Iowa Public Television


Conservationists Sue to Block Pipeline

posted on October 7, 2011

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - U.S. officials illegally allowed a Canadian
company to begin preparing the route for its proposed
1,700-mile-long oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas, even
though the project hasn't gained final government approval, three
conservationist groups contend in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should not have allowed
TransCanada Corp. to begin clearing a 100-mile corridor through
northern Nebraska grasslands because the State Department hasn't
signed off on the Keystone XL pipeline project, the groups argue in
their lawsuit filed in federal court in Omaha.
     TransCanada was allowed to mow down delicate native grasses and
to relocate an endangered species living there, the American
burying beetle, they say.
     "It's our contention that that activity is illegal. They should
not be constructing the pipeline, and they should not be out
there," Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's
endangered species director, said at a news conference in Omaha.
     The plaintiffs, who also include the Western Nebraska Resources
Council and Friends of the Earth, are seeking to stop the
preparations for the proposed pipeline, which would carry an
estimated 700,000 barrels of crude per day from the oil sands of
Alberta, Canada, to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
     TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said the claims made in the
lawsuit are false and that it mowed some grass as part of efforts
to protect and move some of the protected beetles. In every case
where mowing was done, the company received permission from
landowners, Howard said.
     "We respect the regulated review process currently under way
and in no way would we impact that by beginning construction
without a permit," Howard said in a written statement.
     Howard stressed that mowing doesn't constitute construction.
     Pipeline supporters, including some business groups and unions,
say it would double the capacity of an existing pipeline from
Canada and make the U.S. less reliant on Middle East oil. They also
say it would create jobs in the states it would pass through -
Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
     In Nebraska, the pipeline has drawn opposition from an unlikely
coalition of farmers, ranchers, landowners, environmental groups
and other activists who fear it will leak and contaminate the
Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking and irrigation water to
eight states.
     Some climatologists have also argued that by increasing
production from the tar sands, the U.S. would begin a dramatic
increase in the burning of carbon-intensive fossil fuels at a time
when it should be trying to reduce the release of gases that
contribute to global warming.
     Earlier this week, opponents of the pipeline released emails and
other internal documents that they say demonstrate an overly cozy
relationship between State Department officials and TransCanada.
The groups asked President Barack Obama to intervene and block the
pipeline project.
     In their lawsuit, the conservationist groups say the decision to
allow TransCanada to begin preparing the proposed route for its
pipeline shows that federal officials aren't committed to the full,
legally mandated review. State Department officials held public
meetings last week in the states the pipeline would pass through,
and have defended the process as fair.
     "The State Department has further confirmed that it is running
a corrupt review process by giving TransCanada a green light to
begin construction," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the
Earth. "It makes a mockery of the public and sends a message to
Nebraska that their concerns don't matter. If the State Department
was truly doing its job, this lawsuit wouldn't be necessary."
     By mowing and transplanting an endangered species, TransCanada
has already created environmental damage, said Bruce McIntosh,
staff ecologist with the Western Nebraska Resources Council.
     "It's not just clearing. It's destruction," said McIntosh, who
recently flew over the mowed swaths to document the razing.
     He also said the attempt to move the beetles, which have been on
the endangered species list since 1983, would result in some dying.
The beetles are now found in only six states: Nebraska, Rhode
Island, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas, and Arkansas, according to
University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologists.
     Although the State Department has final say over the project
because it crosses international boundaries, some claim the state
of Nebraska could control the pipeline's route through the state.
     This week, Nebraska state Sen. Annette Dubas circulated a bill
that would give state authorities the power to relocate the
pipeline around the aquifer. Dubas and several other lawmakers are
pushing for a special legislative session to address concerns over
the pipeline's route before the State Department's expected
decision in December.
     Gov. Dave Heineman has said he supports the pipeline but opposes
the route. The Republican governor has declined to call a special
session, citing a lack of legislative support, and he questioned
whether the state can supersede federal law, despite U.S. State
Department assurances.
     The lawsuit contends that many Nebraskans who oppose the project
cannot speak publicly out of fear for their job prospects and
professional relationships.
     The lawsuit names the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants, because of their oversight
roles. TransCanada is not named as a defendant.

Tags: agriculture environment Keystone XL Pipeline Ogallala Aquifer oil TransCanada Corp.