A nationwide program considered by the pipeline industry as vital to its profitability has been suspended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a separate and permanent branch of the U.S. Government. This comes on the heels of a blanket permit used for decades by pipeline companies and public utilities to build energy infrastructure across streams and wetlands in the United States with virtually no environmental review.
It is both stunning and ironic that the decision was made during arguably the most pro-business administration in the history of the United States.
The ruling effectively puts on hold approximately 360 pending notifications to entities approving their use of the permit, according to U.S. Army Corps media representatives.
The Trump administration is expected to challenge the ruling, but its record thus far in this regard might give it pause: in one court ruling after another, federal courts have blocked 85 percent of the administration’s attempts to reverse environmental protections.
Pipeline and electric utility industry representatives said the effects could be widespread if the suspension lasts, affecting both construction and maintenance on potentially thousands of projects. That includes major pipelines like TC Energy’s Keystone XL crude oil line from Canada to the U.S. Midwest, the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in Virginia and power lines from wind turbines and generating stations in many parts of the U.S.
The April 15 court ruling in Montana was in a lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris involving the disputed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada. Work began earlier this month on the 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) line stretching from Alberta to Nebraska that has long been championed by the Trump administration.
Morris said using the blanket permit, known as Nationwide Permit 12, for water crossings was illegal because the Army Corps did not adequately consider potential harm to imperiled wildlife species when it re-authorized the permit in 2017. The judge pointed to concerns among scientists that construction could stir up sediment and bury the food source of an endangered, dinosaur-like fish — the pallid sturgeon.
The Army Corps has broad jurisdiction over U.S. waterways. It uses the blanket permit to approve qualifying pipelines and other utility projects after cursory environmental review. That’s a longstanding sore point for environmentalists who say it amounts to a loophole in water protection laws and ignores the cumulative harm caused by thousands of stream and wetlands crossings