Judge denies tribes' bid to halt Keystone pipeline work

Pipes for Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska, 2009 (Photo by Shannon Patrick [CC BY creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/2.0])

The Associated Press

'While we are disappointed that Judge Morris didn't grant a construction injunction on KXL, we are looking at all our options'

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge has denied a request by tribes to halt construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada over worries about potential spills and damage to cultural sites. 

Work started this spring on the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. However, much of it is stalled after a separate ruling in July by the nation's top court.

The decision last week involves the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, which have challenged President Donald Trump's 2019 permit for the project. 

The tribes say Trump's permit violated their rights under treaties from the mid-1800s.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said in an Oct. 16 ruling that the tribes did not show they would suffer irreparable harm from the work that's been done so far.

Morris said he had "serious questions" about the legal claims being made by the tribes. He did not make a final ruling, and invited further arguments. 

(Related: Tribes make new push to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline)

“While we are disappointed that Judge Morris didn't grant a construction injunction on KXL, we are looking at all our options," the nonprofit Indigenous Environmental Network, a plaintiff, said in a statement. 

The group noted permitting involving water crossings is still under review, and tribes and others along the route "stand resolute in their opposition" to the project. "We will stop this zombie pipeline.”

More than 1,000 people are working on the $9 billion project including building 12 pump stations for the 1,200-mile line, said Terry Cunha with TC Energy, the Calgary-based company behind the project. 

TC Energy praised Morris' decision in a statement to Law360, saying the pipeline is "creating employment for thousands of men and women in skilled trades."

Work on much of the pipeline itself is on hold after a U.S. Supreme Court this summer upheld a lower court ruling that invalidated a permit needed for the pipeline to cross hundreds of rivers and other water bodies along its route.

That case was referred back the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for further consideration. 

Keystone XL was first proposed in 2008 and rejected under former President Barack Obama. It was revived by Trump as part of the Republican's efforts to boost fossil fuel industries. 

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Indian Country Today contributed to this report.

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