Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Tribe sings and plays a drum at the fifth annual Ponca sacred corn planting ceremony at the Tanderup farm near Neligh, Nebraska, on June 10, 2018. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

'An answer to our prayers': Trump takes hit on Keystone XL Pipeline

A federal judge has told the Trump administration to conduct a more thorough review of the Keystone XL Pipeline in response to a lawsuit filed by Native activists.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Judge Brian Morris said the government needs to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the Mainline Alternative Route in Nebraska. The Trump administration has instead released a less stringent environmental assessment on the contested route of the pipeline.

“It’s an answer to our prayers,” Faith Spotted Eagle, an elder from the Yankton Sioux Tribe who has been a key player in the fight against the project, told Earther in reaction to the decision.

The Indigenous Environmental Network and the North Coast Rivers Alliance filed the lawsuit in federal court Montana in March 2017. They took action after President Donald Trump, just days after taking office, revived the crude oil project and later approved a key permit without consulting affected tribal communities.

Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Ponca Plant Seeds of Resistance, Sacred Corn

"Because President Trump has turned his back on the Native American community and protection of our clean water, endangered fisheries, and indeed, survival of the Planet itself, we have asked the federal courts to order him to comply with our nation’s environmental laws," Stephan Volker, an attorney for both groups, said in a press release. "We believe that the courts will apply and enforce the law fairly and fully, and protect our irreplaceable lands and waters and the Native American community that depends on them from the risky and unneeded KXL Pipeline."

The 1,179-mile pipeline would link the oil fields of Canada’s Alberta province to refineries in the United States. The proposed route runs through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before connecting to existing pipeline infrastructure.

Tribes in all three states are opposed to the project. Though the route does not pass through Indian Country, it crosses treaty territory in Montana and South Dakota and comes close to at least two reservations in South Dakota.

In Nebraska, the Mainline Alternative Route crosses the Ponca Trail of Tears, the path the Ponca people took when they were forced to move to Oklahoma in the late 1800s. It also comes within 25 miles of the grave of Standing Bear, the Ponca leader who returned to Nebraska following the removal and secured a landmark civil rights ruling on behalf of all tribal citizens.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma recently reclaimed a parcel of land within the path of the pipeline. The Poncas in Nebraska are also completing the acquisition of 1,200 acres of ancestral territory, including Standing Bear's resting place.

“We will own that again for our people and have a place where our people can call home and come home,” Chairman Larry Wright Jr. said over the weekend as the tribe dedicated a statue of Standing Bear installed near Ponca headquarters in Niobrara.

The judge's ruling on the Keystone XL Pipeline isn't the only one of its kind. After the Trump administration rushed the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline through the approval process without consulting tribes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to conduct a more thorough review of the impacts on water resources and treaty rights.

A revised decision was due August 10 but the Army Corps now says it's coming August 31.

Read More on the Story
Federal Judge Orders Review of Keystone XL Pipeline (Courthouse News Service August 15, 2018)
Revived Keystone XL Pipeline Suffers a Major Setback in Court (Earther August 16, 2018)
Keystone XL Pipeline Sent Back for New Environmental Review (Bloomberg August 16, 2018)
Judge orders new State Department review of Keystone XL pipeline (The Associated Press August 16, 2018)
Keystone XL Pipeline Hit with New Delay: Judge Orders Environmental Review (Inside Climate News August 16, 2018)

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Availability of the Draft Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Mainline Alternative Route in Nebraska (July 30, 2018)

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