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A federal judge issued a major ruling Thursday halting construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline until the Trump administration carries out a valid updated environmental review of the project's impact.
The US$8-billion project would help carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Hardisty, about 200 kilometres east of Red Deer, to Steele City, Neb., where it could then move on to refineries in the central USA and Gulf Coast.
Morris was appointed in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama, who had refused to grant a cross-border permit for the global project. The lawsuit prompting Thursday's order was brought by a collection of opponents, including the indigenous Environmental Network and the Northern Plains Resource Council, a conservation coalition based in Montana.
The company and opponents of the project have been in a decade-long dispute that has spanned several presidencies and involved standoffs between protesters and law enforcement.
Judge Brian Morris' 54-page order, issued late Thursday, overturns the Trump administrations's approval past year of the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline and at least temporarily prevents it from being built.
In doing so the administration overturned a ruling by then president Barack Obama in 2015 that denied a permit for the pipeline, largely on environmental grounds, in particular the U.S. contribution to climate change.
Indigenous and environmental groups had sued TransCanada and the U.S. Department of State after Nebraska authorities approved an alternative route to the one TransCanada had proposed through the state. Construction of the U.S. leg had been scheduled to begin next year.
The decision to deny the pipeline permit came after the completion of a long-awaited final environmental impact statement - 11 volumes of analysis released in 2014. Both pipelines have drawn significant public backlash, with activists arguing that the oil spills could pollute downstream water sources.
"An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate".
- The State Department, in issuing the permit, failed to "analyze the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions" of the Keystone project and the expanded Alberta Clipper pipeline. "It's not over for us, we're just going to keep on going ahead".