Keystone planning work can continue; decision on pipe hauling …

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A federal judge said Wednesday he will allow some pre-construction activities to continue on the Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana, mostly planning and administrative work.

But U.S. District Judge Brian Morris of Montana deferred a decision on whether other activities, such as hauling pipe, will be allowed.

On Nov. 8, Morris overturned the State Department’s March 23, 2017, record of decision OKing a presidential permit for the 1,200-mile oil pipeline, which was required because it would cross an international border.

TransCanada is proposing to ship oil from western Alberta, through Montana and South Dakota, to Steele City, Neb., where the pipeline will connect to existing pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.

More: Keystone XL Pipeline-Montana people and places along the route

In the Nov. 8 ruling, Morris said more study was needed on mitigating oil spills and the effects of the project on greenhouse gas emissions and cultural resources before the project could proceed.

The order blocked TransCanada from engaging in any activity in furtherance of the construction or operation of Keystone and associated facilities until the State Department completes a supplement to the 2014 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

More: In the path of the pipeline: Montanans view benefits, risks differently

Last week, TransCanada filed a motion asking Morris to clarify whether the language — “any activity in furtherance of the construction or operation” — blocked TransCanada from continuing certain pre-construction activities that have been underway for months.

Those include hauling pipe to a pipe yard, talking with landowners to get right of way and constructing worker camps.

More: Keystone at a crossroads: Tribes question running oil pipeline under Missouri, Milk rivers

After a hearing conducted by telephone Wednesday, Morris, presiding in Great Falls, said some activities could continue but deferred a decision on others until parties in the lawsuit had submitted briefs on the issue.

Morris said in court that the following activities can continue: project engineering; submitting reports and other administrative actions needed to remain in compliance with valid state and local permits; confirming shipper contracts; pursuing outstanding permits; talking to landowners and acquiring land rights; acquiring pipe, materials and equipment; working on modular buildings in work force camps; engaging with communities including indigenous communities as well as government agencies.

Morris said he would issue a decision by next week on the following activities: Cultural, biological, civil and other surveys; preparation of off-right-of-way pipe storage and contractor yards; transportation, receipt and off-loading of pipe at off-right-of-way storage yards; and mowing and patrolling areas of right-of-way to discourage migratory bird nesting. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, Peter R. Steenland, an attorney for TransCanada, said if the company doesn’t get back to work on the pre-construction activities it could lose the entire winter work season, which would result in 6,000 people being unemployed.

Activities that TransCanada is doing now do not constitute construction or operation of the pipeline, said Steenland.

In making his argument, Steenland brought up the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan,” and compared the level of pre-construction work to preparations for the invasion of Normandy.

“This isn’t Normandy, but it’s a pretty big project,” Steenland said.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance, said he wasn’t opposed to planning activities such as those approved by Morris.

However, he said the groups oppose activities such as clearing ground for work camps and hauling and storing pipe at pipe yards because they further the track of development and could harm the surface and wildlife.

Morris questioned the harm of allowing some activities to continue, such as hauling and storing pipe, which he noted already had been manufactured.

“I don’t see them as irreversable,” he said of those activities.

Is an environmental impact statement necessary to transport pipe? the judge asked. 

“That seems a little beyond the scope of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act),” Morris said.

Northern Plains Resource Council, another party to the lawsuit against the State Department, said allowing TransCanada to commence with activities prior to agency decisions would violate the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species
Act. 

TransCanada still is seeking OKs from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project.

Morris said the intent of his order was not to prevent TransCanada from continuing to seek approval from the BLM for right-of-way across its lands. The company can also continue work on getting permits from the Army Corps of Engineer to cross rivers, he said.

In the motion seeking clarification or an amendment of the order stopping construction, TransCanada said pre-construction activities represents almost 700 American
jobs.

“The scope of such a sweeping injunction would be a direct and
immediate threat to maintaining these jobs and other positions created to support
the project,” the motion said.

Morris said he would issue a decision on the remaining activities as soon as possible to provide certainty to the parties of the lawsuit.

 

Culled from here

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