Oceans & Forests Blog

Lawsuit Expands to Highlight Keystone XL’s Threats to Endangered Species

Posted May. 24, 2017 / Posted by: Audrey Fox

Pipeline Would Place Whooping Cranes, Other Wildlife at Risk

GREAT FALLS, MT Landowner and environmental-protection groups added a new claim today to their ongoing lawsuit challenging the Keystone XL pipeline project. The claim highlights the project’s threats to critically endangered whooping cranes and other threatened species.

The additional claim is against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to thoroughly analyze Keystone XL’s threats to the cranes, and other protected birds, before federal approvals of the project began earlier this year.

These threats include increased risk of oil spills, habitat loss and collisions with hundreds of miles of new power lines that would serve the pipeline’s pump stations. The Fish and Wildlife Service arbitrarily concurred with the U.S. Department of State’s determination that despite these serious threats, Keystone XL was not likely to adversely affect the crane or other listed birds. The State Department relied on that decision to issue a cross-border permit for Keystone XL in March.

“The Keystone XL pipeline was rejected by the Obama administration because it’s an absolute disaster for wildlife, water and our climate,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Approving this massive pipeline without ensuring that iconic endangered species like the whooping crane are adequately protected is simply unacceptable.”

The groups — including the Center, Friends of the Earth, Bold Alliance, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council — also filed a notice of intent to sue the State Department regarding its review of the pipeline’s impacts to whooping cranes, interior least terns and piping plovers.

Construction of the pipeline and the associated power lines would harm these birds by significantly increasing the risk of collisions and providing artificial perches for predators that target these imperiled species. Collisions are a leading source of death for whooping cranes, and the proposed pipeline route follows the main migratory corridor for the largest surviving wild population of whooping cranes, which numbers fewer than 300 birds. Habitat fragmentation from construction activities and inevitable oil spills during operation will also threaten cranes, terns and plovers and the natural areas they depend on for feeding, breeding and nesting.

The groups seek a more comprehensive analysis of Keystone XL’s threats to these protected species and a reconsideration of the conservation measures needed to prevent serious harm.

“Not only will Keystone XL worsen the climate crisis, poison waters and threaten communities along its route, it will drive wildlife closer to the brink of extinction,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “Indigenous peoples and ranchers led the fight against Keystone XL and Trump’s effort to force through this dangerous and destructive project is a slap in the face to them, as well as all who care about our planet.”

“The Trump administration rushed to approve the Keystone XL without properly evaluating the pipeline's impacts,” said Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes. “A comprehensive review would show that Keystone XL poses a grave danger to our climate, waterways and endangered species along the pipeline route.” 

In their amended complaint and a related notice of intent to sue sent to the State Department today, the groups noted that the State Department and Fish and Wildlife Service failed to fully consider the risk of harm, ignored the best available science and relied on inadequate conservation measures. Threats from habitat fragmentation and oil spills along the entire route were downplayed or ignored, and the agencies disregarded harms from the construction and operation of Keystone XL in Canada.

The groups argued that imperiled migratory birds like the whooping crane may be jeopardized in order to allow a Canadian corporation to pump dirty tar sands across the United States. The groups will pursue the species issues raised in today’s filings in their ongoing litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana; they have already challenged the State Department’s review of Keystone XL under the National Environmental Policy Act. That review severely underestimated the project’s dangerous impacts on the environment and communities along the pipeline route.

“These threats to the iconic whooping crane and other wildlife underscore why we can’t allow the Trump Administration to rubber-stamp Keystone XL,” said Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada Project. “The tar sands pipeline would put at grave risk our waters, wildlife and climate.”

“We cannot continue to sacrifice our most precious resources on the altar of tar sands greed,” said Ken Winston, an attorney for the Bold Alliance. “In addition to the well-documented risks to our life-giving water and land, Keystone XL poses significant and unacceptable risks to the rare and beautiful whooping cranes.”

Expert contacts:
Jared Margolis, (802) 310-4054, jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org
Jonathon Berman, (202) 495-3033, Jonathon.berman@sierraclub.org
Jake Thompson, (202) 289-2387, jthompson@nrdc.org

 

 
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