Today Congresswoman Chellie Pingree sent a letter, co-signed by 17 other members of Congress, including Congressman Michael Michaud, asking that the owners of the Portland Pipeline not be allowed to pump tar sands oil from Canada through Maine without applying for a new permit and undergoing environmental review. The letter was addressed to Secretary of State Kerry and signed by all of the U.S. Representatives from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, through which tar sands oil could flow.
“Toxic, spill-prone tar sands doesn’t belong in Maine where it would threaten drinking water and our economy,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “We applaud Congresswoman Pingree for listening to diverse constituents who are worried about tar sands coming through Maine without a review of the environmental risks.”
“The pipeline company has finally acknowledged that they would like to pursue this project, but they continue to insist that no new permit or environmental review should be required,” said Voorhees. “That’s totally unacceptable.”
A Presidential Permit is required for any international oil pipelines. A substantial change in use of an existing pipeline can trigger the requirement for a new permit, which typically entails an environmental impact review. The U.S. State Department makes this determination.
Pingree’s letter urges the State Department review to examine the “risk to wildlife and fisheries in Casco Bay, and throughout the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic,a number of pristine lakes and rivers including Sebago Lake, the jewel of a regional tourism economy and the drinking water supply for much of southern Maine” and to “account for impacts related to climate change,” as well. The letter references multiple pieces of evidence that tar sands is not like conventional crude oil in terms of risk of a spill, toxicity and difficulty of cleaning-up spills when they occur.
“It is unfortunate that Senators Collins and King did not sign onto Congresswoman Pingree’s letter,” said Voorhees. “However we are heartened by Senator King’s recent statements of concern about tar sands coming through Maine and hope that he and Senator Collins will take their own actions to communicate with the State Department in the near future.”
The letter (attached) states:
“The State Department has the responsibility to ensure transnational pipeline projects serve the national interest and prevent projects that will put our communities and the environment at risk of destructive spills. A project that places American communities at risk without any tangible benefits is certainly not in the interest of our constituents.
“Should PPLC [Portland Pipe Line Corporation] again seek to reverse the PMPL [Portland-Montreal Pipe Line], the State Department should require a new Presidential Permit and a full Environmental Impact Statement to determine the risks to the region and ensure adequate protections for our communities.”
In 2008, when the pipeline company first began a process to reverse the pipeline to carry tar sands, their lawyers asked the State Department not to require a new Permit, and thus no environmental review of the entire pipeline. The project was put on hold during the recession.
In recent weeks, the company has changed its statements, from denying that an “active project” is planned, to acknowledging that they would like to pursue a project if Canadian crude oil (including tar sands) were available for their pipeline. The pipeline that connects to the Portland pipeline in Montreal is currently undergoing permitting to bring tar sands oil to Montreal.
In January 2013, the State Department ruled that a proposed expansion of an existing tar sands pipeline in the Midwest called the Alberta-Clipper pipeline, would require a new environmental review under the Presidential Permit process.