Work on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, should be halted because the U.S. didn’t complete an environmental impact review, advocacy groups said in a lawsuit.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth Inc. and Western Nebraska Resources Council sued the U.S. in Omaha, Nebraska federal court today, calling the government’s review a “sham public process” because the pipeline is moving forward without final approval. They seek a ruling that the work violates the National Environmental Policy Act and an order blocking the pipeline until needed approvals are obtained.
The $7 billion pipeline, being built by TransCanada Corp. (TRP), runs through north-central Nebraska’s Sand Hills region. The work is forcing the clearance of native grasses and relocation of an endangered species of whooping cranes, according to the complaint.
“These activities are on-going and are having adverse environmental impacts and are being carried out before the environmental reviews for the pipeline are complete,” and before permits have been issued, the groups claim.
The 1,661-mile (2,672 kilometers), 36-inch (96 centimers) pipe conduit would link Hardisty, Alberta, with Nederland, Texas, according to Calgary-based TransCanada. It requires a 100-foot right of way for construction, the environmental groups said, and a permanent 50-foot right-of-way for operations.
The U.S. State Department, which is expected to make a final decision on whether to grant a permit for the pipeline by the end of the year, is reviewing the project because it crosses an international border. The State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are named as defendants in the complaint, as are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, declined to comment on the filing.
Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman, disputed the environmental groups’ allegations in an e-mailed statement in which he called their claims “false.” No construction has taken place in the state, he said.
The company wasn’t named as a defendant in the case.
“We respect the regulated review process currently underway and in no way would we impact that by beginning construction without a permit,” Howard said.
At the direction Fish and Wildlife Service, the company has already taken steps to protect the endangered American Burying Beetle, which required the mowing of grass, not construction, Howard said.
According to the State Department, an environmental impact study completed in August concluded the pipeline would have “no significant impacts to most resources” along its route across six states, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
“It’s outrageous that TransCanada is already clearing the way for the Keystone XL pipeline before the public has had a chance to have its say and, indeed, before federal agencies have even said it can be built,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.
“It looks like the fix is in on this dangerous project, and the sham public process is nothing more than an afterthought,” Greenwald said in a statement issued jointly with the other two organizations.
Friends of the Earth is a Washington-based environmental advocacy group. Western Nebraska Resources Council is based in Chadron, Nebraska.
The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Department of State, 11-345, U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska (Omaha).
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