NWF Sues State Dept. to Uncover New England Tar Sands Pipeline Proposal Documents

State Department Has Failed to Comply With FOIA Request for Almost Two Years

04-24-2014 // Jim Murphy

MooseThe State Department has failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for nearly two years, prompting the National Wildlife Federation to file suit in Vermont Federal District Court yesterday. The FOIA request concerns documents pertaining to the Portland-Montreal Pipeline and industry plans to use that line to move dangerous tar sands oil through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. 

The pipeline currently runs conventional oil from Portland to Montreal, but there are strong indications the pipeline company wants to change the use to move tar sands from Montreal to Portland, where it could then be exported.

In particular, the State Department has failed to provide a key 2008 document from Exxon-owned Portland Pipe Line Corporation’s attorney detailing a previous plan to reverse the pipeline for tar sands use. That document resulted in a July 2008 letter from the State Department stating that the company did not need a new permit, a position the State Department has since backed away from.  However, the details of the company’s original proposal are still not known and may contain critical information about how the company may wish to use the pipeline to move tar sands.

"State Department has had two years to follow the law and help ensure the public is educated about the oil industry’s plans to run risky, climate-disrupting tar sands through New England," said Jim Murphy, senior counsel of the National Wildlife Federation. "Our patience is exhausted. This information is critical and it must be provided."

Concern across the region over the risk of tar sands running through the 63 year-pipeline is growing. Over 40 towns across Northern New England have passed resolutions opposing any tar sands project in the region. Virtually all of the region’s Congressional delegation, along with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, have called on the State Department to conduct a thorough environmental review and permitting process for any tar sands proposal. The latest letter sent April 18, 2014 came from the entire New Hampshire Congressional delegation, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

"Congress understood the importance of prompt access to information and therefore imposed strict decision deadlines when it enacted the FOIA almost 50 years ago," said Dave Bahr, an attorney representing NWF in the suit. "It tightened enforcement of those deadlines in 1996 and again in 2007. If the State Department chooses to flaunt FOIA's requirements, it leaves the public with no choice but to go to court."

Read NWF’s formal complaint here.