Federal court ruling could delay pipeline projects
Sierra Club uses winning Montana federal district argument to challenge Texas pipeline project
By Asher Price
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, working with counterparts in 17 other states, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a West Coast federal appeals court criticizing a lower court’s decision that will could delay oil and gas pipeline projects.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in April canceled an environmental permit for the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline in Montana. Morris said that the U.S. Army Corps did not adequately consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on risks to endangered species and habitat when it renewed a nationwide permit in 2017 that allows dredging work on pipelines across water bodies. To allow the agency to continue authorizing new oil and gas pipeline construction “could seriously injure projected species and critical habitat,” the judge ruled.
While the ruling does not block the construction of Keystone or other pipelines, Keystone officials have said that many projects could be delayed without permission to do the dredging work authorized by the Corps’ 2017 permit.
The ruling was welcomed by the environmental groups that filed the challenge in the first place but opposed by energy companies.
“Maintaining a stable electrical grid is absolutely vital to the public, and the need for consistent, reliable electricity has been met by the growing production of oil and gas,” Paxton said in a statement announcing the amicus brief filing Friday, which asks the San Francisco-based 9th District Court of Appeals to stay the Montana judge’s ruling.
“The district court incorrectly placed a burden on all pipelines, and that decision must be stayed in order to ensure that ongoing construction continues smoothly and no communities that rely on these growing pipelines are left without utilities vital to their practicalandfinancialsurvival,” Paxton said.
The brief was chiefly authored by Texas and West Virginia. Other states participating are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
Paxton’s campaign and the Republican Attorneys General Association have long been recipients of donations from the oil and gas industry.
The Montana District Court decision has already led to further cases in federal courts, including a challenge to a major Texas pipeline project.
Thusfar,Houston-basedpipeline company Kinder Morgan has staved off challenges in courts and at the Legislature to its 430mile Permian Highway Pipeline, which will carry natural gas from West Texas to refineries on the Texas coast — including beneath Hays and Blanco counties.
But on April 30, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas against the Army Corps of Engineers over the pipeline, arguing the Corps did not comply with federal law in issuing the dredging permit for the pipeline.
The Permian Highway Pipeline “could devastate communities, clean water, and wildlife along the route, and the Army Corps can’t just ignore these impacts,” the Sierra Club said in a statement in late April.
In March, a drilling mishap by Kinder Morgan’s construction crew led to a spill of tens of thousands of gallons of slurry into an underground aquifer in Blanco County, muddying nearby wells.