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Secretary of State Clinton Sued Over Tar Sands Pipeline Permit

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 3, 2009 (ENS) – A tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the United States that was approved by the U.S. government last month was challenged in federal court today by four Native American and environmental groups.

The U.S. State Department’s August 20 approval of Enbridge Energy’s Alberta Clipper pipeline would permit 450,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to be pumped from northern Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, for refining. The groups are suing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary James Steinberg and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking that the court declare the permit unconstitutional and block the pipeline on environmental and native rights grounds.

“This project will lock our nation into a dirty energy infrastructure for decades to come,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiff groups. “Instead of increasing our reliance on oil and piping in pollution, the State Department should support clean, American energy and the jobs that come with it.”

The Alberta Clipper pipeline would cross the border in Neche, North Dakota, and run for 384 miles through the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake tribal lands in Minnesota before terminating in Superior.

The plaintiff groups say construction would impact over 200 water bodies and would destroy more than 1,200 acres of upland forested lands, more than 650 acres of open lands, and more than 1,300 acres of wetlands.

The Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. They are represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice.

Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network of Bemidji, Minnesota, said the State Department’s permit is invalid because the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa had not given its approval in a tribal referendum. “The voices and rights of the Leech Lake Band members are not being listened to by the Obama Administration,” Cobenais said.

Oil sands extraction, 2005. (Photo by Chris Clarke courtesy Pembina Institute)

By approving the pipeline, the groups allege, the State Department is overlooking the serious environmental, climate, and human health impacts of tar sands oil. They say the decision is a departure from the Obama administration’s commitment to a clean energy future.

“The Alberta Clipper will mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in communities near refineries that process tar sands oil,” said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. “The State Department fails to show how building a pipeline to import the dirtiest oil on Earth is in our national interest.”

The groups complain that, “Global warming pollution from tar sands production is three times that of conventional crude oil and tar sands oil contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen and five times more lead than conventional oil.”

“Tar sands development in Alberta is creating an environmental catastrophe, with toxic tailings ponds so large they can be seen from space, and plans to strip away forests and peat lands of an area the size of Florida,” the groups state in their complaint.

The 384 mile Alberta Clipper pipeline is only part of Enbridge’s larger pipeline expansion project, the groups point out. The expansion includes 678 miles of new pipeline from Manhattan Illinois to Clearbrook, Minnesota to carry diluent – a blending agent necessary for transporting heavy tar sands crude oil via the Alberta Clipper pipeline.

It also includes 313 miles of new pipeline that would replace the capacity to import light sour crude oil from Canada into the United States that would be lost due to diversion of a pipeline called Line 13 from Edmonton, Alberta to Clearbrook, Minnesota.

Overall, if the project goes forward, 1,375 miles of new pipeline would be built to bring Alberta tar sands oil into the United States.

Kevin Reuther, legal director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, says there are too many unanswered questions to allow the pipeline to go forward.

“What happens when this dirty oil leaks and spills from the pipeline?” asked Reuther. “How much more global warming pollution will be emitted? How much more water will be polluted? How many more migratory birds will die? No one knows, because neither the state nor federal agencies responsible for protecting us have done their jobs.”

The groups allege that because they are connected, a single Environmental Impact Statement should be prepared for the Alberta Clipper and the other pipelines.

If the court determines that the State Department did not err in separating the environmental review of the Alberta Clipper project from the other pipelines, then the groups are challenging the adequacy of the environmental review for the rest of the project, which did not evaluate any impacts from the diluent pipeline but only for the replacement line.

They are asking the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions against the construction of the diluent pipeline unless and until the State Department conducts an environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Plaintiffs also challenge the authority of the State Department to issue the Presidential permit for the Alberta Clipper project, saying that Congress has not delegated that authority to the Executive Branch and that the issuance of the Presidential permit to Enbridge was unconstitutional.

“This pollution pipeline will increase our dependency on foreign fuels and accelerate the development of one of the dirtiest, most destructive fuels on the planet,” said Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy for the National Wildlife Federation. “We should be investing in clean energy technologies that will help solve the climate crisis.”

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