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Sierra Club's Oil Pipeline Halt Efforts Fail in Sixth Circuit

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Sierra Club has lost its appeal of a September federal district court decision to grant summary judgment to the US Forest Service and Enbridge Limited Partnership. This all but settles the question of whether or not the controversial oil project is compliant with federal law.

It's a major loss for the environmental group, especially amidst claims that more oil is flowing through the subject stretch of aging pipeline now than at any other point in history.

Stricter Environmental Analyses

The Sierra Club originally brought suit to enjoin Enbridge Limited Partnership from using a decades-old stretch of crude oil pipeline running though Michigan's Huron-Manistee National Forest. Before the suit commenced, Enbridge had spent significant capital to increase pipeline flow.

Environmental Impact Statement

But the Sierra Club had complained that the company was given the soft touch by the US Forest Service, which failed to mandate an Environmental Impact Statement before issuing a continuing permit for use of the pipeline on federal land. Instead, a "categorical exclusion" permit was granted

Change in Scope or Use

Rejecting the Sierra Club's claims that the categorical exclusion did not apply, the court found that this was exactly the type of scenario in which a categorical exclusion would apply, this despite the USFS's environmental impact study of the pipe's proposed effects on the region.

The court concluded that the Sierra Club had misconstrued the scope of the permit exclusion and that the true focus of the regulation was on the use of the pipeline -- not the intensity of its use or the volume of oil flowing through it.

"Sierra Club has failed to demonstrate any error on the part of the Forest Service in reaching this conclusion," Enbridge's brief stated. It appears the company's brief fell on sympathetic ears.

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