Bloomberg Law
July 6, 2020, 10:13 PMUpdated: July 6, 2020, 11:09 PM

Justices Revive Fast Pipeline Permits, Not for Keystone XL (1)

Ellen M. Gilmer
Ellen M. Gilmer

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reinstate streamlined permitting for pipelines across the country, except for Keystone XL.

The justices partially granted the Trump administration’s request to freeze a lower court’s order that barred the use of a fast-track water permitting program for pipelines while an appeal plays out in the Ninth Circuit. But the court declined to revive the key permit for the embattled Keystone XL project.

The decision is a relief for developers working on other pipelines but means prolonged delays for the TC Energy Corp. project set to move oil from Canada to the U.S.

“While today’s ruling from the Supreme Court is positive for the oil and gas industry overall, it continues to delay large portions of construction on our Keystone XL project and the thousands of high-paying union jobs that come with it,” TC Energy spokesman Terry Cunha said in an email.

“TC Energy remains committed to the future of this project,” he added. “We will continue to evaluate our 2020 U.S. scope. In Canada, our work in 2020 remains unchanged.”

A federal district court blocked the streamlined program, known as Nationwide Permit 12, in March after concluding that the Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t adequately considered impacts to endangered species when it finalized the general permit. The court’s order applied to Keystone XL and all new oil and gas pipelines.

The Supreme Court’s decision narrows the order, but environmentalists celebrated that the justices left intact their victory over Keystone XL, delaying the project while litigation proceeds.

“This is an important win that will protect imperiled wildlife from the dangers of Keystone XL,” Center for Biological Diversity lawyer Jared Margolis said in a statement. “The courts have made clear that we can’t continue to sacrifice vulnerable species so giant corporations can profit from dirty fossil fuels that pollute our waters and climate.”

Months-Long Appeal

The Trump administration and industry parties are challenging the Montana court’s ruling at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and asked the Supreme Court to revive the permitting process in the meantime.

The Ninth Circuit appeal is expected to take months, and could extend into 2021.

The Trump administration, Keystone XL backer TC Energy, and industry groups argued to the Supreme Court that the lower court’s order exceeded its authority, applying nationwide and going beyond what plaintiffs had initially requested in the underlying litigation.

Environmental groups opposed to Keystone XL urged the Supreme Court to keep the lower court’s order in place during the appeal, or risk undermining the Endangered Species Act.

The Sierra Club is part of the coalition of environmental groups. The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

The case is Army Corps of Engineers v. N. Plains Res. Council, U.S., No. 19A1053, 7/6/20.

(Adds comment from TC Energy, Center for Biological Diversity in first section.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Renee Schoof at