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Court Approves Keystone XL Route In Nebraska, Challenges Remain In Montana

A train ships pieces of pipeline materials.
Nate Hegyi
Mountain West News Bureau
A train ships pieces of pipeline materials.

Nebraska’s highest court approved the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through the state Friday. That makes Montana the focus of efforts to halt the project’s construction.

After Friday's ruling in Nebraska, the three remaining lawsuits against the Keystone XL pipeline are based in Montana. All will be heard by the same federal judge in Great Falls, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris. He’s blocked construction of the 1,200-mile project before, ruling that the U.S. State Department had to look further into its potential environmental impacts before proceeding last year.

Now, two of the suits are challenging a renewed permit issued by President Donald Trump. It would allow the oil pipeline to cross the Canadian border into Phillips County, Montana.

“Without this permit, the pipeline isn’t going to be built,” says Wes Furlong, who represents Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Community and South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The tribes filed a lawsuit saying the permit violates their treaty rights.

Furlong says the Keystone XL pipeline is supposed to be a shortcut for oil to travel down to Nebraska. He says pipeline owner, TC Energy, could find another route, it just wouldn’t be the shortest one.

He says the current proposed route violates historical treaty boundaries as laid out in the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties and the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty.

That makes the Fort Belknap and Rosebud Sioux Tribes’ case different than past legal challenges to the pipeline, which involved federal agencies but not the President himself.

“The big difference between these two and the previous cases is that beforehand, the State Department issued the permit, and not the President,” says Furlong.

Why that matters is because the president isn’t held to the same standards as federal agencies like the State Department—his permit is exempt from some federal statutes. But that doesn’t change the fact that Trump is required to fulfill treaty obligations.

He says there’s no getting around that one.

The case is currently in the briefing process and will enter into oral arguments on September 12th in Great Falls.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for American corps member.