NWF, Groups File Suit to Stop Massive Tar Sands Equipment Haul Through Montana

NWF and Montana conservation groups file lawsuit to examine environmental impacts of mega-load trucks carrying tar sands

04-06-2011 // Tony Iallonardo

The National Wildlife Federation and Missoula County, along with other Montana-based conservation groups, have filed a lawsuit against Montana’s Department of Transportation (MDT) and ExxonMobil for a full environmental review of the impacts transporting mega-load trucks through Montana could have on the region. In addition to the impacts from the mega-load haul, conservation groups say that once the equipment is deployed, it will deepen the U.S. and Canada’s dependence on high carbon tar sands fuel mined in Alberta, Canada.

Tar Sands development in Alberta, Canada
The lawsuit, filed on April 1 in Montana’s District Court, would require MDT and ExxonMobil to properly review the potentially harmful impacts the project could have on Montana’s citizens, economy and ecosystems. In February, the MDT concluded there would be no environmental or economically significant impacts from a project that seeks to drive over 207 mega-sized loads across Montana’s highways to and eventually to Alberta.

Tom France, a Missoula-based attorney with the National Wildlife Federation said: “Exxon’s mega-loads put Montana at risk while locking us into a future of dirty energy from abroad. Before we let polluters run roughshod through Montana we must have a proper review of the environmental costs and risks.”

The plaintiffs, who also include Montana’s Environmental Information Center and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (Missoula office) and local attorneys Robert Gentry and Summer Nelson, seek a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project.

Environmental Review Sorely Needed

An EIS would evaluate a full range of alternatives, including alternative routes. The proposed route across Lolo Pass, along the Blackfoot River and up the Rocky Mountain Front will create potential long-term costs to Montana taxpayers with wear and tear on highways, bridges and sewer lines. It will also create impacts to roadway safety, emergency services, prized waterways, tourism and business sites.

“The agency’s review of the project failed to take a hard look at all the impacts of the construction and use of an industrial corridor that runs along some of Montana’s most treasured rivers and streams, and through our scenic mountains and rural Montana,” argues Sarah McMillan, attorney with the Western Law Environmental Center.

Kyla Wiens, energy advocate with the Montana Environmental Information Center asserts that: “Exxon/Imperial Oil’s plan is shortsighted and ignores the project’s significant impacts on Montana citizens and our environment.”

The plaintiffs also claim this project should be evaluated regarding its intended facilitation of carbon intensive tar sands mining and consequent heavy-crude oil production which contributes profoundly to the impacts of climate change in Montana and worldwide.

NWF Campaigns to Fight Tar Sands

NWF strongly opposes the rush to tar sands fuels, which emit about three times the carbon pollution of conventional oil. Most public attention in the U.S. has centered on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to be built by Canadian oil giant TransCanada and would traverse nearly two thousand miles of U.S. soil. The New York Times recently said construction of the pipeline would be a profound mistake.

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