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Wildlife Group To Sue USDOT Over Pipeline Rules

Kealey Bultena

The National Wildlife Federation intends to sue the federal government over pipeline regulations – and some are in South Dakota. NWF leaders say federal officials aren’t enforcing a 1990s law that helps protect communities, people and animals when oil spills happen. The problem arises when pipelines cross waterways. 

National Wildlife Federation leaders say the US Department of Transportation is failing to comply with the Oil Pollution Act, and they’ve filed a notice of intent to sue. Mike Shriberg is the executive director for the Great Lakes Region.

“It’s important to note that this is the first legal action in the effort to protect the Great Lakes from oil pipeline disasters, but it has implications for any pipeline intersecting inland navigable waterways in the United States – from the Kalamazoo River to the Missouri River to the Red River to the Big Sioux River – all of which, by the way, have had oil spills,” Shriberg says.

Shriberg says navigable water in this situation is a waterway that can serve as transportation for people and goods – which is different than a recent definition from the EPA. It’s that space where pipelines cross rivers and streams that the National Wildlife Federation leader says isn’t protected.

“For example, when spills occur directly into water, you have a whole different set of cleanup needs, you have a whole different set of emergency response, pieces like that, and right now there are no officially approved plans on that,” Shriberg says. 

Senior Counsel Neil Kagan says the law requires oil pipeline owners and operators to submit plans for managing potential leaks. He says the Department of Transportation was supposed to approve those strategies. But Kagan says that never happened for more than 5000 places where land pipelines cross waterways, and the states can’t fix the problem.

“Congress essentially covered the field by enacting the Oil Pollution Act, and I believe that also under another law called the Pipeline Safety Act that only the federal government has jurisdiction over interstate pipelines, and the federal government has the responsibility,” Kagan says.

Kagan says the National Wildlife Federation plans to sue the US Department of Transportation if officials don’t take steps to comply with the law within 60 days.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).