Several Groups file lawsuit against the Keystone XL Pipeline decision

Trump’s administration recently reversed the Obama administration’s decision to deny a permit to TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Both the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity announced today that several organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for this decision. Among the plaintiffs are:

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Digging for coal on public land? Not on our watch

This week, Trump signed executive orders that, among other things, rescinded a moratorium on new coal permits on public land. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quickly followed with an order rolling back the moratorium.

The Obama administrations had placed the moratorium on permits because the fees collected hadn’t been adjusted in decades, and the American taxpayers were not getting good value for their money. Zinke ostensibly gives a nod to this concern by chartering a committee to look into the fees but sees no reason not to give out permits in the meantime.

A lawsuit was immediately filed by a coalition of environmental and citizen groups and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The groups are Earth Justice, Sierra Club, Citizens for Clean Energy, Montana Environmental Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Wildlife Guardians.

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Groups Challenge Trump’s Terminator two-fer order

Donald Trump at rally

NRDC, The Communication Workers of America, and Public Citizen just filed a lawsuit against Trump’s infamous “two-fer” rule. This is the rule I’ve designated the Terminator Rule.

From the lawsuit:

To repeal two regulations for the purpose of adopting one new one, based solely on a directive to impose zero net costs and without any consideration of benefits, is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law, for at least three reasons.

First, no governing statute authorizes any agency to withhold a regulation intended to address identified harms to public safety, health, or other statutory objectives on the basis of an arbitrary upper limit on total costs (for fiscal year 2017, a limit of $0) that regulations may impose on regulated entities or the economy. Second, the Executive Order forces agencies to repeal regulations that they have already determined, through notice-and-comment rulemaking, advance the purposes of the underlying statutes, and forces the agencies to do so for the sole purpose of eliminating costs that the underlying statutes do not direct be eliminated. Third, no governing statute authorizes an agency to base its actions on a decisionmaking criterion of zero net cost across multiple regulations.

The Terminator rule is nonsensical in the extreme and violates all administrative procedure and law when it comes to forming regulations and rules. To instruct agencies to only include costs, not benefits, virtually cripples the federal government.

I have to wonder at this time if Trump even has access to lawyers. If so, where did they get their law degrees? Trump University?

I’ll be following this case on PACER.

Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

The Army Corps Decision on Dakota has serious ramifications

Dakota pipeline protest

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday it would approve development of the last section of the Dakota pipeline. In a cryptic letter, the Corps announced it was terminating the Environmental Impact Statement process in the Federal Register. The reason? Trump told them to do so.

As former State Department lawyer Keith Benes said to the Washington Post, the Corps can’t just drop the EIS process for arbitrary reasons. And Trump demanding they do is an arbitrary reason.

Keith Benes, a former State Department lawyer who helped oversee pipeline permitting decisions under the Obama administration and now works as an environmental consultant, said in an interview that opponents could mount a strong legal challenge because the only justification the Army gave for terminating its environmental review was the president’s Jan. 24 directive. The agency had been seeking public input on whether to consider an alternate pipeline route, and the comment period was due to close Feb. 20.

“Supreme Court precedent is really clear that agencies can change their minds about policies, but they need to provide a reason,” Benes said, noting that the justices most recently upheld this position in the 2009 case FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. “The president telling you to change your mind is not enough of a justification for changing your factual finding.”

The Corps decision was sudden and unexpected. The Corps had already filed a notice to the Federal Register asking for comments about the EIS scope, the first step in the process. Until this week, there was absolutely no indication that the Corps was planning on terminating the EIS.

Trump’s administration has completely disregarded environmental law, not to mention tribal rights and treaty in this decision. Yes, the decision can and will be successfully challenged in court. But there’s more at risk than our water with this decision.

All Federal Agencies are bound to follow laws in their actions. One of the laws is the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. Though agencies can follow different routes within the NEPA framework, they can’t work outside of it. Not unless expressly given permission to with other laws. There is no other law at play with the Corps Dakota Pipeline decision.

The Army Corps not only dropkicked NEPA to the curb, they pissed on it in passing. And they did so specifically because of a demand from the Trump administration. The Trump administration action demonstrates either a profound ignorance of a law that has been in existence for decades, or that the administration considers itself not bound by the law. I suspect the latter.

The Executive Branch of the government’s primary duty is to uphold the laws of the United States. Trump cannot just ignore the laws because they don’t suit him. To do so is to introduce a level of chaos we have never seen before in our history.

Photo courtesy Fibonacci Blue CC BY 2.0

Trump Signs Executive Orders Reversing Dakota and Keystone Pipeline Decisions

Dakota pipeline protest

Trump has signed executive orders reversing President Obama’s administration’s decisions on both the Keystone and the Dakota pipelines.

The Dakota pipeline is currently under review by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on the route and alternatives. Trump can’t just upend this effort with an executive order—not without Earth Justice or other environmental organization easily being able to get an injunction against the order in court. I expect a court challenge against this exeutive order within a day

Unfortunately, Obama’s Keystone Pipeline decision could be more easily undone. The original State Department review of the Pipeline didn’t find it to be an environmental risk. Later, State found that the Pipeline would run counter to the US efforts to combat climate challenge, but this finding was based on cheap oil. Once the price of oil rises, to $65.00 a barrel or more, than this decision would no longer be considered viable. We could challenge a Keystone decision in court, but have less chance of success.

The claims about jobs associated with the pipeline are exaggerated. Yes, there will be construction jobs to build the pipelines, but, ironically enough, many of those jobs will most likely be filled by undocumented workers from Mexico. Construction is the second largest employer of undocumented workers in the US.

Once the pipelines are built, though, the number of jobs provided is tiny, measuring in the 100s, if that.

US energy costs won’t decrease, either, especially with the Keystone pipeline. Much of the refined gas, diesel, and jet fuel is likely to be exported out of the country.

What we will see are increased environmental costs. Companies are responsible for oil spills, but it’s uncanny how all too often, we taxpayers end up footing the bill for oil clean up. In addition, both pipelines are a major risk to drinking water, as well as vital aquifers for agricultural irrigation. Today, the Canadian government noted that one pipeline spilled 200,000 liters of oil in aboriginal land, following another major spill that shut off the supply of water to two major cities.

We’ll absorb the environmental damage, including the impact of the refining, yet only the oil companies will truly benefit.

Photo courtesy Fibonacci Blue CC BY 2.0