Less than two weeks after the State Department gave the go-ahead for
a major new 36-inch diameter pipeline to carry Alberta oil sands crude
into the United States, a network of environmental and Native American
groups filed a lawsuit
in a San Francisco court on Thursday, accusing President Barack Obama's
administration of significantly accelerating the importation of "dirty
oil" from Alberta.
"This seems to be a step backwards," said Sarah Burt, an attorney
for Oakland-based Earthjustice, one of the groups named in the suit.
Citing the administration's push to promote clean energy and reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, Ms. Burt said the new pipeline infrastructure
will "lock in" American consumption of bitumen for another fifty years.
In 2006, the United States imported 1.6 billion barrels of Canadian
crude, not all of which is bitumen from Alberta. The supply of bitumen
has been limited by a shortage of specialized refining and pipeline
capacity on either side of the border.
The Alberta Clipper
project, from the pipeline giant Enbridge, Ms. Burt said, will stoke
demand and thus push up the heavy emission levels associated with oil
sands mining and processing.
The coalition's lawyers argue that by granting the permit, the American government breached the National Environmental Policy Act
by failing to "take a hard look" at the Alberta Clipper's purpose or to
comprehensively assess a related project's environmental impact,
especially in terms of air and water pollution in the Midwest.
The Enbridge pipeline will be twinned with a north-bound line known
as Southern Lights, carrying diluents up to Alberta refineries to help
refine the bitumen.
The groups also state that the $8 billion project will inflict short
and long-term damage on forests, wetlands and water bodies in the path
of the pipeline.
With a daily capacity of 450,000 barrels of bitumen, the Alberta
Clipper will extend over 990 miles between Hardisty, Alberta, to a
terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, where it joins a pipeline to Chicago.
The Southern Lights pipeline will travel about 700 miles north from
Illinois, where it will join with another line heading to Alberta.
News of the suit comes on the same day as construction crews broke
ground on the first leg of the Clipper project, near Duluth, Minnesota.
"More than 3,000 construction workers, many of them skilled union
tradesmen, will be on the job over the next year, including welders
making more than 40,000 pipe connections," reported the Duluth News Tribune notes on Thursday.
"The new Minnesota Twins stadium, by comparison," the article added,
"had about the same number of workers but is about one-third the cost
of the pipeline."