US delays approving oil pipelines after environmental ruling

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a nationwide program used to
approve oil and gas pipelines, power lines and other utility work, spurred by a court ruling that
industry representatives warn could slow or halt numerous infrastructure projects over environmental
The directive from Army Corps headquarters, detailed in emails obtained by The Associated Press, comes
after a federal court last week threw out a blanket permit that companies and public utilities have used
for decades to build projects across streams and wetlands.
The Trump administration is expected to challenge the ruling in coming days. For now, officials have put
on hold approvals for 360 pending requests from companies for verification they can use the permit, Army
Corps spokesman Doug Garman said Thursday.
The agency did not provide further details on types of projects or their locations. Industry
representatives said the effects could be widespread if the suspension lasts, affecting both
construction and maintenance on potentially thousands of projects, including major pipelines like TC
Energy’s Keystone XL crude oil line from Canada to the U.S. Midwest and the Mountain Valley natural gas
pipeline in Virginia.
"The economic consequences to individual projects are hard to overstate," said Ben Cowan, a
Houston-based attorney representing pipeline and wind energy companies. "It could be fatal to a
number of projects under construction if they are forced to stop work for an extended period in order to
obtain individual permits."
The Army Corps has broad jurisdiction over U.S. waterways. It uses the blanket permit to approve
qualifying pipelines and other utility projects after only minimal environmental review. That’s a
longstanding sore point for environmentalists who say it amounts to a loophole in water protection laws.

Industry supporters describe the program as crucial for timely decisions on projects that can stretch
across multiple states and cross hundreds of water bodies. Analyzing each of those crossings would be
costly and is unnecessary because most involve little disturbance of land or water, they said.
Since the blanket permit in question, known as Nationwide Permit 12, was last renewed in March 2017, it
has been used more than 37,000 times, Army Corps spokesman Garman said. To qualify, projects must not
cause the loss of more than a half-acre of water or wetlands.
Lat week’s court ruling in Montana was in a lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris involving the
disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Work began earlier this month on the 1,200-mile
(1,930-kilometer) line stretching from Alberta to Nebraska that has been championed by President Donald
Morris said using the blanket permit for water crossings was illegal because the Army Corps did not
adequately consider potential harm to endangered wildlife species when it re-authorized the permit in
The judge did not limit his findings to Keystone, so the ruling is being interpreted for now to apply to
any project using Nationwide Permit 12. The Montana case was cited last week in a lawsuit over a
430-mile (692-kilometer) natural gas pipeline in central Texas. Plaintiffs including the city of Austin
said last week’s ruling invalidated the Army Corps’ work on the Permian Highway Pipeline.
Because there are no streams or other water bodies near the northern Montana border crossing where
Keystone XL is currently under construction, that work was not immediately halted. Yet it’s an obstacle
to future work given the many water crossings along the line’s path.
Army Corps regulatory program Chief Jennifer Moyer said in an April 17 email obtained by AP that
"out of an abundance of caution" she was ordering agency personnel across the nation to stop
verifying companies as compliant with the blanket permit.
Questions about the directive were referred to U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle, who
declined comment because the case is still in litigation.
An attorney for one of the environmental groups that brought the Keystone lawsuit said critics of the
permit program pushed for changes when it was last renewed but were rebuffed. To prevent the problem it
now faces, the Army Corps should have consulted more closely with wildlife agencies to craft a program
that would better avoid impacts, said Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity.
"They knew what they had to do and they were avoiding it and they got caught," Margolis said.

Labor and industry groups led by the American Petroleum Institute and Interstate Natural Gas Association
of America said in a statement that the nationwide permit was "critical to the responsible and
efficient development and maintenance of energy and other vital infrastructure." The groups said
the permit had been successfully applied to pipelines, broadband cable, water mains and other utilities.

Cowan, the industry attorney, said he anticipates government attorneys will move quickly to file an
appeal or a request with Morris to clarify his ruling.
"The fact that this case involves the Keystone pipeline will almost certainly elevate its profile
within the administration," he said.