By Miguel Bustillo
A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked the Trump administration's permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline and barred any construction of the long-delayed project until completion of a supplemental environmental review.
Siding with environmentalists and indigenous rights groups, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris ruled that President Trump's 2017 cross-border permit of the pipeline expansion by TransCanada Corp. to take oil from Alberta to Nebraska hadn't considered all impacts as required by federal law.
The ruling requires the federal government to update a prior 2014 environmental review of Keystone XL to weigh several additional factors, including the impact of lower oil prices on the project's viability, its related greenhouse-gas emissions and modeling of potential oil spills it could cause.
The decision threatens to further delay a pipeline that has already been blocked for a decade by legal and political opposition, and has become a rallying cry for environmentalists who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Mr. Trump revived Keystone XL after it had been blocked by President Barack Obama, but the project has continued to face challenges and its future remains uncertain.
TransCanada said earlier this year that it has sufficient support from customers to move forward with the project, now expected to cost around $8 billion, and that work could begin next year. But it has yet to make a final decision on whether to complete construction. It didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday night.
The U.S. State Department, which issued the presidential permit and was the other defendant in the case, also didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Today's ruling is a victory for the rule of law, and it's a victory for common sense stewardship of the land and water upon which we all depend, " said Dena Hoff, a Montana farmer and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
If completed as planned, Keystone XL, an expansion of the existing Keystone pipeline system, would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day, mostly from Canada's oil sands, more than 1,000 miles to Steele City, Neb., where it would link to existing pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries. The proposed route would cross through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
In his ruling, Mr. Morris, who was nominated by Mr. Obama, wrote that while the federal government had previously undertaken an environmental review of the project, it had subsequently cited it to reject a presidential permit under the Obama administration in 2015, and never fully explained its justification for reversing course and approving a permit under the Trump administration in 2017.
"An agency must provide a detailed justification for reversing course and adopting a policy that 'rests upon factual findings that contradict those which underlay its prior policy,'" the judge wrote, citing prior precedent.
State Department lawyers argued that the Trump administration was within its right to have done so, calling it a policy decision based in part on factors such as energy security.
Christopher M. Matthews contributed to this article.
Write to Miguel Bustillo at email@example.com