President Obama arrives to speak at the TransCanada Stillwater pipe yard… (Mandel Ngan/ AFP/Getty…)
As a deadline rapidly approaches that will automatically permit the construction of the southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, an increasingly vocal group of landowners, environmentalists and even tea party members are saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now ramming the project through without any public input or environmental review.
On May 11, the Corps confirmed that pipeline owner TransCanada filed applications to build the project’s southern leg, which will move oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, under a process called Nationwide Permit 12, or NWP 12. The permits have already been granted and are under review – but do not require an environmental impact statement. Under NWP 12 protocol, if the Corps fails to finalize review within 45 days, the permits are automatically granted to TransCanada.
TransCanada submitted applications to Corps district offices in Galveston, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; and Ft. Worth. Corps spokespersons confirmed in an email that the deadline for concluding reviews at its Galveston office is Monday, and Tulsa is Thursday. The Ft. Worth application is held up, pending information still needed from TransCanada, and no timeline on that is available. But the Corps confirms that TransCanada does not not need to have permits in all districts in order to begin construction.
“It’s clear that they’re really facilitating a rubber stamp for TransCanada at this stage,” said Kim Huynh, federal dirty fuels campaigner at environmental organization Friends of the Earth.
“NWP 12 is a process through the Army Corps for projects that cross wetlands and streams. That’s what the Army Corps does. TransCanada is exploiting this permitting process to get a rubber stamp for this project,” she added. “Which is why we think it’s so important for [Environmental Protection Agency] director Lisa Jackson to step in and stop this.”
The EPA has refused to comment on the project, saying it’s not in their jurisdiction.
In February, after the Obama administration denied a permit for the entire Keystone XL pipeline, parent company TransCanada announced it would split the project into two legs, pushing forward with the southern segment from its oil storage facilities in Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico while the company reapplied for permits that blocked the building of the northern segment. Because the southern segment does not cross a border, it did not need the approval of President Obama the EPA, which found plenty of red flags in the original federal proposal. During a March 22 speech in Cushing, Obama announced that his administration would expedite the completion of the southern leg, which is now called the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, saying the country needed the oil and the jobs.
Both pipeline foes and the Republican Party saw this endorsement as the president taking political cover in the ability to claim the jobs and the oil that might move through the southern leg.
“The administration stepped up and sold us out,” said David Daniel, speaking during a press conference in early June. Daniel founded the Texas-based group Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines, or STOP, after he was told by a neighbor four years ago that TransCanada had trespassed on his 20-acre property near Winnsboro in East Texas and surveyed the pipeline route without ever informing him.
This was followed by several threatening letters from TransCanada attorneys who told him they would use eminent domain to seize his property unless he signed an easement agreement, which he eventually did. But he and STOP have continued to fight the pipeline, especially since the Army Corps took over and its NWP 12 process shut every stakeholder out of the dialog.
“The segmentation has locked us out of the public comments and our request for transparency has been denied by the very nature of this process,” he added in the press conference.
The issues, say Daniel and others, are several. One is public access to information and lack of input in the process. When he tried to get basic information about the pipeline route, construction specs, contents and timeline – on a project that would split his property in half – he was denied any information. He then dug in and started finding information by reading the original Keystone XL pipeline environmental impact statement, talking to contractors who would work on the project, visiting those affected by a tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Mich., and making multiple trips to Washington to confront EPA and even White House officials directly.