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The battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline, an oil line that would snake its way from Canada to Nebraska, took another turn late last week when a federal judge halted construction pending further environmental reviews.
Inconvenient facts: The decision blocks the Trump administration’s approval of the roughly 1,200-mile pipeline, which has been controversial since its proposal in 2008. The project was shelved under the Obama administration due to environmental concerns and protests from Native American groups that the construction plan and pathway violated treaties.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled the State Department had failed to meet an earlier request for a more thorough environmental review and vacated the permit, ruling that the government failed to offer a “reasoned explanation” for approving the project and “simply discarded” potential impacts on climate change.
“An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate,” Morris wrote in his 54-page ruling.
The case for civil disobedience: Anti-pipeline activists have developed more sophisticated methods during the decade the Keystone XL has been kicked around. In October 2016 a coordinated team triggered the emergency shut-off valves on pipelines in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Washington, choking off 70 percent of the oil from tar sands that flow into the U.S. from Canada, including those in Alberta where the Keystone XL would terminate. They dubbed the action #ShutItDown, and purposefully got caught in hopes of setting a new legal precedent. It was “the biggest coordinated move on U.S. energy infrastructure ever undertaken by environmental protesters,” according to Reuters.
The Valve Turners’ goal was to get into court, where they used the “necessity defense.” They were acquitted by the judge, but without a jury decision, no legal precedent was set. As nuclear arms protesters argued in the ’60s, the pipeline activists say their actions are civil disobedience meant to prevent a greater threat—climate cataclysm.