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Keystone XL pipeline opponents ask U.S. judge to strike down Trump's permit

Keystone XL pipeline opponents ask U.S. judge to strike down Trump’s permit


Opponents of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline asked a U.S. federal court Friday in a lawsuit to declare President Donald Trump acted illegally when he issued a new permit for the project in a bid to get around an earlier court ruling.

In November, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the Trump administration did not fully consider potential oil spills and other impacts when it approved the pipeline in 2017.

TransCanada disputes that, saying Keystone XL has been studied more than any other pipeline in history. “The environmental reviews are clear: the project can be built and operated in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO.

Trump’s new permit, issued last week, is intended to circumvent that ruling and kick-start the proposal to ship crude oil from the oilsands of western Canada to U.S. refineries.

White House officials have said the presidential permit is immune from court review. But legal experts say that’s an open question, and that the case could further test the limits of Trump’s use of presidential power to get his way.

Unlike previous orders from Trump involving immigration and other matters, his action on Keystone XL came after a court already had weighed in and blocked the administration’s plans.

“This is somewhat dumbfounding, the idea that a president would claim he can just say, ‘Never mind, I unilaterally call a do-over,”‘ said William Buzbee, a constitutional scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

The pipeline proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada has become a flashpoint in the debate over fossil fuel use and climate change.

Calgary-based TransCanada says Trump’s order ‘clarifies the national importance of Keystone XL.’ (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Opponents say burning crude from the oilsands of Western Canada would make climate change worse. The $8 billion project’s supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and could be operated safely.

The line would carry up to 830,000 barrels (about 132 million litres) of crude daily along a 1,900-kilometre path from Canada to Nebraska.

Trump trying to ‘evade rule of law’: environmental groups

Stephan Volker, a lawyer for the environmental groups that filed Friday’s lawsuit, said Trump was trying to “evade the rule of law” with the new permit.

“We have confidence that the federal courts — long the protectors of our civil liberties — will once again rise to the challenge and enforce the Constitution and the laws of this land,” Volker said.

The pipeline, first proposed in 2008, would begin in Alberta and go to Nebraska, where it would join with an existing pipeline to shuttle more than 800,000 barrels a day of crude to terminals on the U.S. Gulf Coast. (Nati Harnik/Canadian Press)

The pipeline’s route passes through the ancestral homelands of the Rosebud Sioux in central South Dakota and the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine in Montana. Earlier this week, a court granted the tribes’ request to intervene in an appeal of Morris’s November ruling that was filed by TransCanada. That case is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tribal officials contend a spill from the line could damage a South Dakota water supply system that serves more than 51,000 people including on the Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Lower Brule Reservations.

An existing TransCanada pipeline, also called Keystone, suffered a 2017 spill that released almost 10,000 barrels of oil near Amherst, S.D.



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Musk safe for now as U.S. judge urges Tesla CEO, SEC to resolve tweet dispute

Musk safe for now as U.S. judge urges Tesla CEO, SEC to resolve tweet dispute


Elon Musk’s job as Tesla Inc’s chief executive appeared safe on Thursday as a federal judge in Manhattan urged the billionaire to settle contempt allegations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

At a hearing in Manhattan federal court, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan gave both sides two weeks to work out their differences, and said she could rule on whether Musk violated his recent fraud settlement with the regulator if they failed.

Musk declined to comment about the hearing as he left the courthouse, surrounding by reporters, photographers and television cameras.

Nathan had been asked by the SEC to hold Musk in contempt over a Feb. 19 tweet where the regulator said he improperly posted material information about Tesla’s vehicle production outlook without first seeking approval from company lawyers.

The SEC said pre-approval had been a core element of the October 2018 settlement, which resolved a lawsuit over Musk’s tweet last Aug. 7 that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 US per share.

That settlement called for Musk to step down as Tesla’s chairman, and levied $20 million civil fines each on Musk and the Palo Alto, California-based company.

Possible drag lifted

Legal experts had said Musk could have faced penalties as severe as removal from Tesla’s board or as chief executive if held in contempt.

But at Thursday’s hearing, the SEC stopped short of recommending such sanctions.

That lifted a potential drag on Tesla’s share price, which recouped some early losses stemming from its Wednesday night report of lower-than-expected vehicle deliveries.

The shares closed down 8.2 per cent, after earlier falling as much as 10.7 per cent.

SEC lawyer Cheryl Crumpton said if Musk were held in contempt, the regulator might ask Nathan to require regular reports about his oversight by Tesla lawyers, including whether they were vetting his statements and if not why.

Noting that Musk had called his $20 million fine “worth it,” she also said higher fines for future violations might be needed to ensure that further backsliding would be “not worth it.”

Crumpton also faulted what she called Tesla’s “troubling” conduct. “Tesla still appears to be unwilling to exercise any meaningful control over the conduct of its CEO,” she said.

The SEC did not accuse Tesla of contempt.

Musk’s lawyer, John Hueston, countered that the “ambiguity” of the settlement made further punishment for his client unfair.

“There simply is not a clear enough standard to use the hard penalty of contempt,” he said.

Musk sat quietly with his lawyers, sometimes staring down at paperwork, during oral arguments.

SEC  calls tweet ‘obviously different’

The battle concerns a tweet that Musk sent to his more than 24 million Twitter followers: “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019,” meaning 500,000 vehicles.

Four hours later, Musk corrected himself, saying annualized production would be “probably around” 500,000 by year end, with full-year deliveries totaling about 400,000.

The SEC called the earlier tweet “obviously different” from Tesla’s Jan. 30 outlook, when it targeted annualized Model 3 production exceeding 500,000 as soon as the fourth quarter, and projected 360,000 to 400,000 vehicle deliveries this year.

Musk’s lawyers countered that the earlier tweet merely restated a forecast he had given on Jan. 30, and that the SEC conceded during settlement talks that Musk did not need pre-approval for all tweets about his company.

Tesla, which built its reputation on luxury cars, has faced several production challenges with its Model 3 sedan, which it is counting on to reach the mass market, recently offering a version starting at $35,000.

On Wednesday night, Tesla repeated its Jan. 30 vehicle delivery forecast, but said first-quarter deliveries had fallen 31 per cent from the prior three months to about 63,000.

Respect for justice system 

The “funding secured” tweet had sent Tesla’s share price up as much as 13.3 per cent. Musk’s privatization plan was at best in an early stage, however, and financing was not in place.

The legal battle has not stopped Musk from being an outspoken critic of the SEC.

Since it began last September, he has labeled the SEC the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission,” recalling his attacks on investors who sell Tesla stock short, and told CBS’s 60 Minutes he did not have respect for the SEC.

And in the early morning of Feb. 26, after the SEC filed its contempt motion, Musk tweeted: “Something is broken with SEC oversight.”

As he prepared to enter the courthouse. Musk told reporters: “I have a great respect for the justice system.”

Asked whether he also respected the SEC, Musk laughed, before turning to go inside.



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