Federal Judge blocks Keystone XL Pipeline - Indigenous Nations respond

Members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance rode on horseback and protested in unison against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo: Vincent Schilling

Vincent Schilling

"The Court enjoins Federal Defendants and TransCanada from engaging in any activity in furtherance of the construction."

Two days into his presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline. Late Thursday, A federal judge ruled to temporarily block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, stating the Trump administration had failed to justify its decision in granting the permit.

President Barack Obama rejected the $8 billion project in late 2015, citing leadership could suffer based on curbing the reliance but President Trump reversed that decision in March 2017, and the State Department granted TransCanada a permit for construction.

But after the latest decision in Montana, the Keystone XL Pipeline — a 1,200-mile long pipeline that would connect Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, with emphasis on the major coast’s ability to serve as a port for world exports — is now in another state of limbo.

The decision, made by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, does not permanently block the permit. However, the Trump administration must review potential adverse impacts related to climate change, cultural resources and endangered species. Considering the dismissal of evidence asserted by the administration, the reversal of the decision by Morris is an uphill battle.

According to the court order by Morris, and as reported by CNN, the US government's use of a 2014 environmental review to justify the presidential permit, violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

In short, work must stop.

"The Court enjoins Federal Defendants and TransCanada from engaging in any activity in furtherance of the construction or operation of Keystone and associated facilities," say court documents, "until the Department has completed a supplement to the 2014 SEIS (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement) that complies with the requirements of NEPA and the APA."

Morris cited the Trump Administration disregarded facts about “climate-related impacts” and that the State Department "simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal.”

Morris also cited that the State Department failed to “analyze the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions,” and “acted on incomplete information regarding” possible damage to Indian territories in the region.

“An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts” cited Morris.

Jackie Prange, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Washington Post, “It’s emblematic of what we’re seeing with the Trump administration, which is a very fast and sloppy reversal of prior decisions … in a way that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law,” Prange told The Post. “That’s why we keep winning in the court.”

Indigenous Environmental Network responds

The Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the plaintiffs in the case alongside the North Coast River Alliance and the Northern Plains Resource Council, took to social media shortly after the decision was made Thursday.

They also posted a statement from several of the organizations leaders on their Indigenous Rising website as well as naming the five-points cited by Morris that led to a decision in the plaintiffs favor:

Judge Morris ruled that approval of the KXL Pipeline violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act because:

  1. President Trump disregarded prior factual findings by former Secretary of State John Kerry that the KXL Pipeline would unjustifiably worsen climate change.
  2. Failed to conduct an adequate survey of Native American cultural resources that would be harmed by the pipeline.
  3. Failed to provide adequate modeling of potential oil spills and their impacts on water resources.
  4. Failed to analyze the cumulative effects of this project on greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Failed to address the effects of current oil prices on the viability of the project.

The following quotes are from members of the Indigenous Environmental Network:

Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director for the Indigenous Environmental Network

“This is a win for Lakota, the Oceti Sakowin and other Tribal Nations, for the water, and for the sacredness of Mother Earth. This decision vindicates what we have been saying all along: Trump’s approval of this pipeline was illegal, violated environmental laws and was based upon fake facts. Our legal fight has been for the benefit of all life along the proposed route of this Canadian tar sands pipeline. This pipeline is the enemy of the people and life as we know it. It must be stopped. We will continue our prayers to take action to fight the Trump administration in defense of the sacred, to protect Indigenous rights, to defend our treaty territories and to advocate for the continuation of the next seven generations of life on Mother Earth free from fossil fuels.”

Joye Braun, IEN Frontline Community Organizer, Cheyenne River Sioux Nation

“We have fought this pipeline tooth and nail and it’s a great affirmation to hear this judge agree with us. President Trump’s permit was utterly illegal and against the proper procedure. For our people, it has always been a matter of no: No Consent, No Pipeline. We will continue to fight for our sovereignty as nations, our cultural and historic sites, for the safety of our people from man camps and for the sacred medicine that is the water. We will fight and we will win.”

Waniya Locke, People Over Pipelines, Grassroots Of Standing Rock

“One of Trump’s first presidential acts was to approve the Dakota Access pipeline, subsequently inflicting violence upon our peaceful people. So I am happy to see that Trump is being checked, that his approval of Keystone XL is being reversed and that he will have to reevaluate the effects of this pipeline on the land and culturally significant sites. it’s incredible. From the open prairies to the courtrooms, our ancestors and sacred sites are protecting us.”

Lewis Grassrope, Wiconi un Tipi Camp in Lower Brule, South Dakota

“Through our prayers, we stood for the greater good of our people. Today one of those prayers has been answered with this decision on Keystone XL, but we must still stay the course to keep our people safe from any atrocious acts that affect our lives and livelihoods.”

Manape LaMere, Government Rep of the Sioux Nation of Indians and Bdewakantowan Isanti Headsmen

“Supporting one another post-Standing Rock and bringing awareness throughout our territory, we’ve dealt a big blow to the Trump administration. We continue to pray and set those prayers in motion thru action, that this KXL project remains in its death throes, until we can truly claim final victory.”

The order can be read here: Fed Judge Order Against KXL presidential permit

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling

Email -vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

Are you using the new mobile platform?Get Indian Country Todayon your phone.

Google Play (Android)


Comments (2)
No. 1-2
David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

What shocked me about the Dakota Access Pipeline was that it wasn't even double-walled were it passed under the river, so the failure of a section of pipe would result in a spill. When pipelines are properly designed to prevent leaks, and the people are listened to, then perhaps the oil companies won't face such bitter resistance...


This is truly a great victory for all Tribal Nations, please remember all of the Attorney's that camped with the people at Standing Rock and assisted the Natives of the Nations on what they personal rights after they were "pushed, pulled, hit and suffered mental anguish as well as violence" against themselves and other peaceful protestor's by the Federal and local police. This should make it easier on the people that were hurt.