A U.S. government program that allows oil and gas pipelines to be constructed across wetlands, rivers and other bodies of water is being legally challenged by environmentalists.
The lawsuit, which was recently filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana, alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program allows companies to avoid environmental reviews regarding potential spills by allowing a blanket construction permit to the industry.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and other groups behind the lawsuit won a court order last year that temporarily blocked the program, known as Nationwide Permit 12.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said at the time that officials did not sufficiently consult with wildlife agencies about possible harm from pipeline construction to endangered plants and animals.
The Army Corps issued a new permit in January, saying it expects the permit to be used more than 8,000 times a year and affect 615 acres annually of wetlands and other bodies of water.
The groups behind the lawsuit said the agency did not consider how that work might affect endangered sturgeon, whooping cranes and other wildlife that depend on wetlands.
The permit can be used only for pipeline crossings that disturb a half-acre or less of streams or wetlands. Critics say that ignores the collective effects from hundreds of individual water crossings along a major pipeline’s route.
Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes said the permit program has become “a tool for corporate polluters to fast-track climate-destroying oil and gas pipelines and exempt them from critical environmental reviews.”
Industry representatives argue the permit program has been used for more than four decades without large environmental harm.
“Presidents on both sides of the aisle have used the program,” said John Stoody, vice president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. “Not until the modern era — when we have activists trying to use pipelines for their climate goals — has there been any controversy.”
The Army Corps does not comment on pending litigation but will be closely tracking developments in the case, spokesperson Michael Izard-Carroll said.