The U.S. State Department on Thursday issued a permit for a massive pipline project to carry oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in the U.S.
Environmental and Native American groups have said they will challenge the project in court.
"The State Department has rubber-stamped a project that will mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in the communities near refineries that will process this dirty oil," said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. "The project's environmental review fails to show how construction of the Alberta Clipper is in the national interest. We will go to court to make sure that all the impacts of this pipeline are considered."
The groups--Earthjustice, Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Sierra Club--pointed out that this decision contradicts President Obama's promise to cut global warming pollution and America's addiction to oil while investing in a clean energy future.
The State Department's decision would allow construction of Enbridge Energy's Alberta Clipper pipeline across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. and the Southern Lights pipeline to carry hazardous liquids back to Canada.
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 the forests and peat lands in an area the size of Florida. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are 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. These toxins are released into the U.S. air and water when the crude oil is processed into fuels by refineries.
In issuing the permit, the State Department said in a release: "Approval of the permit sends a positive economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will provide construction jobs for workers in the United States."
"The tar sands pipeline connects U.S. refiners and consumers with the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive crude oil on earth," said Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy's legal director. "Tar sands crude is causing massive environmental degradation in Canada and results in significantly more greenhouse gas emissions. This is the absolute wrong step to take if we want to create a greener energy future."
"Importing dirty tar sands oil is not in our national interest," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "At a time when concern is growing about the national security threat posed by global warming, it doesn't make sense to open our gates to one of the dirtiest fuels on earth. This pipeline will lock America into a dirty energy infrastructure for years to come. This is exactly the kind of project the State Department should be protecting us from."
Many of the groups involved also have appealed to the U.S. Forest Service over its willingness to allow the pipeline to traverse parts of the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota. In addition, a group of tribal members have apparently gathered enough signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on the Leech Lake tribal council's agreement to allow the line through tribal land.
"We are saddened by the news that the Presidential Permit was signed today," said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a Bemidji, Minn.-based non-profit. "The voices and rights of the Leech Lake Band members are not being listened to by the Obama Administration. According to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution they are allowed to hold a referendum vote and allow the members to decide to accept the agreement with Enbridge or not. Nearly 700 signatures were obtained. If they vote against the agreement, the pipeline route would have to go around the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation, which would require a new Environmental Impact Study, plus other permits including a new Presidential Permit.
"This project is being approved without all the federal regulations completed. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is still waiting to receive a completed application from Enbridge Energy and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to begin their approval process for allotment lands affected by these pipelines."