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By Michael Dobson. This article originally appeared on Climate Home News.
Stopping one pipeline was hardly going to stop climate change, after all. And even the more limited goal that activists had set — stopping the exploitation of Alberta’s highly polluting tar sands — was dismissed as unrealistic. The oil would simply find another way to the market, the argument went, leading New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, for example, to declare “The Keystone Fight is a Huge Environmentalist Mistake.” Well, perhaps not.
“Keystone XL has undergone years of extensive environmental review by federal and state regulators,” TransCanada spokesman Matthew John told Omaha World-Herald. “All of these evaluations show that Keystone XL can be built safely and with minimal impact to the environment.”
TransCanada's long-gestating Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline was dealt another setback after a federal judge in Montana ruled Wednesday that the Trump State Department must conduct a robust environmental review of the alternative pipeline route through Nebraska.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris sided with environmentalists, landowners, and tribal plaintiffs in their challenge to the Trump administration. Pipeline opponents argued that the State Department's approval of the KXL was based on an outdated Environmental Impact Statement from 2014 of the original route, and accused the administration of trying to short-cut the permitting process.
The activists holding a growing number of protests against oil pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects from coast to coast are winning some courtroom victories.
For example, a federal appeals court recently struck down two key decisions allowing a natural gas pipeline to cut through Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, just days before a three-judge panel nixed two permits for another pipeline intended to transport natural gas in Virginia because it would compromise efforts to protect endangered wildlife. At the same time, Oregon’s Supreme Court declined to revisit a lower court ruling that let Portland’s prohibition of big fossil fuel export projects stand.
Just like when activists refuse to leave their treetop perches to stop oil companies from axing an old-growth forest or when they lock their bodies to bulldozers to prevent the machine from making way for a new coal mine, these legal challenges are part of a coordinated strategy I have studied for years while researching the movement to slow down and address climate change.
A leaked memorandum published by The Intercept and Documented Investigations shows that a Koch Industries' donors network, known as the Seminar Network, has taken credit for Donald Trump approving the permits for both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines during the first months of his presidency. The memo also applauded efforts by the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) chapter in Wisconsin to pass a deregulatory measure there known as the REINS Act. The Seminar Network, which meets secretly twice a year, is made up of donors who give at least $100,000 toward Koch-led political and philanthropic efforts.
Koch Industries has a business interest in both pipelines, though their approval has not been something its funded network has widely discussed. Quietly, though, Koch has advocated for the pair of pipelines in regulatory hearings in both Iowa for Dakota Access — as previously reported by DeSmog — as well as in Canada, as reported in 2012 by InsideClimate News.
At a February 21 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Trump administration must either fork over documents showing how the U.S. Department of State reversed an earlier decision and ultimately came to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or else provide a substantial legal reason for continuing to withhold them. The federal government has an order to deliver the goods, one way or the other, by March 21.
DeSmog has reviewed the court evidence from the environmental groups bringing the case, records which help illuminate their argument that the government is, in fact, withholding such documents. The judge will decide if those documents, legally, should be made public.
Since Mexico privatized its oil and gas resources in 2013, border-crossing pipelines including those owned by Sempra Energy and TransCanada have come under intense scrutiny and legal challenges, particularly from Indigenous peoples.
Opening up the spigot for U.S. companies to sell oil and gas into Mexico was a top priority for the Obama State Department under Hillary Clinton.
Mexico is now facing its own Standing Rock-like moment as the Yaqui Tribe challenges Sempra Energy's Agua Prieta pipeline between Arizona and the Mexican state of Senora. The Yaquis in the village of Loma de Bacum claim that the Mexican government has failed to consult with them adequately, as required by Mexican law.
Today a Nebraska commission handed TransCanada the final permit it needed to build its long-contested Keystone XL pipeline, a decision which did not consider the company’s previous safety violations. The decision to approve the international pipeline comes despite a major oil spill just a few days earlier from the company’s Keystone l line in South Dakota. Pipeline opponents vowed to appeal the approval, which was for a different, slightly longer and more expensive route through Nebraska than the one TransCanada preferred.
A review of the comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on its proposed rule to fast-track the export of small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) shows that roughly two dozen of of the 89 comments were directly copy-pasted from either industry itself or else pro-industry materials written by the DOE or Congress.
Furthermore, all of those copy-pasted comments are anonymous, a hint that the oil and gas industry may be behind an astroturf-style comment-submitting campaign for this rule. Only one letter favoring the proposed rule, written by the American Petroleum Institute and the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, has the industry's name on it. Three other comments supporting the rule have actual names of individuals, a law school student, a college student, and an individual who DeSmog confirmed wrote the comment out of personal interest and for a public policy course at his university.