Keystone Pipeline

Fossil Fuels

Requiem for a Pipeline: Keystone XL Transformed the Environmental Movement and Shifted the Debate over Energy and Climate

Its beginnings coincided with a booming oil market, but the pipeline also made a perfect target for activists demanding an end to fossil fuels.

By Marianne LavelleJune 20, 2021 Pipes for the Keystone XL pipeline stacked in a yard near Oyen, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Credit: Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pipes for the Keystone XL pipeline stacked in a yard near Oyen, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Credit: Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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It was meant to be an express line from North America’s largest proven oil reserve to its biggest refining center and to deepen the bond between Canada and the United States as petroleum partners.

And it would have stood—or rather, lain—four feet underground, as a 1,700-mile steel monument to humanity’s triumph over the forces that at the time seemed to threaten the future of an oil-driven economy. Conventional oil reservoirs might be running out and alarms might be sounding over the damage that carbon dioxide pollution was doing to the atmosphere, but the Keystone XL pipeline would show America’s determination to carve out ever new oil corridors.

At least, that’s how it looked in 2008, when TransCanada and its partners announced plans to forge a $7 billion link between Alberta’s tar sands and the Texas Gulf Coast. By the time the company now known as TC Energy announced earlier this month that it was giving up the effort to build the pipeline, it was clear that oil could not so easily conquer the realities of the 21st century.

The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the U.S. environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. Instead of trying to get people to care about the future impact of a gas—carbon dioxide—that they couldn’t smell or see, environmentalists began focusing on the connection between climate change and the here-and-now effects of fossil fuel dependence: the takeover of land; the risk to air and water; and the injustice to those in the path of the fossil fuel industry’s plans. President Barack Obama’s presidency was a barometer of this change. Early on, his administration seemed poised to approve Keystone XL. Near the end of his second term, Obama became the first world leader to block a major U.S. oil infrastructure project over climate change.

But as Keystone XL’s brief revival under President Donald Trump demonstrated, the battle over oil’s future is far from over. Climate activists are pushing for President Joe Biden to stop Line 3, another Canadian tar sands pipeline now under construction in Minnesota. But the larger issue for the climate action movement is whether the United States can enact a comprehensive policy that truly reshapes energy use, as Biden has pledged to do, phasing out dependence on oil and  its imprint on the American landscape. 

‘Drill, Baby, Drill’

TransCanada announced its plan to build the Keystone XL in July 2008. In the oil and gas industry’s view it seemed impeccable timing, coinciding with a surging oil market. The price of crude soared past $140 a barrel that month; no one knew at the time that the record price was a peak the market would never hit again. It seemed like the world was entering an era of sustained high oil prices that would pump nothing but profit out of the energy-intensive production of thick, sticky bitumen from the sandy soil of remote Alberta. 

Politically, a proposal to double the amount of Canadian oil coming into the United States also seemed well-timed. Even though both candidates for the 2008 presidential election said they favored action on climate change, there was no talk of it on the campaign trail or in debates. A bill to cut U.S. carbon emissions died in the Senate that summer, with neither Republican John McCain nor Democrat Barack Obama showing up to vote. People were worried about high gasoline prices. The chant that shook the rafters at the Republican convention was “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

But the timing of TransCanada’s project also made the pipeline a perfect target for a ferocious backlash against both the fossil fuel industry and government inaction on climate change.

After Obama won the election and Democrats gained control of Congress, there was at first little sign that Keystone XL was in trouble, certainly not over its climate impact. International climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to yield an agreement. And with Obama’s House-passed climate bill foundering in the Senate, the president sought to win support from moderate Democrats by making concessions on oil. In early April 2010, he announced a plan to reverse a long-standing ban on offshore drilling on the Atlantic coast. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s department then released a draft environmental impact statement that seemed to clear the way for Keystone XL, concluding that its environmental impact would be “limited.”

President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Five days later, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. And over the next 87 days, more than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening ecosystems and the fishing and coastal economies, in what is regarded as the worst accidental marine oil spill in the history of the oil and gas industry. An orange sheen on the water, tar balls washing up on beaches and oiled pelicans provided vivid evidence that despite its claims to safety, the oil industry made mistakes and took shortcuts. And its plans for controlling a catastrophe were inadequate. 

While the Deepwater Horizon well was still gushing, another historic U.S. oil disaster began to unfold that got less attention, but had even more relevance to Keystone XL. More than 1 million gallons of diluted Canadian bitumen spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River from a ruptured pipeline in Marshall, Michigan. The heavy oil didn’t float, as conventional oil would; it sank to the river bottom, fouling 36 miles of the river and forcing 150 families permanently from their homes. The pipeline company, Enbridge, never informed federal officials of the complexity of handling heavy oil. It became the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a clean-up price tag of more than $1 billion.

The Kalamazoo spill was a turning point for ranchers and other landowners in the path of the Keystone XL, as Sue Kelso of Oklahoma told Inside Climate News in 2012. “I live in fear that this pipeline will go through and ruin all the water,” she said at the time. Kelso took TransCanada to court to fight its effort to obtain a pipeline easement on her family farm using eminent domain. Scores of ranchers and other landowners followed suit. 

The fear and anger of landowners on the Keystone XL corridor was mounting at the precise moment that climate activists were confronting the strength of the forces lined up against them in Washington, D.C. Obama failed to push the Democratic-controlled Congress to act on climate, and the window of opportunity shut when Republicans regained control over the House in the 2010 midterms. “The environmental movement was in a dismal place following years of failed inside-the-beltway strategy,” Bob Wilson, a Syracuse University geographer who studies the environmental movement, recalled several years ago.

Climate activists needed a new game plan, and they looked to the indigenous tribes and conservative ranching communities of the Great Plains who were fighting Keystone XL.

Building a Sense of Trust

No one did more to build common cause between local communities and environmental groups than Jane Kleeb, a professional organizer who had moved to Nebraska to raise a family. She founded a group, Bold Nebraska, that did more than lobby, litigate and protest. It planned creative events to connect citizens from diverse cultural and political backgrounds—a renewable energy barn-raising, a large crop art project and a Harvest of Hope concert, held on a family farm and featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Defying the historic tension between ranchers and Native American tribes in northern Nebraska, Bold Nebraska helped forge a Cowboy Indian Alliance (CIA) to fight a common foe—Keystone XL.

“We had this responsibility and sense of trust with one another, so that the tactics of divide and conquer that they normally would use never worked on this fight,” said Kleeb. “We helped change the face of what an environmentalist or climate activist looks like. You had people who were directly impacted by the pain, or potential consequences of these projects coming forward, being the ones to speak out, rather than kind of highly educated, you know, more coastal environmentalists.”

Environmentalists changed their methods, too. This August will mark the 10th anniversary of the first of a series of sit-ins against Keystone XL at the White House, organized by environmental author-turned-activist Bill McKibben and the organization he co-founded, 350.org. More than 1,250 people were arrested, including McKibben, climate scientist James Hansen and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, who ended the group’s 120-year prohibition against acts of civil disobedience.

Protesters sit in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2011, during a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters sit in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2011, during a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

“This particular project—Keystone XL pipeline—is so horrendous, it’s so wrong, and it’s being proposed at such an important time that we don’t want to leave any tool on the table,” Brune said at the time. 

Little by little, the Obama administration changed course. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency calculated that the energy required to process tar sands oil and transport it through Keystone XL would generate 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan than if it were carrying conventional crude. In November 2015, on the eve of Paris climate talks where Obama hoped to seal his legacy with a landmark global deal to cut carbon emissions, he rejected the Keystone XL as counter to the role of the United States as a global climate leader.

“Once the grass-roots movement on the Keystone pipeline mobilized, it changed what it meant to the president,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The New York Times. “It went from a routine infrastructure project to the symbol of an era.”

Beyond the Keystone XL

The Keystone XL battle spawned other pipeline showdowns, altering the U.S. political landscape, with results that are still unfolding. Young activists visited the protest site in North Dakota where the Standing Rock Sioux tribe faced off against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Among them was a former Bernie Sanders campaigner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was inspired by the experience to run for office herself under the banner of environmental justice and climate action.

Dakota Access was completed, one of the few accomplishments of Trump’s drive to accelerate oil and gas infrastructure. But a judge ruled that Trump illegally sidestepped environmental review of the project, which is now in the Biden administration’s hands. In the face of unrelenting local opposition and low energy prices, Williams Company, an energy firm, canceled a planned natural gas pipeline in New York State, and Dominion Energy withdrew its plan for a pipeline cutting across the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

As for Keystone XL, it was stalled by litigation throughout the Trump administration, and the economics also went south. With oil prices half of what they were in 2008, and banks and investors pulling out of Canadian tar sands projects, TC Energy was relying on the Alberta government for financing and loan guarantees. The pipeline was only 8 percent built when Biden canceled its border-crossing permit on his first day in office.

But even as pipelines were blocked, frackers were tapping new stores of oil in the shale rock beneath West Texas, North Dakota and New Mexico. Over the 13-year battle over Keystone XL, the United States regained its spot as the leading oil producer, in a world that is on track to consume a record 101 million barrels of crude per day by next year. 

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Beyond the Keystone XL, Biden has sought to avoid getting pulled into pipeline battles. Instead, he has pursued what one analyst described as a “demand-side” policy: seeking to lay the groundwork for a clean energy future that would dry up demand for oil. To meet Biden’s Paris climate agreement pledge of cutting U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030, an estimated half of new cars sold would by then have to be electric.

But Biden’s climate plan, including the funding of an electric vehicle charging network and other infrastructure essential for a clean energy future, is facing roadblocks in an evenly and deeply divided Congress. And while that inside-the-beltway fight continues, hundreds of climate activists are chaining themselves to construction equipment in Minnesota, seeking to stop Enbridge from replacing an aging Canadian tar sands pipeline. They are calling on Biden to withdraw Enbridge’s permits for Line 3, just as he did for Keystone XL, without waiting for policy that one day, in theory, will eliminate the need for oil pipelines.

“Biden has to make an aggressive step in saying if we’re going to hit these climate change goals that we’ve set out, that means we cannot continue to build fossil fuel projects,” said Kleeb.

But, she said, she worries about division. With her voice breaking, she recalled a confrontation at a bar in Minnesota between her group of climate and tribal activists and a huddle of local residents. Her group began to leave the bar, but Kleeb turned around and went back. “Knowing what I just spent a decade doing in Nebraska, I can’t leave with them thinking that we’re these out-of-touch liberal elites, and not know why we’re fighting this pipeline,” she said. The evening ended with laughter and high-fives, she said, after some discussion of eminent domain, and foreign tar sands oil crossing their state to head for export markets.

Kleeb said she feels that not enough time has been spent building bridges between the activist and rural communities. And she thinks that’s a lesson for Biden and the larger drive for a clean energy transition, which would require the build-out of renewable energy in red states.

“A lot of people are very skeptical of corporations pushing wind and solar because they haven’t been treated well, and they haven’t really been engaged in the conversations around climate,” Kleeb said. “So there’s a lot of work to do.”

Marianne Lavelle

Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Marianne Lavelle is a reporter for Inside Climate News. She has covered environment, science, law, and business in Washington, D.C. for more than two decades. She has won the Polk Award, the Investigative Editors and Reporters Award, and numerous other honors. Lavelle spent four years as online energy news editor and writer at National Geographic. She spearheaded a project on climate lobbying for the nonprofit journalism organization, the Center for Public Integrity. She also has worked at U.S. News and World Report magazine and The National Law Journal. While there, she led the award-winning 1992 investigation, “Unequal Protection,” on the disparity in environmental law enforcement against polluters in minority and white communities. Lavelle received her master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is a graduate of Villanova University.

Lakota Law

I have two pieces of wonderful news to share with you! As of yesterday, TC Energy at last canceled all remaining plans for the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL). The Zombie Pipeline is finally completely dead! At the same time, I was able to negotiate a deal with the South Dakota state’s attorney and avoid jail time for my KXL protest last year. 

Watch: On “Cut to the Chase,” Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes discusses the end of KXL and my big court win.

It was a good day not just for me, personally, but for all water protectors. This shows that — even as many states around the country continue to pass laws criminalizing protest — the people still have power. Our activism can make a real difference. As my fellow Cheyenne River protester, Oscar High Elk, said yesterday, “Respect our existence, or expect our resistance.”

Of course, as you know, our resistance still has much left to accomplish. I’m grateful that KXL’s immediate threats to our land and water are gone, along with the dangers its mancamps presented to Indigenous women and girls in Lakota Country. But Dakota Access still operates — without a legal permit — and Line 3 presents the same peril to the homelands of our Anishinaabe sisters and brothers in Minnesota.

Now, it’s time to #StopLine3 and continue our #NoDAPL fight. The cards are always stacked against us, but we have shown time and time again our resilience, the power of our movement, and our ability to triumph against the greatest odds.  

Just this week, hundreds gathered at a pump station near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, led by my sisters in arms, for the largest Line 3 protest yet. Reports tell us that a Department of Homeland Security helicopter harassed them, kicking up dust and gravel in an attempt to deter my relatives. It didn’t work. More than 100 were arrested, and we aren’t done yet. Like Lakota Law’s team, I’m considering ways I can best support this movement going forward. Because — take it from me — we can win!

Wopila — I’m very grateful for your solidarity with our resistance.
Jasilyn Charger 
via the Lakota People’s Law Project

Done! Finished!

Since I began this blog, this is the best news I have heard!

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/keystone-is-xl-is-dead

Indian Country Today

The Keystone XL pipeline project is officially terminated, the sponsor company announced Wednesday.

Calgary-based TC Energy is pulling the plug on the project after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

The company said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit from” the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

“Through the process, we developed meaningful Indigenous equity opportunities and a first-of-its-kind, industry leading plan to operate the pipeline with net-zero emissions throughout its lifecycle,” said François Poirier, TC Energy’s president and chief executive officer in a statement.

The pipeline has been front and center of the fight against climate change, especially in Indigenous communities. Native people have been speaking out, organizing, and in opposition of the project for several years.

“OMG! It’s official,” Dallas Goldtooth, Mdewakanton Dakota and Diné, wrote on Twitter regarding Keystone XL’s termination. “We took on a multi-billion dollar corporation and we won!!” 

Goldtooth is part of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The network said it has been organizing for more than 10 years against the pipeline.

“We are dancing in our hearts because of this victory!” wrote the network in a statement. “From Dene territories in Northern Alberta to Indigenous lands along the Gulf of Mexico, we stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline. And that struggle is vindicated. This is not the end – but merely the beginning of further victories.”

The network noted that water protector Oscar High Elk still faces charges for standing against Keystone. 

Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year when former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project after it had stalled under the Obama administration.

It would have moved up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Biden canceled it in January over long standing concerns that burning oil sands crude would make climate change worse.

(Ongoing Enbridge series: A pipeline runs through it)

In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, a protester plays a drum and sings while joined by other Native American protesters opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline at the South Dakota Capitol in Pierre. Major construction projects moving forward along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico amid the coronavirus pandemic are raising fears workers could spread infections within nearby communities, including several Native American tribes. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

In this Feb. 18, 2020, photo, a protester plays a drum and sings while joined by others opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline at the South Dakota Capitol. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves, File)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had objected to the move, although officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed disappointment in recent weeks that Trudeau didn’t push Biden harder to reinstate the pipeline’s permit.

Alberta invested more than $1 billion in the project last year, kick-starting construction that had stalled amid determined opposition to the line from environmentalists and Native American tribes along its route.

Alberta officials said Wednesday they reached an agreement with TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to exit their partnership. The company and province plan to try to recoup the government’s investment, although neither offered any immediate details on how that would happen.

“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

The province had hoped the pipeline would spur increased development in the oil sands and bring tens of billions of dollars in royalties over decades.

Attorneys general from 21 states had sued to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the pipeline, which would have created thousands of construction jobs. Republicans in Congress have made the cancellation a frequent talking point in their criticism of the administration, and even some moderate Senate Democrats including Montana’s Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin had urged Biden to reconsider.

Tester said in a statement Wednesday that he was disappointed in the project’s demise, but made no mention of Biden.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, was more direct: “President Biden killed the Keystone XL Pipeline and with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs.”

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on TC Energy’s announcement.

This is a developing story.

ICT logo bridge

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

…oil flowing

Lakota Law

In case you missed it, a recent decision in the legal saga of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) will keep the oil flowing while an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is done over the next nine months — and the courts have essentially stepped away from responsibility to shut operations down. Sadly, in his latest opinion, D.C. Judge James Boasberg has basically stated that his hands are tied by a higher court ruling.

Watch: Lakota Law chief counsel Danny Sheehan joined me to discuss the developments on Cut to the Chase.

As a reminder to you about what got us here, Boasberg (an Obama appointee) ruled last July to vacate federal permits for Dakota Access. He reasoned then that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a full EIS, as demanded in a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes. Then, in August, an appeals court affirmed Boasberg’s decision to invalidate the permit, while simultaneously overturning his decision to empty the pipeline. DAPL has been operating unpermitted ever since — a completely unheard-of scenario, and a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 
 
Boasberg has since been essentially asking the Corps to make a political decision on whether it’s acceptable for this pipeline to operate without a valid permit on federal land. So far, the Corps (an executive branch agency now under president Biden’s leadership) has shown no desire to do the right thing. Rather than issuing an order to halt operations until proper environmental review is complete, Biden and the Corps are ducking responsibility.
 
Our legal analysis is that there’s still a potential path forward in the courts. At this stage, the tribes could go directly after the Army Corps under the Administrative Procedures Act. This could lead to a court-order forcing Biden and the Corps to make a decision on whether to continue allowing DAPL’s operation in violation of NEPA. 
 
Lakota Law, its supporters, and a host of like-minded organizations and allies continue to ask Biden to step up and shut DAPL down. We’ll continue to closely examine all the legal and political angles, assessing potential leverage points to push the Corps. Stay tuned.

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing with Standing Rock!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director & Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

July is the Month of Good News!

It’s time to celebrate for a second day in a row, because we have amazing news from the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday late in the day, SCOTUS announced its ruling effectively halting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL)! Based on the Endangered Species Act, the Supremes upheld a lower court ruling preventing the pipeline from crossing domestic waterways. This is on top of Monday’s court decision to shut down oil flow through DAPL, making yesterday a truly good day for the environment and Indigenous sovereignty.

Lakota Law

Let’s be clear: TC Energy, the pipeline’s operator, is not going to take this lying down. This is not KXL’s death-knell. So, we need to remain vigilant. For now, the Supreme Court has simply let stand U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris’ injunction against construction while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviews the pipeline company’s appeal.

It’s likely there will be further legal wrangling and attempts by TC Energy to circumvent proper environmental review. We can expect the same from the Trump administration, should Trump be re-elected in November. On the other hand, Joe Biden has publicly pledged that his administration will cancel KXL, should he win the presidency.

For now, we can be thankful. Construction of KXL will remain stopped — a win for Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and for our Lakota families here on the front line. We can be grateful that our people will retain access to clean water and a measure of safety from man camps, which might otherwise have spread COVID-19 and contributed to our epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

I thank you for standing with us against KXL so far. We’ll keep you informed of all developments going forward — and I hope I can count on you to stay with us, come rain or shine.

Wopila tanka — My sincere gratitude for your spirit and resolve!

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
Via The Lakota People’s Law Project

More Good News!

I have great news: this morning, District Court Judge James Boasberg ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to be shut down within 30 days! In this momentous ruling, Judge Boasberg found that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of Energy Transfer’s crude oil pipeline, and that there were too many safety concerns to allow its continued operation. While this order only shuts DAPL down for 13 months while the Army Corps completes additional environmental assessments and safety planning, there is a good chance that when the oil is drained in 30 days, that oil will never flow again!

Lakota LawShares in DAPL’s parent company—Energy Transfer Partners—dropped 7% today.

We commend the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and their legal team at EarthJustice for years of dedication and persistence in this struggle to defang the Black Snake. And we are proud of the amicus brief that our legal team submitted in the lead up to this decision. We’re also elated that Judge Boasberg cited many of the questions we and our allies have raised since the beginning of the NoDAPL struggle. First, that it’s simply wrong to conduct an environmental assessment of a pipeline after it’s already been built. Second, that DAPL’s leak detection abilities are so poor it could be leaking more than 6,000 barrels of oil every day without detection, and Energy Transfer’s abysmal pipeline safety record raises that risk even further. Third, that there is no proper cleanup plan for a wintertime spill, when freezing Dakota winters make response the most difficult. Boasberg even went one step further, concluding that the drop in oil demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic makes shutting down the pipeline now less harmful to North Dakota’s economy.

So what comes next? First, Energy Transfer has to drain and shut down DAPL by August 6th. The Army Corps of Engineers then has 13 months to further study potential pipeline leaks and the dangers they pose. This ruling could still be appealed in the Federal District Court of D.C., but our analysis tells us that such an appeal is unlikely to succeed.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your tireless support, and for staying with us throughout this journey.

Wopila tanka — Thank you for standing with us to protect our water, our land, and our families!

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. This has truly been a week of good news: just yesterday the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, slated to run from West Virginia to North Carolina, was canceled. In a joint statement, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy cited ongoing delays, expected cost increases, and legal challenges from environmental and other groups as threats to the project’s viability. The trend away from fossil fuels is becoming stronger with each passing day, thanks to your activism and the support of so many others like you.

 

More about this:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 6, 2020
CONTACT:
Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association
NCAI Press
Mauda Moran
Great Plains Tribes Win Important Legal Fight to Protect Tribal Water and Treaty Resources
The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association (GPTCA), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the National Congress of American Indians Fund (NCAI Fund) applaud the D.C. District Court’s decision today to vacate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Lake Oahe easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to require the removal of all oil flowing through the pipeline by August 5, 2020. This decision ensures that the treaty-reserved rights of the plaintiff tribes – the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Yankton Sioux Tribe, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe – are adequately addressed, along with any other land and natural resource considerations, in a full-fledged and well-documented environmental review process.
GPTCA, NARF, and NCAI Fund participated in a coalition of Native organizations submitting an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff tribes during the latest proceedings in the D.C. District Court and are encouraged by this outcome. We hope that this decision helps pave the way for full and proper environmental impact studies as well as meaningful consultation with tribal nations that have direct or indirect stewardship over the lands under review. Our organizations will continue to work to ensure that every time tribal lands and resources are at stake, the environmental review processes meet all legal standards and respect the federal government’s trust obligations to tribes set forth in federal laws.
###
About the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association:
Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association is made up of the 16 Tribal Chairmen, Presidents, and Chairpersons in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Their purpose is to provide a forum for sharing information on matters of interest to its member Tribes, develop consensus on matters of mutual importance, assist member Tribes in their governmental and programmatic development consistent with their goals for self-determination, and self-sufficiency and provide for effective public relations and education program with non-Indian communities. For more information, please visit http://gptca.net/index.html
About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org.
About the Native American Rights Fund:
Founded in 1970, NARF is the oldest and largest non-profit dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and individual Indians nationwide. For the past 50 years, NARF has represented over 275 Tribes in 31 states in such areas as tribal jurisdiction, federal recognition, land claims, hunting and fishing rights, religious liberties, and voting rights. For more information, visit www.narf.org.

 

New Information:Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).

Lakota Law

 

You may recall that, in late March, the Standing Rock, Oglala, Yankton, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes won a key round in their legal battle against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). In a reversal of his prior decision, D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the pipeline hadn’t undergone proper environmental review. Though logic would dictate a subsequent cease to DAPL’s operations, Boasberg hasn’t taken that step. That’s why, last week, the Lakota Law team joined an Earthjustice-led effort and submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the judge, a strong legal argument that the oil flow must stop immediately.

Lakota Law
For a comprehensive picture of the history of DAPL and current legal landscape, check out our in-depth blog, which also features our television ad targeted to the D.C. market in 2017 arguing for a full Environmental Impact Statement.

It’s not complicated. Because Boasberg’s latest decision voids the easement granted for DAPL, it should no longer be permitted to carry oil, at least until we’ve seen an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act. We’ve been arguing for a proper EIS since the beginning, recognizing that — given the oil company’s horrendous safety track record — it may be impossible to produce.

As you know, the Obama administration agreed that a comprehensive review was needed in late 2016, shutting down construction as thousands cheered at Standing Rock during the #NoDAPL protests. Sadly, everything changed when Trump took office. One of his first executive orders fast-tracked the pipeline without the EIS. Then, when Standing Rock took legal action, Judge Boasberg cited an exception in the law allowing construction despite known, potential hazards.

Boasberg’s latest ruling has changed the game again, this time in our favor. In our brief, LPLP Chief counsel Daniel Sheehan argues that if the oil flow doesn’t stop now, the Court will send a perilous message that litigation against the government is “meaningless and tantamount to a bait and switch designed to fool those naïve enough to believe that the rule of law still has efficacy.”

We’re not alone. Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have also joined U.S. senators including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren to submit a powerful amicus brief. Their legal argument was prepared by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, both of whom met face-to-face with our team in recent months.

We are aligned with powerful people, and the support you have shown to the Lakota means we can keep fighting nonstop to cancel pipelines and forward justice. The tide may be turning. I hope that if you stay with us, we can bring additional legal victories — and safety — back to our homelands.

Wopila tanka — Thank you for your friendship and your support,

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Important Online Meeting!

https://350org.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_LUAGAezKT6-xZvgneKG9Og

Organize to Win in 2020
Description

We’re hosting an urgent call to provide updates on the status of Keystone XL, what we’re doing to fight back in the midst of COVID-19, and how we can win in November.

Sign up below to join our call on Thursday, May 14th at 8pm ET/5pm PT to hear from Bill McKibben, key partners, and members of the 350.org team about what’s next.

If you can, please have some paper and a marker or pen available to participate in a quick activity during the call.

Time

May 14, 2020 07:30 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Again: Permit Invalid

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/05/12/again-finding-us-permit-invalid-federal-court-upholds-block-climate-busting-keystone

 

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Again Finding US Permit Invalid, Federal Court Upholds Block on ‘Climate-Busting’ Keystone XL Construction

“Our courts have shown time and time again that the law matters.”

A federal judge on Monday denied the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ request to amend his earlier ruling regarding TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline, reaffirming that a permit issued by the Army Corps was invalid.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled again that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued Nationwide Permit 12, which allows companies to construct energy projects at water crossings.

“The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL.”
—Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity

Climate action and Indigenous rights campaigners have for years fought the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which if built would cross bodies of water hundreds of times along its nearly 1,200-mile route from Alberta to Nebraska. TC Energy plans to send tar sands oil along the route, which opponents say would put Indigenous communities as well as wildlife at risk for dangerous leaks and exposure to toxic waste.

“The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Constructing pipelines through rivers, streams, and wetlands without analyzing the impacts on imperiled species is unconscionable.”

The USACE had asked Morris to narrow his April 15 ruling, but the judge only changed his decision on Nationwide Permit 12 to allow non-pipeline construction, such as electrical transmission lines, to move forward.

“Our courts have shown time and time again that the law matters,” said Cecilia Segal, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney. “Today’s ruling makes clear that climate-busting pipelines like Keystone XL cannot be built until the federal government does its job and properly analyzes these projects’ devastating effects on their surrounding communities and wildlife. If that analysis is based on science and facts, pipelines like Keystone XL will never see the light of day because they remain, and always will be, a dire threat to our water, wildlife, and climate.”

Indigenous Environmental Network @IENearth

Ft. Peck Assiniboine Sioux Kokipasni youth organizer Prairiedawn has been speaking out against @TCEnergy‘s KXL pipeline because she and her friends are afraid of the increase in man camps bring to Indigenous communities. https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/cancel-kxl-halt-all-keystone-xl-construction-due-to-coronavirus-public-health-emergency 

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