The State Department and other federal agencies shirked their responsibilities to evaluate the oil pipeline’s environmental impact, both lawsuits allege. They argue that the plunge in oil prices makes the project unviable and that new research shows oil from Canada’s tar sands is especially destructive to the environment.
The lawsuits, which activists had promised after Trump green-lighted the pipeline last week, revive a protracted fight against construction that began during the Obama administration. Trump’s decision reversed former President Barack Obama’s rejection of the project.
The Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by relying on “woefully out of date” information about plans to import oil from Canada’s tar sands region to Nebraska, according to a suit filed Wednesday by the Northern Plains Resource Council, the Sierra Club and other organizations.
The State Department based its approval of the Keystone XL last week on an environmental study completed in 2014, the lawsuit said. That same report was used by the Obama administration to conclude the pipeline was not in the national interest and to deny permits to developer TransCanada in 2015.
“The Trump Administration broke the law by arbitrarily endorsing a permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “It ignored public calls to update and correct a required environmental impact statement that should have led to one conclusion. Piping some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through America’s heartland would put at grave risk our land, water and climate.”
Extracting oil from the tar sands is more energy-intensive than drilling, and the oil itself is considered one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. A gallon of tar sands oil releases 15 percent more carbon dioxide than “conventional oil,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Supporters, including Trump, say the pipeline will foster U.S. energy independence and will create jobs. Soaring U.S. energy production already has the country on track for producing as much as it consumes, and it’s unclear how importing oil from Canada aids that goal. Though the pipeline would require thousands of temporary construction workers, it would permanently employ fewer than three dozen.
The second lawsuit, filed by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the North Coast Rivers Alliance on Monday, argues that the government should have replaced the 2014 environmental report with current data, and that officials failed to thoroughly consider impacts on both sides of the border. It further alleges that wildlife protections, such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, were ignored.
“Oil, water and fish do not mix. KXL poses an unacceptable risk to the Missouri River and its fisheries, including the nearly extinct Arctic grayling,” Frank Egger, North Coast Rivers Alliance president, said in a statement. “No oil pipeline is safe. One major oil spill, and the Missouri River and adjacent aquifers would be polluted for generations.”
Both lawsuits were filed in federal court in Montana, where the pipeline would cross the border into the U.S. The 1,179-mile pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to Nebraska.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the litigation. Officials from the Department of the Interior, which also was named as a defendant in both lawsuits, didn’t respond to HuffPost’s inquiries.
TransCanada spokesman Matthew John said the company is focused on securing approval for the pipeline route in Nebraska, where the state Public Service Commission will vote on it. That review is expected to take seven months or more.
“We’ll be working with stakeholders up and down the route to make sure that they’re informed on the project,” John told HuffPost.