Montana Public Radio

Judge Denies Tribes' Request To Freeze Keystone XL Pipeline Construction

Oct 21, 2020
Originally published on October 20, 2020 11:28 am

A U.S. district court judge on Oct. 16 rejected tribes’ request for a temporary hold on construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline in northern Montana.

The court will now determine whether President Donald Trump had authority to greenlight construction at the border between the United States and Canada.

Great Falls Judge Brian Morris said he won’t bar construction of a 1.2 mile section of pipe that crosses the U.S.-Canada border while he considers whether President Trump violated the U.S. constitution when he issued a 2019 permit.

Morris rejected the stay of construction partly on the basis that the presidential permit does not encroach on tribal jurisdiction. He found the permit applies only to the 1.2 mile crossing at the border and not to the whole pipeline, as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana claim.

For the same reason, on top of insubstantial proof, Morris rejected tribes’ claim that the construction will hurt tribal health and safety.

The tribes had previously said man camps pose a public health threat to tribes. They cited the possible introduction of COVID-19 into the area in addition to a rise in crime like sex trafficking associated with man camps. The dismissal of these points leaves Morris to decide on whether the president overstepped his bounds when he issued the permit.

Matthew Campbell represents the tribes in their lawsuit against Canadian developer TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, and President Trump. He says Judge Morris is asking for the parties to submit further information on the legality of the presidential permit.

“And of course, the tribes maintain that the president does not have that constitutional power to issue the permit to TransCanada to cross into the United States,” he says.

This case is part of a series of lawsuits from tribes and environmental groups aimed at stopping construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, which would connect Alberta’s oil sands to the US. Gulf Coast.

Judge Morris on Friday ruled on a similar lawsuit from two environmental groups and asked them also to submit arguments on permit legality.

Opponents of the pipeline argue it crosses through tribal land, endangers tribal members and harms the environment. Other lawsuits tribes and environmental groups filed this year challenge a U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision to grant the pipeline a right-of-way permit in Montana.

In a statement to YPR, TC Energy spokesperson Sara Rabern said the company is encouraged by the court’s ruling. She said the company is working on supporting infrastructure and has not yet begun installing pipe on the U.S. side of the border.

The parties have about a month to submit their responses.

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