BILLINGS, Mont. — Opponents of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline asked a federal court in a lawsuit on Friday to declare that President Donald Trump acted illegally when he issued a new permit for the project in a bid to get around an earlier court ruling.
In November, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the Trump administration did not fully consider potential oil spills and other impacts when it approved the pipeline in 2017.
Trump’s new permit, issued last week, is intended to circumvent that ruling and kick-start the proposal to ship crude oil from the tar sands of western Canada to U.S. refineries.
While the southern portion of the project was completed years ago, construction of the portion from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, has been delayed.
White House officials have said the presidential permit is immune from court review. But legal experts say that’s an open question.
Unlike previous orders from Trump involving immigration and other matters, his action on Keystone XL came after a court had already weighed in and blocked the administration’s plans.
“This is somewhat dumbfounding, the idea that a president would claim he can just say, ‘Never mind, I unilaterally call a do-over,’ ” said William Buzbee, a constitutional scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
The pipeline proposed by TransCanada has become a flashpoint in the debate over fossil fuel use and climate change.
Opponents say burning crude from the tar sands of western Canada would make climate change worse. The $8 billion project’s supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and could be operated safely.
The line would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily along a 1,184-mile path from Canada to Nebraska.
Stephan Volker, an attorney for the environmental groups that filed Friday’s lawsuit, said Trump was trying to “evade the rule of law” with the new permit.
“We have confidence that the federal courts — long the protectors of our civil liberties — will once again rise to the challenge and enforce the Constitution and the laws of this land,” Volker said.
The pipeline’s route passes through the ancestral homelands of the Rosebud Sioux in central South Dakota and the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes in Montana. Earlier this week, a court granted the tribes’ request to intervene in TransCanada’s appeal of Morris’ November ruling. That case is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Tribal officials contend that a spill from the line could damage a South Dakota water supply system that serves more than 51,000 people, including on the Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Lower Brule Indian Reservations.
An existing TransCanada pipeline called Keystone spilled almost 10,000 barrels (407,000 gallons) of oil near Amherst, South Dakota, in 2017.