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Abstract

The Keystone XL pipeline has caused recent controversy and renewed the debate over the future of fossil fuels in the United States. The project pits largely conservative groups, who argue that the pipeline will create jobs and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil, against environmental advocates, indigenous tribes, and private landowners, who are attempting to fend off the project because they believe it will displace them of their own lands as well as disrupt the natural ecosystems that lay in the pipeline’s path. In the wake of a presidential veto of the project and renewed sentiment by the pipeline’s manufacturer to move forward with the project by an alternative route, public outcry as to the safety of the pipeline and the environmental consequences of continued exploitation of the Canadian tar sands has increased.

This article analyzes the Keystone XL pipeline project through the lens of Earth Jurisprudence: a growing movement in the United States focused on changing the way humans view the environment when confronted with political and legal decisions that have direct and often adverse affects on the Earth. The teachings of Aldo Leopold and Thomas Berry encourage humans to re-imagine the legal system in a manner that broadens its focus to include current and future generations of humans, plants, animals, and ecosystems as equal parts of the whole rather than a chain of command where humans reign supreme. This article discusses several concepts and principles that are based upon or derived from the earth jurisprudence movement and applies these concepts to recent events surrounding the Keystone XL project. Ultimately, the author seeks to show readers that the Keystone XL pipeline is a temporary fix to America’s problems and the risks associated with the project will cause irreparable political, economic, and environmental harm that will be felt for generations to come.