The Keystone XL Pipeline

Elvert Barnes via Flickr

Keystone XL is a massive, 830,000-barrel-per-day project that would carry some of the world’s dirtiest crude oil—tar sands—across Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. Since it was proposed in 2008, the controversial pipeline faced seven years of public protests and conflicting signals from the federal government before President Obama finally vetoed the project in 2015—acknowledging its pervasive threats to ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health, and advancing a national commitment to decreasing our reliance on dirty energy. 

Unfortunately, immediately upon entering office in 2017, President Trump’s new administration reversed Obama’s veto and illegally pushed to restart construction. The opposition remains swift and strong. Within days of the reversal, NRDC and other groups sued the Trump administration—and twice more since. The fact remains that projects like Keystone XL will continue to be stalled as long as the administration keeps trying to illegally fast-track them. Here are the legal battles we’re fighting right now:

Bold Alliance et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior et al.  

On July 14, 2020, NRDC, Bold Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval to construct the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on approximately 44 miles of federally controlled public lands in Montana. The complaint also challenges the flawed environmental reviews by both the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—reviews that include the same errors and omissions as earlier versions that were ruled illegal by a federal court in 2018. The Indigenous Environmental Network, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation are also leading pending challenges to the dangerous pipeline project. We’ll be briefing on the merits of our arguments in the coming months.

Northern Plains Resource Council et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al. 

On July 1, 2019, NRDC, together with the Northern Plains Resource Council, Bold Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act permit that fast-tracks the approval process for utility projects and pipelines like Keystone XL to be built through our nation’s waterways.

In spring 2020, the court ruled in our favor and agreed that the agency unlawfully failed to evaluate threats to endangered species before issuing the permit. The court invalidated the permit’s use for all new oil and gas pipelines, including Keystone XL. 

This fight isn’t over. The federal government’s appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will be heard in the coming months. In an important victory against Keystone XL, however, on July 6, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request from the Trump administration and TC Energy (owners of the project) to allow the pipeline to use the permit and proceed with construction across hundreds of waterways while the appeal is being heard. The Supreme Court also issued a partial stay pending appeal of the district court’s decision as it applies to other pipelines. 

Northern Plains Resource Council et al. v. Shannon et al. (Closed)

In 2017, we launched a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for issuing a U.S.–Canada cross-border permit for Keystone XL based on a stale and incomplete environmental review. The federal court ruled in our favor in 2018 and halted construction of the pipeline until the State Department revised its analysis. President Trump later circumvented that ruling by revoking the State Department’s permit and issuing a new permit; in June 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed this initial challenge as moot. This earlier litigation successfully prevented the project from being built based on flawed environmental reviews, and we continue to fight the adequacy of those reviews to this day.

Last Updated

July 29, 2020



Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would send a flood of toxic tar sands oil—one of the dirtiest fuels in the world—through America’s heartland.

Appeals Court Throws Out Case Blocking Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline, Relying on New Permit Issued by President Trump

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a legal challenge to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, ruling the case was no longer active due to President Trump’s revocation of the permit at the center of the case. In March, Trump issued a new “presidential” permit for Keystone XL, in an effort to spur construction of the pipeline.

June 06, 2019