The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cross the Missouri near this spot, less than two miles downstream of the Fort Peck Dam
spillway and just a few miles upstream from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation boundary. (Photo by Erika Peterman)
by Hunter Pauli
August 16, 2018
A federal judge in Great Falls on Wednesday ordered the U.S. Department of State to update its environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to reflect changes in the pipeline’s route through Nebraska.
District Judge Brian Morris’ 13-page partial order is a temporary win for environmental and indigenous rights groups who sued the federal government under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit was filed March 2017 after President Donald Trump resurrected Keystone XL, relying on the findings of the same environmental impact statement former president Barack Obama pointed to in his decision to deny it.
Morris’ ruling does not directly impact the Montana portion of the proposed Keystone XL route, which crosses the Milk, Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. Montanans opposing the pipeline say its proposed crossing of the Missouri River directly downriver of the spillway for the Fort Peck Dam and upstream of the drinking water intake for the Fort Peck Indian Reservation is a recipe for disaster.
The Fort Peck Tribes’ new water network, which came fully online across Northeast Montana in 2015, was mandated by Congress after past oil development poisoned much of the reservation’s groundwater.
Morris has yet to rule on the other allegations of NEPA violations the plaintiffs have made against the government, including that threats to Fort Peck’s drinking water, endangered species, and the climate were not adequately addressed in the environmental impact statement. However, Morris’ ruling indicates the judge doesn’t consider the EIS in its current to pass legal muster.
During oral arguments in May, attorneys for Northern Plains Resource Council introduced documents summarizing the Nebraska PSC’s denial of TransCanada’s preferred route through that state and laying out a new route.
An attorney for the federal defendants, Luther Hajek, admitted at the hearing that the State Department had no idea the route would change nine months after approving it. Therefore, the company hadn’t analyzed the new route in the EIS, Hajek said.
Morris disagreed, stating in Wednesday’s ruling that since TransCanada included the alternative Nebraska route in its application to the Nebraska PSC on Feb. 16, of last year, and the State Department didn’t approve the permit until more than a month later, then that “likely imposed an obligation on the Federal Defendants to supplement the EIS.”
Morris cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling stating, “NEPA does require that agencies take a ‘hard look’ at the environmental effects of their planned action, even after a proposal has received initial approval.”
Since the State Department’s EIS addressed the old route and not the new one, the plaintiffs said Morris should revoke the permit. Morris didn’t go that far Thursday, but he did order the State Department to supplement the 2014 EIS to consider the new Nebraska route.
Anit-Keystone XL pipeline activists march in front of the Missouri River Courthouse in Great Falls on May 24. (MTFP Photo/ Hunter Pauli)
The Nebraska portion of Keystone XL is complicated by landowners who refuse to allow the pipeline to cross their property and are fighting eminent domain in court. One landowner, farmer Art Tanderup, gifted a portion of his land in the pipeline’s path to the Ponca tribes of Nebraska and Oklahoma, adding another wrinkle.
“The Ponca Nation now has land in the path of KXL. They can no longer be ignored,” he said.
Tanderup said he was very excited to hear Morris’ ruling, and said the judge made the right decision.
“The recent accelerated EIS did not even give a ‘Cliff Notes’ version of the issue of this new route,” he said.
Lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Sierra Club lawyer Doug Hayes, said at the hearing that the State Department was trying to shoehorn in an environmental assessment of the new Nebraska route during the application process for Bureau of Land Management permits. BLM is also a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for clean water, climate, and communities that would be threatened by the Keystone XL pipeline,” Hayes said in a press release Wednesday.
Intent to prepare the environmental assessment was published in the Federal Register the day after the hearing, and the draft environmental assessment released July 30. The public comment period for the document ends August 29.
Judge Morris evidently did not the draft environmental assessment satisfactory to fulfill EIS requirements of NEPA.
Referenced in but not attached to the environmental assessment is a previously unreleased risk assessment of the pipeline’s Missouri River crossing just upstream of the Fort Peck Reservation. Despite being dated July 31, 2017, Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board Chairman Floyd Azure said earlier this month that TransCanada refused to provide the risk assessment to the tribes. The tribes got it on July 27 — almost a year after its completion — from Governor Steve Bullock’s office, who got it from TransCanada’s Keystone XL website where it was posted without advertisement sometime last month.
Azure said the tribes’ previous attempts to negotiate to route the pipeline downriver of their drinking water intake went nowhere, as TransCanada refused. With Morris’ ruling concerning the new Nebraska route, its questionable whether TransCanada could reroute the pipeline without prompting another supplement to the EIS. Public notices published in Eastern Montana newspapers in 2008 show the pipeline company looked at two alternate routes that cross the Missouri downriver of the water intake.
When Azure saw the Missouri River crossing risk assessment didn’t mention the water intake, or even the reservation and the tribes, he announced intention to join the lawsuit and separately sue TransCanada.
“Today’s ruling was a win for the people and the rule of law,” said Dena Hoff, a plaintiff in the lawsuit whose property was affected by a 2015 oil spill near Glendive. “This illustrates that the Trump Administration can’t simply run roughshod over the legal processes intended to ensure the safety of our water and resources.”
Representatives from TransCanada and the federal government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Judge Brian Morris' August 15, 2018, partial judgment: Click here to read judgement.
Thursday, August 16, 2018 - Trump responds to a critic by revoking the security clearance of a former CIA director. Also on the Thursday rundown: farm
groups urge speedy passage of the Farm Bill, and newspapers nationwide publish editorials denouncing anti-press rhetoric.
For Immediate Release
State Farm Neighborhood Assist is a program that awards $25,000 grants to 40 charitable causes across the country. The application process for the Neighborhood Assist program is lengthy and competitive, with State Farm dwindling down 2,000 applications to 200. But in the end, the public votes to select 40 causes out of the 200 to each receive a $25,000 grant. This year, Habitat for Humanity of Missoula (HfHM) applied for the Neighborhood Assist program and after beating out 1,800 other applicants, Habitat is now the only applicant from Montana to be competing for a winning top 40 spot and $25,000. But now it is up to all of us to come together and vote for HfHM to ensure that $25,000 is put into the Missoula community and used for local Montanan families.
“As all of us know, whether we are fundraising or donating funds to a non-profit in Montana, the constant requests and effort remains challenging and includes a huge output of human capital to raise what is needed. Even though Missoula is extremely generous, this opportunity brings national dollars into our community and will have a big impact on our ability to get our mission accomplished,” states Noreen Humes, HFHM Executive Director.
Each year, Habitat for Humanity of Missoula partners with eligible Missoula families to provide safe, decent, and affordable homes for those living in substandard housing. To make homeownership a reality for Missoulians living in poverty, we sell our homes to eligible families at cost with no interest or profit, allowing us to provide affordable housing while also educating our community about poverty housing and the Habitat solution. By providing low-income Missoulian families with safe and affordable housing, we see the cycle of poverty being broken, an increase in the safety and happiness of low-income children and adults, and an overall improvement in the appearance and value of Missoula’s neighborhoods. The work that HfHM does therefore not only changes the lives of each family we partner with, it also makes Missoula a stronger, safer, and more prosperous community for all.
Every year, the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program benefits educational, safety, and community development causes across the US. Winning this generous $25,000 State Farm grant is going to be a challenge, but HfHM knows that if anyone can do it, Montanans can. The only way for HfHM to win is for the public to go online and vote. Voting opens August 15. People can help us by sharing the event from our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/219884122041740 and vote at this link https://www.neighborhoodassist.com/entry/2011284. If you are a US resident and 18 or older you can vote for Habitat up to 10 times a day each day through Friday, Aug. 24. While HfHM needs votes, they also need the Big Sky to spread the word. To win, HfHM asks for voters to share the competition and voting link on social media and by emailing family, friends, and coworkers. The voting period lasts only ten days, but HfHM knows that ten days is enough time for Montanans and their out of state friends to vote to bring national money into the Missoula community.
“This is an amazing opportunity for Habitat for Humanity of Missoula to maximize our outreach and funding in order to continue to build affordable homes in Missoula,” states Kelin Johnson, HFHM Board President. “We cannot be more thrilled to be a part of this National competition and we are hoping the entire community and state of Montana will come together and rally behind us to make this happen.”
For more information:
Big Sky Connection
Click on the image to listen to the audio.
August 13, 2018
HELENA, Montana - With less than two months before it expires, conservation groups are calling for permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund - a program that has received bipartisan support in the past.
Montana has received nearly $600 million since the fund was created more than 50 years ago.
It's helped protect a wide range of landscapes, including Glacier National Park and grizzly bear habitat on the Rocky Mountain Front.
Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, says the program is crucial for the outdoor recreation economy, which supports more than 70,000 jobs in the state.
"Acquiring crucial parcels that open up access to other areas of public land," he states. "Of course, 70 percent of the fishing access sites in Montana have been funded in part with LWCF funds, and really these dollars have touched every corner and every community in this state."
The program receives funding from royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas offshore.
Funds also are used to build playgrounds, swimming pools, urban bike paths and other facilities.
The LWCF's Forest Legacy Program has supported timber jobs and sustainable logging in Montana as well. It's set to expire on Sept. 30.
Chadwick says the program has played an "immeasurable role" in keeping Montana the way it is today.
"The need is only going to grow in the future, and fully funding and authorizing the program is really going to help us keep Montana so that in 20, 30, 50 years, future Montanans are going to be able to enjoy everything we love about the Treasure State today," he points out.
Montana's U.S. senators have supported fully funding the Land and Water, Conservation Fund. In most years, Congress raids the fund to spend on other projects.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - Omarosa promises more tapes, while CNN reports there are no black White House senior advisors. Also on the Tuesday
rundown: North Carolina uses social media to protect the environment, and National Parks billions behind in maintenance.
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