NEPA

Weeks Before Dakota Access Pipeline Protests Intensified, Big Oil Pushed for Expedited Permitting

Dakota Access oil pipeline installation between farms, as seen from 50th Avenue in New Salem, North Dakota.

In the two months leading up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to issue to the Dakota Access pipeline project an allotment of Nationwide 12 permits (NWP) — a de facto fast-track federal authorization of the project — an army of oil industry players submitted comments to the Corps to ensure that fast-track authority remains in place going forward.

This fast-track permitting process is used to bypass more rigorous environmental and public review for major pipeline infrastructure projects by treating them as smaller projects.

Obama Admin Moves Onshore Oil and Gas Lease Auctions Online To Stymie 'Keep It In The Ground' Protests

Protestors hold sign that says "Keep it in the ground."

On August 30, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLMannounced that it would utilize Congress' blessing, given to it in the form of passed legislation, to proceed with online bidding for oil and gas located on U.S. public lands. 

The industry push to make online bidding the norm — as opposed to standard in-person, oral bidding — began with a fervorous pitch in 2009 in reaction to the “Bidder 70” civil disobedience action of activist Tim DeChristopher at an auction in Utah. It has culminated seven years later in reaction to another movement, this one involving the U.S. environmental movement at-large and not just a single person, otherwise known as the Keep It The Ground campaign.

Federal Court Gives Blessing to Covertly Approved Enbridge Cross-Border Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion

A federal court has ruled that the Enbridge Alberta Clipper (Line 67) cross-border tar sands pipeline expansion project, permitted covertly and behind closed doors by the Obama Administration, got its greenlight in a legal manner. 

The ruling — made by Michael J. Davis, a President Bill Clinton-appointee — comes just over a year after several environmental groups brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State for what they said was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA calls for robust public hearings and public commenting periods for any major proposed energy infrastructure projects, referred to by some as the “Magna Carta of environmental law.”

Appeals Court Rules Keystone XL South Approval Was Legal, Lifting Cloud Over TransCanada

In a 3-0 vote, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Tenth Circuit has ruled that the southern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline was permitted in a lawful manner by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Keystone XL South was approved via a controversial Army Corps Nationwide Permit 12 and an accompanying March 2012 Executive Order from President Barack Obama. The pipeline, open for business since January 2014, will now carry tar sands crude from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas without the cloud of the legal challenge hanging over its head since 2012.

Environmentalists Win Federal Lawsuit Over Colorado Coal Mines

Environmentalists won big May 8 in a lawsuit brought against the federal government over two coal mines near the northern Colorado town of Craig. 

The nonprofit environmental group WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior, over permits granted in 2007 to expand the coal mines, saying OSM failed to seek public input or consider impacts on the environment when it approved expanding the mines. The mines are operated by Colowyo Coal Company and Trapper Mining, Inc.  

Emails: How State Department Secretly Approved Expanding Piece of Enbridge's "Keystone XL Clone"

State Department Enbridge Emails

DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets. 

The State Department submitted the emails into the record in the ongoing case filed against the Department by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Collectively, the emails show that upper-level State Department officials hastened the review process on behalf of Enbridge for its proposed Alberta Clipper expansion plan, now rebranded Line 67, and did not inform the public about it until it published its final approval decision in the Federal Register in August 2014.

According to a March 17, 2014 memo initially marked “confidential,” Enbridge's legal counsel at Steptoe & Johnson, David Coburn, began regular communications with the State Department on what the environmental groups have dubbed an “illegal scheme” beginning in at least January 2014. 

Enbridge State Department Emails
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

Environmental groups have coined the approval process an “illegal scheme” because the State Department allowed Enbridge to usurp the conventional presidential permit process for cross-border pipelines, as well as the standard National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which allows for public comments and public hearings of the sort seen for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

Further, the scheme is a complex one involving Enbridge's choice to add pressure pump stations on both sides of the border to two pipelines, Enbridge Line 3 and Enbridge Line 67, to avoid fitting under the legal umbrella of a “cross-border” pipeline.

Hastening the approval process — and thus dodging both the conventional presidential permit and NEPA process — came up in a June 6, 2014 memo written by Coburn and his Steptoe co-counsel Josh Runyan. Enbridge's legal argument centered around ensuring profits for its customers “consistent with its obligations as a common carrier.”

State Department Enbridge Emails
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

Enbridge Gets Another Federal Tar Sands Crude Pipeline Permit As Senate Debates Keystone XL

On January 16, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave Enbridge a controversial Nationwide Permit 12 green-light for its proposed Line 78 pipeline, set to bring heavy tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Pontiac, Illinois to its Griffith, Indiana holding terminal.

The permit for the pipeline with the capacity to carry 800,000 barrels-per-day of tar sands dilbit came ten days after the introduction of S.1 — the Keystone XL Pipeline Act — currently up for debate on the U.S. Senate floor, which calls for the permitting of the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL

Enbridge Line 78 Army Corps of Engineers Permit

Griffith is located just south of Whiting, Indiana, home of a massive refinery owned by BP. In November 2013, BP opened its Whiting Modernization Project, which retooled to refine up to 85-percent of its capacity as heavy dilbit from the tar sands, up from its initial 20-percent capacity.

Obama Signals Keystone XL "No" on Colbert Report As Enbridge "KXL Clone" He Permitted Opens

In his December 8 “Colbert Report” appearance, President Barack Obama gave his strongest signal yet that he may reject a presidential permit authorizing the Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Yet just a week earlier, and little noticed by comparison, the pipeline giant Enbridge made an announcement that could take the sails out of some of the excitement displayed by Obama's “Colbert Report” remarks on Keystone XL North. That is, Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone” is now officially open for business

“Keystone XL Clone,” as first coined here on DeSmogBlog, consists of three parts: the U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline; the Flanagan, Illinois to Cushing Flanagan South pipeline; and the Cushing to Freeport, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Enbridge announced that Flanagan South and its Seaway Twin connection are now pumping tar sands crude through to the Gulf of Mexico, meaning game on for tar sands to flow from Alberta to the Gulf through Enbridge's pipeline system.

Alberta Clipper, now rebranded Line 67, was authorized by Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Obama State Department in August 2009 and got a quasi-official permit to expand its capacity by the State Department over the summer. That permit is now being contested in federal court by environmental groups.

Flanagan South, meanwhile, exists due to a legally contentious array of close to 2,000 Nationwide Permit 12 permits handed out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which — as with Alberta Clipper expansion — has helped Enbridge usurp the more democratic and transparent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's Warburg Pincus May Profit from Tar Sands Exports

Several environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State and Secretary John Kerry over the permitting of a controversial border-crossing northern leg of a pipeline system that DeSmogBlog has called Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone.”

The Keystone XL Clone is designed to accomplish the same goal as TransCanada's Keystone XL: bringing Alberta's tar sands to Gulf coast refineries and export market. It consists of three legs: the Alberta Clipper expansion as the northern leg, the Flanagan South middle leg and the Seaway Twin southern leg.

Green groups have called the northern leg an “illegal scheme” because the Enbridge Alberta Clipper expansion proposal didn't go through the normal State Department approval process. Instead, State allowed Enbridge to add pressure pumps to two separate-but-connected pipelines on each side of the border and send Alberta's diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to market.

Enbridge dodged a comprehensive State Department environmental review, which involves public hearings and public commenting periods. The groups say this is illegal under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and have demanded a re-do for Enbridge's application process.

“The only thing worse than dirty oil is dirty oil backed by dirty tricks. This is the fossil fuel equivalent of money laundering,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for letting Enbridge illegally pump more dirty tar sands oil into the United States.”

The maneuver has a key beneficiary: former Obama Administration Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, who now serves as President of the private equity giant Warburg Pincus.

Geithner's connection to the lawsuit not only adds intrigue, but also reveals the purpose of Enbridge's Keystone XL Clone: an export fast-track to the global market.

Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years. 

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask. 

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House's Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions. 

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

Magna Carta; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy. 

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