Trump administration attorneys said a federal judge has no authority to second-guess a presidential permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, as they seek to stop a lawsuit that would block the project.
Justice Department attorneys were due in U.S. District Court in Montana Wednesday to defend the administration's March approval of the 1,179-mile line, Kallanish Energy learns.
TransCanada’s Keystone XL project would transport Canadian crude oil through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would interconnect with an existing system of lines to flow crude to Gulf Coast refineries.
The Obama administration rejected the project before the proposal was revived in March by President Trump, who said it would create jobs and lead to greater energy independence.
Environmental groups and Native American organizations that sued over the project argue an environmental review completed in 2014 was inadequate. They've asked U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to revoke its permit.
Government attorneys said in their motion to throw out the case Morris can't interfere because the Constitution gives Trump authority over matters of foreign affairs and national security, The Associated Press reported.
"The remedy that plaintiffs seek — an injunction against the presidential permit — is not available because such an order would impermissibly infringe on the President's authority," Justice Department attorney Bridget McNeil wrote, the AP reported.
The project's economics have shifted considerably since the pipeline was initially proposed nine years ago, with low oil prices and the high cost of extracting Canadian crude from Alberta's oil sands now casting doubt on whether it would be profitable.
Opponents say those market changes undercut arguments from Keystone supporters that oil sands crude would get to consumers by another means if the pipeline was not built.
"In a low oil market world, adding close to a million barrels a day of capacity out of the tar sands is a lifeline for that industry. You can't say it's going to find its way to market whether this pipeline is built," attorney Doug Hayes with the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, told the AP.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission must decide by Nov. 23 whether to give approval. South Dakota and Montana regulators already have approved the project.