BILLINGS, Mont. — A U.S. judge on Monday revised a recent court ruling that threatened to hold up thousands of 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.
“We got what we asked for, so from our position this is great,” said attorney Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Constructing pipelines through rivers, streams and wetlands without analyzing the impacts on imperiled species is unconscionable.”
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.
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.