US seeks return of wetlands permit nixed in pipeline case
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. government attorneys on Monday sought to put on hold a recent court ruling that canceled a permitting program used to approve oil and gas pipelines and other utility work through wetlands and streams across the nation.
The attorneys said letting the April 15 ruling stand would hamper thousands of construction projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls declared the permitting program, known as Nationwide Permit 12, had been reauthorized in 2017 without sufficient consideration of its potential environmental harm.
That prompted Army Corps officials last week to suspend the program.
The case before Morris involved the disputed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada. But pipeline and electric utility industry representatives said it could affect both construction and maintenance on potentially thousands of projects.
That includes major pipelines like the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in Virginia and power lines from wind turbines and generating stations in many parts of the U.S.
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. Environmentalists say that allows projects to skirt water protection laws and ignores the cumulative harm caused by thousands of stream and wetlands crossings.
U.S. Justice Department attorneys argued in a court filing that Morris had overstepped by applying his ruling not just to Keystone but to the entire program.
“The Court has eliminated Nationwide Permit 12 for use by any utility line project anywhere in the country, which has extraordinary and immediate implications for numerous projects,” the attorneys wrote.
Since the blanket permit was renewed three years ago it has been used more than 37,000 times, according to federal officials.