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El Paso’s Ruby Pipeline Approval Challenged in Court

Federal approval of El Paso Corp.’s biggest expansion project, a 678 mile-long natural-gas pipeline spanning four western U.S. states, should be reviewed by an appeals court, the Center for Biological Diversity said today.

A lawsuit filed today in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco seeks a review of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the Ruby Pipeline, which will cut across Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California, the center said in a statement today.

“The Ruby Pipeline will cause severe damage to rivers and streams, sensitive habitats for a host of fish and wildlife species and some of the most pristine lands in western North America,” Noah Greenwald, program director at the center, said in the statement. “Instead of creating an entirely new path of destruction, an existing pipeline route should have been utilized.”

El Paso, the Houston-based owner of the largest network of U.S. interstate gas pipelines, received conditional approval from the Bureau of Land Management for the right-of-way needed to build the $3 billion pipeline on July 12. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project in April.

The project will carry natural gas from a trading hub in Opal, Wyoming, to interconnections near Malin, Oregon, linking Rocky Mountain producers to U.S. West Coast markets. The company said last month that the pipeline should be in service by March.

Fish & Wildlife Service

Today’s suit also names the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a defendant for a failure in its review to consider potential pipeline ruptures at stream crossings. The agency addressed the danger by simply concluding that such ruptures “would not be reasonably like to occur,” according to the center’s statement.

The Fish and Wildlife opinion failed to discuss previous ruptures of El Paso pipelines in Bushland, Texas, and Carlsbad, New Mexico, the statement said. Earlier this week, the center said, it requested a rehearing at FERC.

El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley declined to comment on today’s lawsuit. While the company doesn’t know the status of FERC’s evaluations of state historic preservation offices reports on whether the pipeline meets cultural, historic and archeological criteria, the agency’s final approval is “imminent,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed directly at the appeals court due to a provision in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that permits such challenges to bypass district court, the center said. The center, based in Tucson, Arizona, is an environmental group that relies on science, law and the media to protect land, water and climate, according to its website.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 10-72356, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (San Francisco).

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