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Lance Four Star, center, holds his fist up among a group of about 50 protestors who gathered in opposition of the Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday in front of the Civic Center. A federal judge heard arguments for and against the pipeline later that afternoon. (Photo: Seaborn Larson/Tribune)

In Montana, Legal Battle Continues Against Trump's Approval of Keystone XL Pipeline

Court hearing this week represents "first airing of what are likely to be numerous legal challenges standing in the way of Keystone XL ever being built."

Jon Queally

Though President Donald Trump made a big deal of how he rushed through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year, numerous legal battles remain underway as both national and local environmental groups fight his presidential order.

With a pair of lawsuits aimed at making sure the pipeline is never built, a judge in Montana on Wednesday heard arguments from lawyers who say Trump's order was only enough to approve the section of the project that actually crosses the U.S.-Canada border—not the entirety of the pipeline as it crosses through that state and others. The opponents further argue that, due to the haste with which it was made, the State Department's approval under Trump's direction unlawfully violated key aspects of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

While government lawyers argued that because it was a "presidential action, therefore it's not reviewable," the legal team backing the lawsuits strongly disputed that point.

"This really does take us into a realm of unbridled presidential power," said Stephan Volker, an attorney for the Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance, parties to one of two lawsuits. The other suit was brought by NRDC, Northern Plains Resource Council, Bold Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club.

According to blog post written by Josh Axelrod, a policy analyst for the NRDC, Wednesday's hearing represents "the first airing of what are likely to be numerous legal challenges standing in the way of Keystone XL ever being built."

Regardless of the outcome in the Montana lawsuits, which are not expected until November, Axelrod said the decision will certainly be appealed by the other side, a process that could take years. Even then, he said, "the fight is far from over, as numerous additional legal challenges loom on the horizon including fights over the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation to seize farmland in Nebraska."

The ongoing challenge against Keystone XL, Axelrod concludes, remains a test for the climate justice movement which recognizes the stakes at hand. "A safe climate, clean water, clean air—projects like Keystone put all of them at risk," he wrote. "We are at a time and place in history where it is time to move on, where we begin making the necessary cuts to our fossil fuel consumption to keep our climate livable and accelerate the global transition to cleaner, renewable sources of energy."


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