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Labor Day News Dump: FERC Hands Enbridge Permit for Tar Sands by Rail Facility

4:07 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Syncrude’s base mine

On the Friday before Labor Day — in the form of an age-old “Friday News Dump“ — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed a permit to Enbridge, the tar sands-carrying corporate pipeline giant, to open a tar sands-by-rail facility in Flanagan, Ill. by early-2016.

With the capacity to accept 140,000 barrels of tar sands product per day, the company’s rail facility serves as another step in the direction towards Enbridge’s quiet creation of a “Keystone XL Clone.” That is, like TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline System sets out to do, sending Alberta’s tar sands all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico’s refinery row — and perhaps to the global export market.

Flanagan sits as the starting point of Enbridge’s Flanagan South pipeline, which will take tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Flanagan to Cushing, Okla. beginning in October, according to a recent company earnings call. From there, Enbridge’s Seaway Twin pipeline will bring dilbit to Port Arthur, Texas near the Gulf.

Enbridge made the prospect of a tar sands-by-rail terminal public for the first time during its quarter two investor call.

“In terms of the rail facility, one of the things we’re looking at is – and the rail facility is really in relation to the situation in western Canada where there is growing crude oil volumes and not enough pipeline capacity to get it out of Alberta for a two or three year period,” Guy Jarvis, president of liquids pipelines for Enbridge, said on the call.

“So, one of the things we’re looking at doing is constructing a rail unloading facility that would allow western Canadian crudes to go by rail to Flanagan, be offloaded, and then flow down the Flanagan South pipeline further into Seaway and to the Gulf.”

FERC has given Enbridge the permit it needs to make that happen.

Enbridge “Scheme” Receives MN Permit

The announcement comes just days after the U.S. Department of State handed Enbridge a controversial permit to move an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the U.S.-Canada border without the legally conventional Presidential Permit, public hearings or an environmental review conducted by the State Department.

Enbridge also received a permit from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) the day before FERC’s “Friday News Dump,” locking in the State Department’s legal ruling at the state-level. MPUC voted 4-1 to permit the pipeline after a meeting lasting nearly eight hours.

The Commission did so even though the staffer analyzing comments and legal submissions acknowledged he reviewed far more climate and environmental concerns than vice versa, according to MPUC staff briefing papers reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

“Clearly there exists much public opposition to the increased consumption of fossil fuels and diluted bitumen sources in particular,” wrote Michael Kaluzniak, planning director for energy facilities permitting for MPUC.

“Additionally, the Commission received numerous comments expressing genuine concern regarding the potential impact of the project on water quality and overall dissatisfaction with Enbridge’s public safety and spill response actions.”

TransCanada and Tar Sands by Rail

With the combination of its Alberta Clipper expansion “illegal scheme” (referred to as such by the National Wildlife Federation), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines, as well as the FERC-approved rail facility, Enbridge now has the capacity to bring roughly 960,000 barrels per day of tar sands product to the Gulf.

For sake of comparison, Keystone XL has the capacity to bring 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands to the Gulf. But TransCanada has also brokered its own deals and made its own chess moves.

As reported on DeSmogBlog, TransCanada may build its own tar sands-by-rail facility while it waits for Keystone XL’s northern leg to receive — or not receive — a State Department permit and accompanying Presidential Permit.

“It is something…that we can move on relatively quickly,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling stated on his company’s quarter one earnings call. “We’ve done a pretty substantial amount of work at the terminal end and mostly at the receipt and delivery points and that’s really what our key role in here would be.”

Since that call, TransCanada has not discussed its tar sands by rail business plans.

“Keystone? Who needs it?”

In July, Global Partners and Kansas City Southern announced plans to develop a tar sands by rail facility in Port Arthur, Texas with 340,000 barrels of storage capacity.

If TransCanada opens up its own tar sands by rail facility, the combination of that and Enbridge’s latest tar sands by rail move could feed the Global Partners-Kansas City Southern beast.

With tar sands now “Texas Bound and Flyin” in a major way, and both Enbridge and TransCanada finding a way to get tar sands to the Gulf, the seemingly hyperbolic headline published on July 10 by the Houston Business Journal seems to ring true more now than ever: “Keystone? Who needs it?Read the rest of this entry →

State Dept. Overseers of Contentious Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Workaround Have Industry, Torture Ties

1:51 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other green groups recently revealed that pipeline giant Enbridge got U.S. State Department permission in response to its request to construct a U.S.-Canada border-crossing tar sands pipeline without earning an obligatory Presidential Permit.

Enbridge originally applied to the Obama State Department to expand capacity of its Alberta Clipper (now Line 67) pipeline in November 2012, but decided to avoid a “Keystone XL, take two” — or a years-long permitting battle — by creating a complex alternative to move nearly the same amount of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) across the border.

The move coincides with the upcoming opening for business of Enbridge’s “Keystone XL” clone: the combination of the Alberta Clipper expansion (and now its alternative) on-ramp originating in Alberta and heading eventually to Flanagan, Ill., the Flanagan South pipeline running from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, Okla. and the Cushing, Okla. to Port Arthur, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Together, the three pieces will do what TransCanada‘s Keystone XL hopes to do: move dilbit from Alberta’s tar sands to Port Arthur’s refinery row and, in part, the global export market.

Environmental groups have reacted with indignation to the State Department announcement published in the Federal Register on August 18. The public commenting period remains open until September 17.

Jim Murphy, senior counsel for NWF, referred to it as an “illegal scheme,” while a representative from 350.org says Enbridge has learned from the lessons of its corporate compatriot, TransCanada.

“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,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org. “They will break the law and wreck our climate if that’s what it takes for them to make a buck.”

But as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango.

That is, influential State Department employees helped Enbridge find a way to smuggle an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the border without public hearings or an environmental review.

Thus far, those following the issue have described the Enbridge maneuver as some sort of bureaucratic snafu.

“If anyone who’s high up in the State Department actually knew about this, they’d be up in arms,” 350.org’s Kowalski said in a recent interview with EnergyWire in reaction to State’s decision.

The reality, though, is more sordid. That is, higher-ups made this call, not just “bad apples.”

One of them has a key tie to the oil and gas industry, while the other helped lay the groundwork for the controversial “extraordinary rendition” torture program as a Bush Administration State Department attaché.

Patrick Dunn’s Industry Ties

On July 24, State Department staffer Patrick Dunn signed off on a letter rubber-stamping Enbridge’s pipeline chess move. In giving Enbridge authorization on official State Department letterhead, Dunn claimed it was not a form of authorization.

“Enbridge’s intended changes…do not require authorization from the U.S.Department of State,” Dunn wrote in the letter. “[W]e will consider [your] letter and its attachments to amend and to be part of your Presidential Permit for the capcity (sic) expansion in Line 67.”

Dunn’s letter does not give his job title, perhaps leading NWF to write him off as simply a “mid-level State Department official” in an August 25 blog post. His current position and State Department background, however, tells a different story.

February 2014 letter obtained by DeSmogBlog lists Dunn’s role as deputy office director for the Bureaus of European Affairs, the Western Hemisphere and African Affairs.

More specifically, Dunn heads up the three regions’ bureaus of energy resources, described as a “chief of staff” in an August 11 article published on Dominican Today. That article highlighted Dunn’s efforts — alongside Vice President Joe Biden — to cut deals with the Dominican Republic’s government, turning the country into an importer of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the U.S.

Before working his way up to the powerful Bureau of Energy Resources, Dunn helped lead numerous U.S. Embassies abroad, including in Honduras and Angola as top economic adviser, and Cape Verde as deputy embassy director.

What came before any of that, though, may go a long way in explaining how he came to oversee such an important cross-border pipeline project in the first place.

According to the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association (PESA), Dunn graduated in 1997 from the Association’s Foreign Service Officer Energy Industry Training Program, which is funded in part by the State Department and has a Board of Directors stuffed with oil and gas industry executives.

“PESA’s Foreign Service Officer Energy Industry Training Program was created in 1993 to increase the practical knowledge of energy attaches and economic officers with responsibility for oil and gas issues stationed in American embassies in countries where energy is a major issue,” reads a Program description.

A glance at PESA’s website demonstrates that industry executives regularly serve as presenters at the Foreign Service Officer Energy Industry Training Program.

Deborah Klepp’s Ties to Rendition, Corrupt Contracting

Though Dunn wrote the July 24 letter to Enbridge, he is not the only senior level State Department staffer overseeing the Enbridge Alberta Clipper file.

Read the rest of this entry →

Court: Key Environmental Law Doesn’t Apply to Part of Enbridge Keystone XL “Clone”

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

A judge's gavel

A judge just ruled federal law doesn’t apply to this pipeline firm.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that Enbridge’s 600-mile-long Flanagan South Pipeline, a Keystone XL “clone,” is legally cleared to proceed opening for business in October.

Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via a controversial regulatory mechanism called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12), Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, an Obama-appointed judge, ruled NWP 12 was not a federal government “action.” Thus, Brown posited that Enbridge did not need to use the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulatory process and NWP12 was up to snuff.

The case pitted the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) against the Army Corps of Engineers and Enbridge and has lasted for just over a year, with the initial complaint filed on August 13, 2013 (Case #: 1:13-cv-01239-KBJ).

Sierra Club and NWF submitted the recent precedent-setting Delaware Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) case as supplemental authority for Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the day that decision was handed down.

But Jackson brushed it aside, saying it doesn’t apply to Flanagan South, despite the fact that the Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC decision said that a continuous pipeline project cannot be segmented into multiple parts to avoid a comprehensive NEPA review.

Although Enbridge will operate this project as a single pipeline, Flanagan South was broken up into thousands of “single and complete” projects by the Army Corps of Engineers. This helped Enbridge skirt the requirement of a more comprehensive and public-facing NEPA review, which involves public hearings and a public comment period.

“Here, not only was there no NEPA analysis of this massive project, there was never any public notice or opportunity for involvement before it was constructed across four states,” Sierra Club attorney for the case, Doug Hayes, told DeSmogBlog. “The entire thing was permitted behind closed doors.”

For all intents and purposes, then, Flanagan South is a fait accompli and tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) will begin pumping through it as summer turns to fall.

Private Company, Hands-Off Approach

At 48-pages, Jackson’s ruling centers around a key central argument: Enbridge is a private company and Congress has never given executive agencies the green light to regulate domestic oil pipelines.

“Congress has not authorized the federal government to oversee the construction of private domestic oil pipelines; consequently, Enbridge has undertaken to build the planned [Flanagan South] Pipeline largely on its own, primarily by securing easements from the landowners who own the property over which the pipeline will operate,” wrote Jackson.

Judge Jackson said that a laissez-faire governmental approach to authorizing pipelines is appropriate, according to her reading of the law on the books.

“[T]he gist of the Court’s conclusion is that Plaintiffs are wrong to insist that any federal agency had an obligation under NEPA or any other statute to conduct an environmental review of the impact of the entire [Flanagan South] Pipeline before Enbridge broke ground on the project,” she opined.

“Connected Action” Doctrine

Another key legal precedent discussed in Jackson’s ruling was Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC, covered by DeSmogBlog in June.

She weighed the merits of the “connected action” doctrine as applied to a lack ofNEPA review for Flanagan South, writing it does not apply to the pipeline because the Army Corps of Engineers has no obligation to do a NEPA review in this case.

“In [Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC] the connected actions rule applied because the courts were required to assess whether the agencies had improperly limited the scope of the review of actions within their own jurisdiction—a determination that is fundamentally different from the question Plaintiffs present here, i.e., whether [NEPA] must be expanded to include an environmental review of actions completely outside the agencies’ purview,” Jackson wrote.

Army Corps Abusing NWP 12?

Hayes told DeSmogBlog back in November that the Army Corps of Engineers’ intricate involvement in permitting massive tar sands pipeline projects is at the root of the problem.

“The Corps is abusing the nationwide permit program. Nationwide permits were intended to permit categories of projects with truly minimal impacts, not tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states,” said Hayes. “What the Corps is doing is artificially dividing up these massive pipelines, treating them as thousands of individual projects to avoid NEPA compliance.”

Congress Passed NEPA in 1969

The greatest irony of Jackson’s decision is that Congress passed NEPA — known by legal scholars as the “environmental Magna Carta“ — in 1969, and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.

Read the rest of this entry →

US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

It’s like deja-vu, all over again.

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

A story covered only by McClatchy News‘ Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge’s Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.

That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois – located in the north central part of the state – down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama’s approval.

Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn’t require the State Department or Obama’s approval. If Keystone XL’s northern half’s permit is denied, Flanagan South – along with Enbridge’s proposal to expand itsAlberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama’s State Department during Congress’ recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline’s capacity and then some.

At issue in the District Court was the legality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issuing a Nationwide Permit 12 to shove through the Flanagan South (much like the Appeals Court case covered here on DeSmogBlog just weeks ago with Transcanada’s Keystone XL’s southern half, rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by Transcanada).

Sierra Club and NWF argued for an injunction – or halt – in constructing and pumping tar sands through Flanagan South until the legality of issuing a Nationwide Permit 12 is decided, an issue still awaiting the decision of Judge Jackson. Like the Keystone XL southern half case, Nationwide Permit 12 was used instead of going through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA – unlike the fast-track Nationwide Permit 12 - requires the EPA to issue a full draft Environmental Impact Statement and final Environmental Impact Statement, with 1-2 month public commenting periods following each Statement. EPA must take public comments into account when making its final judgments on pipeline projects.

Use of Nationwide Permit 12 has quickly become a “new normal” for fast-track approval of tar sands pipelines and other controversial domestic energy infrastructure projects.

Corporate Profits vs. Environmental Harms

Judge Jackson - an Obama appointee with a legal background predominantly in corporate law - boiled down the competing parties’ arguments into a “harms” balancing test: Enbridge’s corporate profits vs. irreparable environmental and ecological harms Enbridge’s Flanagan South may cause.

She wasted little time getting to the point, issuing her judgment denying Sierra Club’s and NWF’s injunction request by the second paragraph on the second page of the ruling. She then spent the next 58 pages giving in-depth legal justifications as to why.

“Plaintiffs have significantly overstated the breadth of federal involvement in the pipeline project and have failed to establish sufficiently that applicable federal statutes and regulations would require the extensive environmental review process that Plaintiffs seek,” Jackson wrote. “Moreover, Plaintiffs have fallen short of demonstrating that irreparable harm will result if the current construction proceeds during the pendency of this litigation, and the Court is not convinced that the balance of harms and public interest factors weigh in Plaintiffs’ favor.”

Flanagan Shrouded in Secrecy

One of the major grievances of Sierra Club and NWF had – like Sierra Club had with the Army Corps of Engineers permitting for Keystone XL’s southern half – is that Nationwide Permit 12 generally deals with small projects deemed “single and complete,” usually half an acre in size or less. Read the rest of this entry →