This week, the State Department released documents revealing a scheme by Canadian tar sands giant Enbridge to bypass the Presidential Permit process for expansion of its Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline. Enbridge has applied to double the capacity of the pipeline, also known as Line 67, to put it on par with the tar sands carrying capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department has previously made clear that any such expansion requires approval and comprehensive environmental review, and is currently undertaking that review.
Not content to wait for the legally required federal permitting process and environmental review, Enbridge has devised a scheme to transfer the dirty tar sands crude from Alberta Clipper to another pipeline, Line 3, just north of the border, then re-transfer it back to Alberta Clipper once it’s crossed into the United States. This blatant scheme to move up to twice the amount allotted in Enbridge’s permit seems to assert that the pipeline would only impact the few miles around the border crossing, a clear misinterpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Shockingly, in a two page letter, a mid-level State Department official indicated Enbridge could move forward with this plan despite the fact that it clearly violates the capacity limit imposed by the permit the State Department issued.
“With no public notice, the State Department has shockingly backtracked on its commitment to require environmental review and approval before more dirty tar sands oil enters the United States through Minnesota,” said Marc Fink, a Minnesota-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The State Department has violated the public’s right to transparency and participation in approval of projects that impact the health and safety of our communities, land, water and climate,” added Kate Jacobson, of MN350. “Allowing significantly more tar sand oil to flow before a full environmental impact analysis is complete is unacceptable and irresponsible.”
“The State Department doesn’t get to make up the law as it goes. This is particularly troubling in light of allegations of an inappropriately cozy relationship between the State Department and the oil industry surrounding the Keystone XL environmental impact statement,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel for National Wildlife Federation. “The State Department cannot in effect approve a doubling of the amount of climate-disrupting tar sands being carried into the Great Lakes region without conducting a proper public review and permitting process. That is a clear violation of the law and the State Department must immediately reverse course and put the best interests of America first.”
“When will Canada have enough risky pipelines cutting thru our land and water? When is enough?” asked Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska. “For the promise of jobs and energy independence, landowners and tribes are being sold out so foreign corporations can get tar sands on the export market. Canada is engaged in a scam circumventing federal, state and local laws all in the name of exporting their tar sands while we take on all the risk of spills.”
“Expanding the Alberta Clipper pipeline is entirely inconsistent with the administration’s commitment to taking aggressive action on climate change, and it’s also illegal,” said Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes. “The President’s promise to decide Keystone XL based on its climate impacts is completely meaningless if the State Department is simultaneously permitting other tar sands pipelines behind closed doors.
“Enbridge can’t show how this project is in the nation’s interest, so instead they are trying to hoodwink its regulators,” said Anthony Swift, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Blindly approving Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline expansion would make a mockery of our permitting process and undermine our efforts to address climate change.”
“Allowing more tar sands oil into the United States without conducting impact analyses is unconscionable and illegal. A State Department spokesman said just this week that the Department is committed to ‘a rigorous, objective, and transparent review process’ with regards to pipeline approval. That is not possible if they eschew a review process altogether,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth.
Jason Kowalski, Policy Director of 350.org, said “When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets. They will break the law and wreck our climate if that’s what it takes for them to make a buck — and we will be ready to stand up to them, from Nebraska, to Minnesota, to the streets of New York City.”
“Apparently John Kerry’s Department of State doesn’t think the President’s Climate Test should apply to an additional 350,000 barrels per day of dirty tar sands oil. They’re trying to approve almost half the volume of the KXL pipeline, but it won’t work. If this stands, this will be a disaster for the climate and for the President’s credibility,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. “It’s terrible timing, as the President prepares to join other world leaders in New York next month. You can’t approve more tar sands into the U.S. and then turn around and talk about a commitment to combating climate change with a straight face. That’s simply climate denial.”
Secretary Kerry and President Obama have both committed to making meaningful progress on climate, and with the international Climate Summit around the corner, the eyes of the world are watching to see how seriously the United States is taking climate action. Allowing this decision to stand would prioritize Enbridge’s desire to expand development of the dirtiest fuel source on the planet over the interests of the American people, and would undermine any credibility President Obama has to encourage other countries to commit to combat climate change.
In the event that the Obama Administration does not recognize the dire consequences of allowing this decision to go through, groups opposed to tar sands expansion are currently evaluating their legal options to force an injunction on construction.