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Northeast Tar Sands Project Should Need U.S. Dept. of State Approval
Some promising news in the fight to keep Vermont tar sands free recently came out of Washington, D.C. Through a FOIA request, National Wildlife Federation obtained a letter that the State Department sent in August to the Portland Pipe Line Corporation. State’s message to the company was clear: If PPLC wants to change the use of its aging pipeline in the Northeast Kingdom – such as reverse its flow so that it could carry tar sands the final leg of the trip across North America to market – it has to inform the State Department, which has permitting and environmental review authority over such changes.
Here’s the relevant portion of the letter:
“The Department instructs the permit holder, before the Portland Pipe Line Corporation executes any plans to change the operation of either pipeline in any manner different than its current use and operation, to provide information to the Department for its review and consideration in advance.
For clarity, such changes in operation could include, but are not limited to, a change in the direction of flow or in the type of crude oil carried by the pipelines.”
This is a solid step in the right direction, especially for a company that has publicly stated it believes it has the latitude to make major changes in the use of the aging Northeast Kingdom pipeline – even for transporting heavy, viscous, incredibly polluting tar sands though some of the state’s most vulnerable communities, sensitive wildlife habitats and sources of drinking water. While the letter stops short of guaranteeing that State would require the comprehensive analysis and public attention of a new Presidential Permit and full Environmental Impact Study for such a project, it makes clear that the company must at least consult with the State Department before moving tar sands through Vermont.
Fighting Against the Flow
Momentum against shipping tar sands through the region has built in recent months thanks to a combination of meetings, correspondence and diligent work by NWF’s allies, and our state leaders’ willingness to stand up for Vermont. Prior to the letter being issued, NWF met with officials at the State Department, requesting that State make sure the company knew a tar sands project would not be covered by its current permit, which was issued in 1999 for the transport of conventional oil. Gov. Peter Shumlin requested the same, as did New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan. Our Congressional delegation also urged the State Department to live up to its oversight role and protect Vermont from tar sands transit through the state.
The letter is heartening for opponents of tar sands, and presents an opportunity to continue the discussion on the risks to our communities and wildlife. Now is the time to spread the word and make sure our state leaders know we’re behind them as they stand up for Vermont on this issue. In the meantime, PPLC has been put on notice that there is no federal green light for them to pipe tar sands through Vermont.
As we move forward, it will be vital to show the State Department that Vermonters want a comprehensive review of any proposed changes to the pipeline.