Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporterPublished: Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to separate oil and gas pipelines from its streamlined permits for utilities — a move that follows a court battle over the program. Nationwide permits allow waterways and wetlands to be dredged and filled if there will be minimal impacts to the environment. Since 1977, Nationwide Permit 12 has authorized all utility lines.

This May, Montana federal Judge Brian Morris barred the use of Nationwide Permit 12 for pipeline projects, saying the Army Corps had not followed the Endangered Species Act for those projects during a case specifically taking aim at the Keystone XL project. Indeed, environmental groups have long criticized the use of nationwide permits for major pipeline projects, like Dakota Access and Keystone XL, because they say it allows developers to circumvent more in-depth analyses of environmental impacts under the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The Supreme Court has since stayed Morris’ injunction, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will now consider whether nationwide permits are appropriate for oil and gas pipelines. The Army Corps proposed to separate oil and gas from other utility permits yesterday as part of its annual reissuance of the 52 nationwide permits in the program.

The agency did not mention the legal dispute over the permits in its proposal, rather noting that oil and gas pipelines are usually larger than other utility lines, meaning they could have different environmental impacts. “The Corps is proposing to remove electric utility lines and telecommunication lines, as well as utility lines that convey water and other substances, from NWP 12 because of the differences between oil and natural gas pipelines, electric and telecommunication lines, and utility lines that carry water and other substances,” the agency writes.