Supreme Court Greenlights Pipeline Projects, Except for Keystone XL

July 7, 2020 Updated: July 7, 2020

The Supreme Court stayed a lower court ruling and allowed a slew of pipeline projects to move forward under a fast-track permitting process but left out the controversial, long-delayed expansion of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The 1,200-mile Keystone XL Pipeline, which is now temporarily held up by the high court, would link Canadian oil sands fields to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The project would add to the existing Keystone pipeline, finished in 2013, which runs from Alberta, Canada, to Illinois, Texas, and Oklahoma.

When completed, Keystone XL is supposed to move as much as 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta to Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas, stretching 875 miles through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

The Trump administration’s efforts to promote Keystone, which it views as a big job-creator, were supported by a coalition of 18 states.

The U.S. Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

The ruling, which could allow more than 70 pipeline projects to move forward, was a partial victory for the Trump administration, which has vigorously promoted the domestic energy industry. However, the exclusion of Keystone from the order is a high-profile setback for President Donald Trump, who promised during the 2016 campaign to move the Keystone project forward.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama rejected the project, claiming it would contribute to climate change. Trump campaigned against Obama’s nixing of the pipeline and took action to move the project forward days after being sworn in, promising it would create jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Trump signed a presidential memorandum on Jan. 24, 2017, ordering the State Department to “take all actions necessary and appropriate to facilitate its expeditious review” of the Keystone permit application.

Even if Keystone were to be victorious in pending litigation, it would still have to pass environmental and regulatory scrutiny. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, vows to rescind the Keystone permit if he unseats Trump.

The ruling came late on July 6, hours after a federal judge in the nation’s capital ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota shut down and emptied while the U.S. government completes an in-depth environmental impact review, as reported by The Epoch Times.

A day earlier, energy companies abandoned plans to build the $8 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline, citing mounting costs and an uncertain regulatory environment. The decision to give up on the project came after the Supreme Court had allowed it to move forward on June 15, ruling 7–2 that the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to allow the pipeline to cross under the historic Appalachian Trail, as The Epoch Times also reported.

The new order arose out of a proceeding known as Army Corps of Engineers v. Northern Plains Resource Council. The request for a stay of an order by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was presented to Justice Elena Kagan, who referred it to the full Supreme Court, which granted part of the application. The one-paragraph order didn’t provide a rationale for the decision.

The Supreme Court ruling reverses a lower court ruling that had required new oil and natural gas pipelines expected to be built across bodies of water to go through an arduous permitting process. The lower court had canceled a document called Nationwide Permit 12 that allowed work to move forward on multiple pipelines across water, and found the Corps of Engineers failed to properly assess the impact of the projects on endangered species. The lower court ruling, now reversed, had ordered projects covered under the permit to halt construction pending completion of the environmental impact study.

Environmentalists had complained that a Corps construction permit program was letting energy companies escape responsibility for damage to the water bodies, The Canadian Press (CP) reports.

Keystone developer TC Energy told the media outlet that it isn’t flying the white flag on Keystone, but acknowledged it will have to delay big chunks of the sprawling project. The company began building a 530-kilometer (329 miles) section of the project in Alberta last week.

Environmentalists were pleased they were able to halt the project, if only temporarily.

“Our focus was originally on Keystone, so we’re very happy the court order ensures it can’t move forward under this unlawful permit,” attorney Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity told the CP.