WASHINGTON, D.C.- President Trump has issued a new permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which appears to circumvent a previous federal judge’s order and allow for construction work in northeastern Montana.
The presidential permit issued Friday supersedes a previous permit issued to developer TransCanada Corp. in March 2017 by the State Department. It also specifically grants TransCanada permission to build a pipeline facility in Phillips County at the northern border for importing oil into the U.S.
Opponents of the pipeline called it a last-ditch effort to save the decade-old proposed project, though the next steps legal steps aren’t yet clear.
Trump’s surprise action drew immediate praise from TransCanada officials and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who is a major pipeline proponent.
“President Trump’s announcement today is a big win for Montana and our nation,” Republican Daines said in a statement. “After over ten years of review, this pipeline that will create roughly 800 construction jobs and spur millions in revenue for Montana’s rural communities and schools, will finally become a reality. I applaud President Trump for his leadership and commitment in getting this done.”
Russ Girling, TransCanada’s CEO, thanked the president for intervening.
“President Trump has been clear that he wants to create jobs and advance U.S. energy security and the Keystone XL Pipeline does both of those things,” Girling said in a statement.
A company spokesman declined to say whether construction would proceed later this year, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Northern Plains Resource Council, which sued to block the pipeline in 2017, questioned the legal basis of the president’s order.
“Our first response upon seeing this White House communication was that it must be an April Fool’s joke. The lack of respect for the rule of law and our Constitutional separation of powers would be laughable were it not so dangerous to our democracy,” said Dena Hoff, a Glendive rancher and Northern Plains board member.
“This new effort appears blatantly illegal on its face and is an unprecedented effort by a United States President to supersede the judicial branch of the United States government. Such a drastic measure, which shows outright contempt for the checks and balances of our democratic system, is a last-ditch move of desperation for a project that cannot pass legal muster on its own merits,” Hoff continued.
The U.S. State Department issued the original permit in March 2017 greenlighting the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, which would run from Alberta through Montana and connect to an existing line in Nebraska.
That order was invalidated in December 2018 by District Judge Brian Morris of Great Falls, who ruled the environmental review of the pipeline did not properly account for climate change, fluctuating oil prices and oil spills, according to The Hill.
Morris also banned all pre-construction work save for limited planning. The Trump administration appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Friday’s order appears to render that action moot.