Key blockage: Keystone Pipeline held up again |

Key blockage: Keystone Pipeline held up again

Dennis Teske farms along the Yellowstone River in Prairie County, Montana. Although the Keystone XL Pipeline will not cross his land, he is a strong proponent for the clean energy it will bring, and the increased revenue to the rural county government. Photos by Tamara Choat

Progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline is once again obstructed, as a district court judge ruled existing permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cross waters of the U.S. are now invalid. In some ways, it’s “same story, different year” on the Keystone’s protracted steps toward transporting oil from Canada to U.S. refineries.

This activist ruling comes in a time of national crisis, and elected officials are firing back.

In response to the decision by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Representative Greg Gianforte (R-MT) submitted a letter to President Trump asking for intervention overturning what they call a “terrible and far reaching decision for Montana.”

In a statement from his communications director, Travis Hall, Congressman Gianforte says, “Judge Morris’s decision continues a dangerous trend of activist judges making laws from the bench and shutting down critical projects that bring jobs and revenue to our communities. As we get our economy going again and get Montanans back to work, President Trump’s efforts to reduce unnecessary regulations are critical, and I’ll continue to work with him on it,” says Gianforte.

The Global Energy Institute estimates the Keystone XL pipeline will create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs and increase the personal income of American workers by $6.5 billion, as well as generate more than $585 million in new taxes for states and communities along the pipeline route.

On April 15, 2020, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court of Montana revoked the Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) that was issued in 2017 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. USACE estimates the permit has been used more than 37,000 times since 2017 for numerous infrastructure projects that cross waters of the United States. Uses include electrical utility lines, phone and broadband lines, and water and other pipelines. Affected were 5,500 pre-construction notices pending approval of NWP-12, including the Keystone XL Pipeline. The plaintiffs in the ruling were the Northern Plains Resource Council.

On May 11, 2020, in response to push back from the Corps of Engineers, the same court issued an amended order stating NWP-12 would remain viable for all activities other than new construction of oil and gas pipelines.

In essence, everyone else was free to go except the Keystone Pipeline.

Sara Rabern, communications specialist for TC Energy, says the ruling “hampers putting thousands of Americans back to work when the nation faces unemployment rates in excess of 20 percent. We remain committed to our project as we promptly filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We look forward to a resolution that allows us to advance our construction in 2020 without any further delay.”

Dennis Teske is a county commissioner of the sparsely populated Prairie County in Eastern Montana, county seat of Terry. The Keystone XL Pipeline is scheduled to cross 22 miles of Prairie County and double the tax base in the rural county that struggles for revenue.

“The way things look right now, if this pipeline doesn’t come through, in a few years we’re going to be out money,” says Teske. “This has been going on for 10 years now; my biggest fear is what it’s going to start to do to the supporting industries – after a point you start losing key businesses in the oil industry and then the system starts to collapse.”

Teske has long been involved in submitting comments supporting development of the pipeline. “But every time I present facts and information, I’m simply called a ‘racist,’” he says. “The tribes protesting the loudest are upstream 80 miles from this proposed project. Tell me how anything I do can impact water 80 miles upstream? They don’t have an answer or listen to science or facts – I’m just racist.”

Teske says solar and wind energy may sound good, but dark winters in Montana mean solar is only supplemental, and wind uses more energy than it saves in production of mechanical components and leaves non-recyclable landfill waste. “Northwestern Energy predicts by the year 2025 we will have rolling blackouts across the northwest. If a radical environmentalist wants to sit in the cold dark he can. I don’t.”

Multiple environmental impact studies have been conducted on the Keystone XL project over the past 10 years, says Rabern. “No other pipeline project in the history of the industry has been studied more than Keystone XL and every study has squarely concluded it can be built safely and in an environmentally sound manner.”

The White House continues to express sentiments that senseless regulation has reached its threshold. On May 19, President Trump issued an executive order to federal agencies to address the current economic emergency by modifying or waiving exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery. Exemptions must regard applicable law, public health and safety, homeland security and budgetary and operational feasibility.

The executive order states: “… agencies must continue to remove barriers to the greatest engine of economic prosperity the world has ever known: the innovation, initiative, and drive of the American people.”

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