Opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo: Joe Brusky

Indigenous Environmental Network challenges Keystone XL permit

The Indigenous Environmental Network is turning to the courts in a bid to derail the Keystone XL Pipeline.

A lawsuit filed on March 27 accuses the Trump administration of failing to consider all of the social, cultural and health impacts of the controversial project. The complaint names the Department of State and the Department of the Interior as defendants, calling on the agencies to take a "hard look" at a pipeline that tribes and grassroots activists fiercely oppose.

“Indigenous peoples’ lands and waters are not here to be America’s environmental sacrifice zone," Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the non-profit IEN, said in a press release. "For too long, the U.S. Government has pushed around Indigenous peoples and undervalued our inherent rights, sovereignty, culture, and our responsibilities as guardians of Mother Earth and all life, while fueling catastrophic extreme weather and climate change with an addiction to fossil fuels."

Indian Country thought the project was dead after former president Barack Obama rejected a necessary permit back in November 2015. The crude oil pipeline, whose 1,200-mile route runs through treaty territory, crosses sacred and historic sites and impacts tribal water resources, was considered a detriment to the environment.

But everything changed once President Donald Trump came into power. Four days after taking office, he invited the Canadian firm behind the project to resubmit its application for the permit.

Just two months later, the State Department announced the approval of the presidential permit. Although the record of decision insists tribes were consulted, it acknowledged those efforts occurred during the Obama era and not by Under Secretary of State Thomas W. Shannon, Jr. or by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, both of whom are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Montana, where the pipeline would start before continuing through South Dakota and Nebraska. From there it would connect with existing infrastructure in Kansas and in Oklahoma.

The North Coast Rivers Alliance has joined the Indigenous Environmental Network as a plaintiff. The groups said their lawsuit is the first to challenge the Trump administration's permit for the pipeline.

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