Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Tribe sings and plays drum while following a flatbed trailer carrying people headed to a cornfield to plant seeds as part of the fifth annual Ponca sacred corn planting ceremony on the Tanderup's farm near Neligh, Nebraska on Sunday. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Judge blocks pre-construction activities for Keystone XL Pipeline

By Acee Agoyo

Native activists are celebrating after a federal judge blocked certain pre-construction activities on the Keystone XL Pipeline, ensuring that the controversial project remains on hold for now.

Judge Brian Morris already ordered the Trump administration to take another look at the crude oil pipeline. The impacts on environmental and cultural resources weren't adequately analyzed after President Donald Trump quickly approved the project when he took office almost two years ago, the November 8 ruling stated.

Despite the decision, the Canadian-based backer of the project sought approval to continue various activities in connection with the pipeline. But Morris issued a new order on Friday, barring TransCanada from moving forward because doing so would cause "irreparable harm" to the Indigenous Environmental Network and other opponents.

“KXL would be a disaster for the Northern Plains and a catastrophe for Mother Earth,” Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the IEN, said in a press release.

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

According to the ruling, the barred activities include: preparation of off-right-of-way pipe storage and contractor yards; transportation, receipt and off-loading of pipe at off-right-of-way storage yards; preparation of sites for off-right-of-way worker camps; and mowing and patrolling areas of the right-of-way to discourage migratory bird nesting.

TransCanada, however, can continue to engage in cultural, biological, civil and other surveys, as well as maintain security at its work sites. The Native plaintiffs did not object to these activities.

The 1,179-mile pipeline would link the oil fields of Canada’s Alberta province to refineries in the United States. Former president Barack Obama rejected the project in November 2015 but Trump reversed course and approved it in March of last year.

Tribes along the route have long opposed to the project out of concern for their treaty rights, impacts on the environment and threats to public safety through worker camps that have been linked to crimes against Native women. Though the pipeline would not run through Indian Country, it crosses treaty territory and comes close to at least four reservations in Montana and South Dakota.

In Nebraska, the pipeline would cross the Ponca Trail of Tears, which was the path the Ponca people took 141 years ago when the federal government forcibly removed from their homelands. The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, and the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma have since reclaimed a small portion of land along the planned route.

The Trump administration has not said what it will do in response to last month's decision. No notice of appeal has been filed although the Department of Justice was supporting TransCanada's request to continue the pre-construction activities that have since been barred by the judge.

The Department of State is the lead agency on the environmental review, though the Department of the Interior has played a role in outreach to Indian Country. But approval documents released in March 2017 made clear that those efforts took place during the Obama era.

There were no new consultations with Indian nations between January and March of that year, according to the record of decision.

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