A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to allow the State Department to provide a fuller explanation of how the 1,184-mile project would affect the environment.
The judge, Brian M. Morris of the District of Montana, criticized the Trump administration for its failure to provide a “reasoned explanation” for its position about the pipeline’s impact on the climate. Construction could have begun as early as next year.
“The Department instead simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal,” Judge Morris wrote in his decision.
Environmental and Native American groups that have fought the pipeline called Judge Morris’s ruling a major victory and a setback for the Trump administration’s environmental and energy policies.
“The Trump administration tried to force this dirty pipeline project on the American people, but they can’t ignore the threats it would pose to our clean water, our climate and our communities,” said Doug Hayes, an attorney for the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by environmentalist groups against the State Department and TransCanada.
President Barack Obama rejected the $8 billion project in late 2015, saying it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels.
But President Trump reversed that decision in March 2017, shortly after he was inaugurated, and the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for construction.
At the time, Mr. Trump said the pipeline — which would connect oil producers in Canada and North Dakota to refineries on the Gulf Coast — was vital to economic growth.
Environmentalists have long fought the pipeline’s construction on the grounds that it would worsen climate change. The oil industry has said the pipeline would help the United States retain its energy independence for decades. If completed, the Keystone XL would transport up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day.
In giving the go-ahead, the State Department said it “considered a range of factors, including, but not limited to, foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy.”
Judge Morris issued a 54-page ruling in the lawsuit against the State Department and TransCanada. The plaintiffs — Northern Plains Resource Council, Bold Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club — filed the lawsuit in March 2017 in the United States District Court for the District of Montana.