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Transporting Tar Sands? Permit Please!

Vermont tar sands opponents, including VNRC, were thrilled by a recent decision from the Vermont’s District 7 Coordinator that any attempt to transport tar sands oil through an existing pipeline in the Northeast Kingdom will require a permit under Act 250, Vermont’s development control law. The April 15 ruling means that the pipeline company, PPLC, must obtain a permit – which can be denied or conditioned – from the District 7 Environmental Commission in St. Johnsbury if it wants to reverse the flow of the pipeline to carry dirtier, more dangerous tar sands oil across Vermont’s rural, resource-rich reaches.

Read the decision here. Or, here are some quotes from the decision:

“An aged pipeline has greater risk of failure (and release to the environment) in comparison to a new pipeline, due to general degradation, or risk of degradation over time, when all other factors are equal.” P. 4. 

“Although there are no concrete plans for the Project at this point, the Project is not hypothetical. According to its CEO, PPLC is actively – “aggressively” – seeking the opportunity to convey tar sands oil through Vermont.” P.5.

“The plain language of the rule is clear. In the context of a ‘substantial change’

analysis, ‘any change’ includes both physical changes to the project and changes in its use. … In this case, the Project involves both a change in use and physical changes.” P.6.

“In this case, the Project has the potential to cause significant impacts under several of the criteria specified in 10 V.S.A. Section 6086 (a)(1) through (a)(10)…. The proximity of the Project to numerous fresh water streams, ponds, and river crossings is a significant condition and this proximity further exacerbates the potential impact of a release of tar sands oil from the Project. Information filed by Requestors asserts that the tar sands oil has a tendency to sink in fresh water. This was borne true in the Kalamazoo spill.” P.7.

“Within this framework, it is apparent that the Project has the potential for significant impacts under several Act 250 criteria, including:

  • Criterion 1B waste disposal, as it relates to management and disposal of cleanup materials from an unplanned spill event;
  • Criterion 1E streams, as it relates to potential impact from an unplanned spill event;
  • Criterion 1F shorelines, as it relates to potential impact from an unplanned spill event;
  • Criterion 1G wetlands, as it relates to potential impact from an unplanned spill event;
  • Criterion 8 & 8A as it relates to potential impact on rare and irreplaceable natural areas and necessary wildlife habitat from an unplanned spill event;
  • Criterion 9(K) as it relates to the potential impact on three areas of state lands, from an unplanned spill event.” P. 7.

“Federal law does not wholly preempt a state’s regulation of pipelines. A state retains general authority to regulate a pipeline’s environmental and land-use impacts. Any particular limitation placed on Act 250 by federal law is best addressed at a permitting proceeding when potential permit conditions are weighed.” P.8.

“The flow reversal Project, for transport of tar sands oil originating from Alberta Canada requires an Act 250 permit under 10 V.S.A. § 6081(b) because it is a substantial change to a pre-existing development.” P. 8