For years, the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal was the bane of many an environmentalist until Barack Obama ultimately rejected it in 2015. Alas, just a couple of years later, President Donald Trump wasted little time after his inauguration to put the project back into play, signing an executive order to make it a reality.
Now the plan is put on hold once again thanks to some help from a federal court. Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court in Montana declared that the White House cannot just rubber stamp permits for this project without meaningfully looking at the environmental ramifications.
When Obama’s State Department sided against the pipeline back in 2015, it pointed to extensive environmental research to back up this decision. Trump’s State Department, however, has not offered up any new evidence to counter the original decision, instead proclaiming, “There have been numerous developments related to global action to address climate change.”
Is the point that there since other countries are doing more to tackle climate change that there’s more wiggle room for the U.S. to be reckless? No wonder Judge Morris wrote that the Trump admin’s position lacks “factually based determination, let alone a reasoned explanation, for the course reversal.”
In order to take a new position, the judge contends, the State Department better cough up some facts. Specifically, the admin will need to offer up an environmental impact report to show why the Keystone XL is a sound project to pursue.
The Trump administration has been known to play fast and loose with misinformation on the environment, so it might be premature to call this a full victory at this stage. For all we know, the courts will accept whatever shoddy environmental impact report the State Department ultimately comes up with, meaning the halt to the pipeline could be nothing more than temporary.
Still, that’s progress. The timing of this court decision is especially critical because TransCanada was about to begin the actual construction of the pipeline in Montana. With another obstacle and delay in place, TransCanada could decide to abandon the project or perhaps the courts will actually demand real environmental evidence that the White House is incapable of furnishing.
For all of the animosity Trump has thrown in Canada’s direction, you’d think the president wouldn’t be so supportive of the Keystone XL. After all, the majority of the profits for this project will go to Canadians, and for all the talk about job creation, there will only be an estimated 35 American jobs that are permanent once construction is done.
The bottom line is that the Keystone XL pipeline is not a good idea. In addition to running through natural habitats and indigenous lands and posing a constant spill risk, the pipeline is just another tool for burning more fossil fuel at a point where we already know damned well that doing that is killing the planet. If all is just, Judge Morris’s decision will prove to be permanent.