BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. judge on Monday revised a recent court ruling that held up numerous utility projects crossing streams and wetlands, but left in place a requirement for new oil and gas pipelines to undergo further environmental review.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Brian Morris means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can again use a disputed permitting program to approve electrical lines and other utility work through streams and wetlands. Maintenance and repair work on existing pipelines also would be allowed, but not construction of new pipelines.
The Army Corps program, known as Nationwide Permit 12, was blocked by Morris last month. In a lawsuit over the Keystone XL pipeline, the judge sided with environmentalists who argued companies were using the program to skirt water protection laws and ignore the cumulative harm from thousands of stream and wetlands crossings.
But attorneys for utility industries and the government said Morris' original ruling hampered thousands of construction projects across the U.S. They urged him to reconsider.
In response, Morris agreed to limit the scope of his ruling but stopped short of a full reversal. He said the Army Corps “committed serious error" in failing to adequately consult with wildlife agencies before reauthorizing the permitting program in 2017.
“To allow the Corps to continue to authorize new oil and gas pipeline construction could seriously injure protected species and critical habitat," Morris wrote.
The Army Corps has broad jurisdiction over U.S. waterways. It uses the blanket permit to approve qualifying pipelines and other utility projects after only minimal environmental review.
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