Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality has decided to issue a water quality certification for the Keystone XL pipeline project in eastern Montana, required since the pipeline would cross 201 wetland and water body features, including streams and rivers, that are regulated by the Clean Water Act.

The certification relates only to water quality impacts. DEQ had already assessed other potential impacts under the Major Facility Siting Act.

Conditions of the issuance include spill prevention measures as well as a re-opener clause, which would allow the certification to be modified to ensure ongoing compliance with applicable water quality standards. These conditions also include an oversight role for the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation Office of Environmental Protection, to enable the Tribes to ensure compliance with their applicable water quality standards.

Montana DEQ had a 67-day comment period, including a public hearing on the certification in November, and received more than 650 comments. TransCanada Keystone Pipeline filed an application with DEQ in August for the water certification in August. DEQ initially had until until December to review the certification, but due to the high public interest, DEQ requested two extensions. The U.S. Army corps of Engineers had granted the extensions through Jan. 5 and then to Jan. 11, but DEQ still could not answer all the comments in that time.

Missing the deadline, however, could be considered a waiver of water quality standards. Rather than allow that, DEQ decided to issue the certification with conditions to ensure standards are in place to protect water quality.

“Public participation is an important part of the certification process under Montana law,” said DEQ Director Shaun McGrath. “DEQ was not given adequate time to meaningfully review the comments before the decision was due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, if Montana were to miss the deadline that could be considered a waiver of certification. In order to ensure Montana’s water quality is protected, DEQ decided to issue a certification with conditions that address at least some of the public’s concerns.”

Keystone XL was proposed in 2008 to carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oily per day to Nebraska. From there, it could access existing pipelines for shipment to the Gulf of Mexico.

The pipeline was twice rejected by the Obama administration, which cited the potential for worsening climate change, but the Trump administration invited the company to resubmit its application, and rapidly green-lighted it.

The Alberta government, meanwhile, provided $1.1 billion in funds to help jump-start the work, along with additional temporary credit of up to $4.4 billion.

Preconstruction activities have already been under way for Keystone XL, and the company has stacks of pipes in various locations being put in place in areas where construction can move forward.

It ran aground in Montrana, however, in the Ninth Circuit, which invalidated a key nationwide permit that was used to authorize the water crossing on BLM property in Montana.

Meanwhile, president-elect Joe Biden has pledged to shelve the project, which was first proposed 12 years ago, although it is not clear what the legal framework for that would be, given that construction of the $8 billion project under the U.S.-Canada border has already begun.

In October, TC Energy also signed a $1.6 billion in contracts with six major union contractors to build the last 800 miles of the pipeline across three states including Montana to Steele City, which is just north of Kansas’ border. That’s thousands and thousands of high-paying, union construction jobs. That promises to complicate the picture for Biden’s campaign promises. He has for decades relied on strong support from unions.

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