Citing the Keystone XL pipeline as beneficial to Montana, state Attorney General Tim Fox is attempting to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups trying to block pipeline construction.

The Republican attorney general and candidate for governor asked Federal District Judge Brian Morris on Monday to allow Montana to join the U.S. government and pipeline developer TC Energy in defending the project. The attorney general’s request notes that Keystone XL pipeline would generate about $63 million a year in property taxes for Montana. The six counties along the Keystone XL would see their annual property tax revenues increase 151%. The pipeline also offers an on-ramp located in Baker for Bakken crude.

The pipeline has been researched for the better part of a decade, Fox said on Tuesday. It’s time to proceed.

“We’ve gotten to a point where the environmental review, the scientific review, the technical and engineering review of the Keystone pipeline is the most extensive that’s ever been conducted on a pipeline, probably in the history of the nation, I would guess,” Fox said. “And remembering that there are literally hundreds of pipelines that go across the Canadian border into the United States, and of those this one will be the most technologically and engineeringly advanced of anything we’ve ever seen. So, the timing is right.”

Montana has already awarded leases to Keystone XL where it crosses state property. Those leases are already generating about $800,000 for schools. The property tax estimate of $63 million was made during the era of Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer and probably needs to be adjusted upward, Fox said.

The lawsuit was filed in July by the Northern Plains Resource Council, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bold Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity. The plaintiffs accuse the Army Corps of not considering the risks like oil spills and other environmentally harmful consequences from the Keystone XL, which is intended to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands of Alberta to Nebraska where it would connect to an existing pipeline network to the Gulf Coast.

Keystone XL is nearly 1,200 miles long. No state has more miles of the pipeline than Montana.

The gist of the lawsuit is that the U.S. Army Corps never considered risks like pipeline breaks, or the influence on the climate from burning tar sands oil, or stream damage along the route. Approval was granted under the Nationwide Permit 12 classification, which allows the Corps to skip detailed review of things like water body crossings. There are 194 water body crossings along the Montana portion of the pipeline. There are also 27 wetlands. All told, there are 688 waterways at play, according to the plaintiffs.

Environmentalists would like the court to deny use of the Nationwide Permit 12 for Keystone.

There are several lawsuits against Keystone XL, including one by the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and the Rosebud Sioux of South Dakota. The tribes argue that President Trump didn’t consider the potential damage to cultural sites.

Indigenous protesters who participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline occupation of 2016 and 2017, have promised similar efforts to halt Keystone XL.

Fox said it’s important the First Amendment rights are protected, but that public safety will have to be preserved, also.

“I would hope that we would never have a situation like the Dakota Access Pipeline. That was unfortunately a perfect storm. I’m not sure people anticipated that there would be groups out there whose intent was not to get a better project or just to merely express their First Amendment right. Their intent was to foment division, to in fact engage in some violent acts,” Fox said.

“Any person would like to avoid the kind of meltdown that we saw in North Dakota," he said. "Certainly as long as I’m an elected official I would hope to make sure that we promote public safety while preserving First Amendment rights.”

TC Energy has informed that court that it will begin setting up work camps, clearing brush and cutting trees in Montana and South Dakota this month.

AG Tim Fox joins Keystone XL legal battle

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