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 has faced years of public protests and conflicting signals from the federal government. What remains unchanged is the project’s pervasive threats to climate, ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health. 

In 2015, the Obama administration vetoed the project. But President Trump later reversed the veto and pushed to restart construction. NRDC and our partners sued the Trump administration three times, fighting every illegal attempt to ram the project through. Now, President Biden and his administration have the opportunity to help put an end to this project—beginning with a cancellation of the Keystone XL cross-border permit—and to advance a national commitment to decreasing our reliance on dirty energy. 

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 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 Bureau of Land Management 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 are currently briefing the merits of our arguments, with a hearing set for May 6, 2021.

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 is underway. 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 (formerly known as TransCanada, the project’s developer) 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

January 20, 2021



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