Last Friday environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking a rerouting of the proposed Ruby Pipeline, a project of El Paso Corp., in order to "avoid major damage to wildlife habitat, open space and cultural sites."

Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter and Great Basin Resource Watch in a legal challenge filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), challenging the approval of the four-state-long pipeline. The groups claim the pipeline was approved without a thorough environmental review of its potential harm to water, public and tribal lands and wildlife.

"We are not opposed to a gas pipeline, but the route that Ruby Pipeline has chosen is wrong for Nevada," said David von Seggern of the Sierra Club. "Damage could be greatly reduced and more jobs created closer to where they're needed if they'd only move the pipeline to existing roads and developed corridors, maybe only 65 miles longer."

Recently the same court denied the Center for Biological Diversity's emergency motion to prevent construction of the Ruby Pipeline (see Daily GPI, Sept. 2; Aug. 23). El Paso spokesmen were not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

For more than a year, tribes and conservation groups have opposed the proposed pipeline's route, which spans from Wyoming to Oregon. If constructed, the pipeline would threaten some 800 cultural sites and numerous breeding areas for the imperiled sage grouse, cross nearly 1,100 water bodies, and clear a 115-foot-wide path with access roads through mostly undisturbed sagebrush steppe habitat in Nevada, pipeline route opponents claim.

They charge that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, BLM and FWS all relied on incomplete information in their reviews of the pipeline. "Long after FERC released the pipeline's final EIS [environmental impact statement], project developer Ruby Pipeline was still submitting important environmental and cultural documents to FERC that should have been included before even a draft study was issued," the environmental groups said.

The EIS was officially labeled "complete" in January 2010 before FERC had finished its required consultation with tribes regarding potential damage to cultural sites or had conducted significant environmental analysis of the project, the groups said. At that time the EIS was also missing the expert biological opinion on threats to wildlife from the FWS as well as a compatibility determination for the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the pipeline's water crossings, they said.

Separately, the Fort Bidwell Indian Community in California recently filed a legal challenge to the pipeline project claiming inadequate protections of cultural resources.

"We've got no problem with getting natural gas to the West Coast market," said Adam Kron, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "But we do have a problem with the proposed route's impacts to water, wildlife and important lands. While it's disappointing that the responsible federal agencies failed to protect these resources, they could make it right by fully considering alternative routes under required environmental laws and choosing the one that causes the least harm."

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