US Court: Transcanada's Keystone XL Profits More Important than Environment
In a major ruling that’s flown under the radar, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit – based in Denver, Colorado – decided not to grant the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma a temporary injunction on the construction of the southern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline.
The Court’s decision hinged on an “injury” balancing test: Would Transcanada be hurt more financially from receiving an injunction? Had it lost, it would be stuck with one until Sierra Club, et al receive a U.S. District Court decision on the legality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant Transcanada a Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) for construction of what’s now called the Gulf Coast Pipeline in February 2012.
Or would ecosystems suffer even greater and potentially incalculable damage from the 485-mile, 700,000 barrels per day pipeline crossing 2,227 streams?
In a 2-1 decision, the Court sided with Transcanada, and by extension, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Court ruled, “the threatened environmental injuries were outweighed by the financial harm that the injunction would cause Transcanada.”
Commenting on the case brought by Sierra Club, et al, Judge Jerome A. Holmes and Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. – appointees of President George W. Bush and President George H.W. Bush, respectively – shot down the arguments sharply.
Holmes and Kelly ruled that Sierra Club, et al failed to show how the pipeline will have a significant environmental impact despite the fact it’s been deemed a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” by retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen.
Construction of Keystone XL’s southern half – subject of significant grassroots activism by the Tar Sands Blockade and others – is now nearly complete. Tar sands dilbit is slated to begin to flow through it in early 2014.
NWP 12: “New Normal” for Tar Sands Pipeline Approval
After protestors succeeded initially in delaying Keystone XL, Big Oil has chosen a “new normal” stealth approval method: the non-transparent NWP 12.
This avoids the more strenuous National Environmental Protection Act permitting process overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires public hearings and public comments for major federal pipeline projects. NEPA compels the EPA to take comments into account in response throughout the Environmental Impact Statement phase, allowing robust public participation in the process.
Sierra Club Staff Attorney Doug Hayes explained in an interview with DeSmogBlog that NWP 12 is for utility projects with up to a half an acre of stream or wetland impacts, and has never been used for tar sands pipelines before Keystone XL’s southern half.
The southern half of the pipeline was approved via Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012, directly after Obama gave a speech in front of a Cushing, OK pipeyard.
“The Corps is abusing the nationwide permit program. Nationwide permits were intended to permit categories of projects with truly minimal impacts, not tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states,” said Hayes.
Utilizing tricky legal loopholes, Transcanada used NWP 12 to push through Keystone XL’s southern half in February 2012, calling each half acre segment of Keystone XL’s southern half a “single and complete project.” The Army Corps of Engineers agreed despite the fact that Transcanada refers to the pipeline at-large as the “Gulf Coast Pipeline project.”
“What the Corps is doing is artificially dividing up these massive pipelines, treating them as thousands of individual projects to avoid environmental review,” Hayes explained. “In this case, there were 2,227 crossings of federal waterways, so the Corps has treated the Gulf Coast Pipeline as 2,227 ‘single and complete projects,’ each of which qualifies under NWP 12.”
Why, I asked Hayes?
“The Corps artificially treats these massive pipelines as thousands of individual projects so as to qualify under NWP 12 and avoid NEPA compliance.”
NWP 12 has also been utilized by Enbridge for the Flanagan South Pipeline, a 600-mile, 600,000 barrels per day pipeline set to shuttle tar sands crude from Flanagan, IL to Cushing, OK, crossing over 2,000 streams. That pipeline is scheduled to begin operations in mid-2014, demonstrating how NWP 12 is the “new normal” way to fast-track domestic tar sands pipelines.
Dissent: Laws Violated, Economic Harm Transcanada’s Fault
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