notified about it for the first couple of days. They just knew it smelled like diesel fuel coming out of their taps. I'm pretty distressed about the lack of safety planning and emergency planning," Hoff says.

And safety and emergency planning is one of the key concern of the groups who are suing to stop the Keystone.

Here's Kate French of lead plaintiff Northern Plains Resource Council:

"It’s really difficult to just buy any promise that the company puts out there that says it's going to be clean and safe. We don’t know it's going to be safe."

Keystone's critics say the company's emergency response plans are completely inadequate.

Montana AFL-CIO’s Al Ekblad:

"Our union members care about where they live just as much as any person in agriculture or from the environmental community. Why aren't we working together to build the safest pipeline that we can, rather than using litigation to delay or stop the pipeline from being built?"

Ekblad adds that the even though the bulk of pipe for the Keystone project isn't domestically produced, it would create important, well-paying jobs for people in the pipeline industry.

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Bold Alliance joined the suit which was filed Thursday in Montana. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is also suing to stop the project.

The Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance filed suit against it earlier this week.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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