The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when they approved the 700-mile Ruby Pipeline, an appeals court has ruled. The agencies must now develop additional mitigation measures.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision requires requires FWS to outline additional measures to protect nine endangered fish species; BLM must prepare a new analysis of the pipeline's cumulative effects on sensitive sagebrush.
Ruby was developed and constructed by El Paso Corp., which earlier this year was acquired by Kinder Morgan Inc. (see NGI, May 28). The pipeline carries gas from fields in Wyoming to southern Oregon; it entered service in July 2011 (see NGI, Aug 1, 2011).
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) was among a coalition of environmental groups that appealed the pipeline approvals.
"We wish the Ruby pipeline had never been built, but since it was, it's crucial that everything possible is done to minimize harm to the endangered fish that live along its route," said Amy Atwood, CBD senior attorney. "With this victory, these rare fish will be better protected, and the public won't have to bear the whole cost of the pipeline's destructive impacts."
Ruby crosses streams in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon. According to CBD, it affects five endangered fish: the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Warner sucker, Lost River sucker, shortnose sucker and Modoc sucker. By pumping more than 300 million gallons of water for use in dust abatement and hydrostatic testing, the pipeline also affected four endangered Colorado River fish, the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail chub, CBD said.
"The Ruby gas pipeline scarred hundreds of miles of sagebrush habitats, unnecessarily degrading and fragmenting wildlife habitats and streams," said Rose Strickland, a Nevada conservationist. "Weak and ineffective federal restoration and mitigation requirements must be strengthened and enforced until successfully met."
Although the pipeline builder promised voluntary mitigations to address impacts to fish, the mitigations were not required by the current biological opinion and were not fully funded, CBD said. The court concluded that relying on voluntary measures that may or may not occur is a violation of the law. It also concluded that Ruby and FWS had failed to consider or mitigate the impacts of withdrawing millions of gallons of groundwater for dust abatement and hydrostatic testing.
Interior spokesman Blake Androff said the department was reviewing the ruling. Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said the company also was reviewing the decision.
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