February 20, 2018 6:24 pm
Updated: February 20, 2018 6:27 pm

Keystone XL pipeline opponents want details on Trump’s approval of project

In this Feb. 12, 2018, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with state and local officials about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline are asking a judge to force the U.S. government to turn over emails and other documents related to U.S. President Donald Trump’s approval of the project.

Environmentalists who sued to stop the 1,800-kilometre pipeline said the documents could bolster their case that Trump’s decision was arbitrary and should be overturned by the courts.

READ MORE: Donald Trump gives the green light to ‘incredible’ Keystone XL pipeline

Watch below: (From March 2017) U.S. President Donald Trump, TransCanada president announce approval of Keystone XL pipeline.

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But U.S. Justice Department attorneys argued in court filings that the disputed documents include internal deliberations that don’t have to be made public. They said the request amounts to a “fishing expedition” and should be rejected.

Formal arguments were scheduled for Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls.

If the environmentalists prevail, the U.S. State Department would have to review an estimated five million pages of documents at a cost of more than $6 million, according to a declaration filed by Jerry Drake, an agency division chief who oversees its information technology team.

READ MORE: TransCanada clashes with Keystone XL pipeline opponents at Nebraska hearing

That’s on top of more than 4.5 million documents that were turned over in the case in December, according to the Justice Department.

President Barack Obama’s administration rejected the pipeline in 2015 after it had become a flashpoint in the debate over climate change and fossil fuel use. It was revived in March 2017 under Trump, who insisted it would lead to greater energy independence.

The pipeline is sponsored by Alberta-based company TransCanada Corp., which is siding with the U.S. government in the document dispute.

An attorney for the Northern Plains Resource Council, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said the goal of the conservation group’s sweeping document request was to uncover the basis of Trump’s decision and see if it aligns with years of analysis on the project during the Obama years.

“You can’t make one decision based upon the record, then change your mind based upon the same record,” council attorney Timothy Bechtold said. “That is the definition of arbitrary and capricious.”

The judge has sided with the plaintiffs once, rejecting a bid by the Trump administration in November to dismiss the lawsuits over Keystone. The administration unsuccessfully argued the courts have no authority in the matter because it concerns foreign affairs and national security.

TransCanada announced last month that it hopes to begin construction in 2019 after securing enough commitments from oil companies to ship approximately 500,000 barrels per day through the line.

READ MORE: Alberta’s Notley government signs on as Keystone XL customer

Watch below: On Jan. 18, 2018, Tom Vernon filed this report after TransCanada said it had secured contracts for half-a-million barrels of oil per day for its Keystone XL pipeline.

If completed, the pipeline would carry oil from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing pump station in Steele City, Neb. From there, it would continue through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas until it reaches Gulf Coast refineries.

Watch below: Some videos from Global News’ ongoing coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

© 2018 The Associated Press

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