Twenty-one attorneys general filed a lawsuit this week in an effort to reverse President Joe Biden’s revocation of the trans-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of moves by Montana’s elected officials aimed at reauthorizing the beleaguered project, which was designed to move 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast. Gov. Greg Gianforte and all three members of Montana’s federal delegation have sent letters to Biden in the last two months urging him to change course.

The states’ lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen are the lead plaintiffs on the complaint, which argues that Biden unlawfully changed energy policy set by Congress. 

“The power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce belongs to Congress — not the President,” Knudsen said in a press release about the lawsuit. “This is another example of Joe Biden overstepping his constitutional role to the detriment of Montanans.”

The release describes Biden’s revocation of the trans-border permit as “contrary to law and an affront to the Constitution’s separation of powers.” 

The presidential permit Biden pulled was issued in 2017 by former President Donald Trump. Biden issued an executive order to revoke the permit on Jan. 20, on the grounds that the pipeline “disserves the U.S. national interest” and that the project is inconsistent with his administration’s economic and climate goals. 

The pipeline has experienced many changes in fortune, both regulatory and legal, since it was first proposed more than a dozen years ago. About eight pages of the states’ 46-page complaint outlines the project’s journey through various courts and federal and state governments.

Knudsen has been working to revive the project through the courts for at least a month. On Feb. 9, he and 14 other attorneys general sent a letter to Biden indicating that they were seeking a legal avenue to overturn Biden’s executive order.

“Please be aware that the states are reviewing available legal options to protect our residents and sovereign interests. In the meantime, we urge you to reconsider your decision to impose crippling economic injuries on states, communities, families, and workers across the country,” the letter said.

Montana’s U.S. senators have been working angles to reauthorize the pipelines in recent weeks as well. Republican Sen. Steve Daines introduced S. 171, the Keystone XL Pipeline Construction and Jobs Preservation Act, on Feb. 2.

Two weeks ago, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester introduced an amendment to the huge coronavirus relief bill that sought to reverse Biden’s decision. The amendment did not pass.

After its failure, Tester signed on to Daines’ measure, which has yet to be assigned a hearing date. Tester is the only Democrat co-sponsoring the bill alongside 17 Republicans.

Daines cheered the suit brought by the states in a March 17 statement about the move. “President Biden decided to ignore science, ignore our rural communities and instead side with environmental activists and shut down construction on the Keystone XL pipeline,” he said. “I’m glad to stand with Attorney General Knudsen in support of the Keystone XL pipeline and thankful for his leadership to protect Montana communities and jobs.”

In a tweet about the lawsuit, Montana U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale said, “This is part of the full court press by many of us in the state to keep this critical source of jobs alive.”

Gianforte also tweeted about the suit: “I continue to call on @POTUS to reverse his costly, reckless decision to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline.”

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Amanda EggertEnvironmental Reporter

Amanda Eggert studied print journalism at the University of Montana. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, Amanda spent four years working with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. After leaving the Forest Service in 2014, Amanda worked for Outside magazine as an editorial fellow before joining Outlaw Partners’ staff to lead coverage for Explore Big Sky newspaper and contribute writing and editing to Explore Yellowstone and Mountain Outlaw magazines. Prior to joining Montana Free Press’ staff in 2021 Amanda was a freelance writer, researcher and interviewer. In addition to writing...