Published:  12:18 AM, 10 October 2019

Trump's fast-tracking of oil pipelines hits legal roadblocks

Trump's fast-tracking of oil pipelines hits legal roadblocks An unburied section of the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston, Virginia, US September 30, this year. -Reuters

The Trump administration's effort to cut red tape and speed up major energy projects has backfired in the case of the three biggest US pipelines now planned or under construction. All three have been stalled by successful legal challenges by environmental groups alleging the administration failed to apply the regulatory scrutiny required under the law.

The Republican administration tried to accelerate permits for two multi-billion-dollar natural gas lines and jumpstart the long-stalled Keystone XL crude oil pipeline that would start in Canada.

Judges halted construction on all three over the past two years, ruling that the administration granted permits without conducting adequate studies or providing enough alternatives to protect endangered species or national forests.

The delays have caused the two giant gas pipelines - Dominion Energy Inc's Atlantic Coast and EQM Midstream Partners LP's Mountain Valley - to increase their cost estimates by hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the companies. The Atlantic Coast pipeline may never be completed unless the US Supreme Court overturns a lower-court decision blocking its planned route, analysts said.

Lawsuits alleging regulatory lapses are not new, but they were unsuccessful during the administration of Trump's predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama. Plaintiffs lost five separate lawsuits alleging regulatory failures during Obama's administration, according to a Reuters review of court filings for major interstate gas pipes built since 2010.

"Environmental groups definitely have been going after these pipelines more aggressively," said Amy Vazquez, Houston-based partner at the law firm of Jones Walker, who specializes in energy litigation. "It's probably because they're having a fair bit of success." The White House declined to comment. An Energy Department spokeswoman did not comment on the litigation but said the administration remains committed to streamlining energy infrastructure development.

DJ Gerken, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville, North Carolina, represented the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in cases challenging the Atlantic Coast pipeline. He said the administration's rush to help industry move faster invited the legal challenges. "Pressure from the utilities that stand to benefit from this project and the Trump administration produced flawed permits," he said.

--Reuters, New York

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