National Wildlife Federation Sues State Dept. over Withholding of Pipeline Documents

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Portland-Montréal Pipeline (graphic: Taxman214, Wikipedia)

A leading environmental group is suing the State Department for withholding documents pertaining to a U.S.-Canadian pipeline that would carry tar sands oil.


No, not the Keystone XL pipeline, which has yet to be built. This controversy involves a pipeline that has long delivered oil from Portland, Maine, to Montréal, Canada.

With Canada looking for multiple ways to export its bounty of tar sands oil, officials want to use the Portland-Montréal Pipeline as another avenue for getting its crude to market.


This would mean reversing the pipeline’s flow (Canada to the U.S., instead of U.S. to Canada) and carrying the higher polluting tar sands oil instead of the lighter crude currently moving through it. Tar sands has been labeled a “dirty” oil due to the higher amount of greenhouse gases released during extraction and production compared to conventional oil drilling and refining.


According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), which on April 23 filed a lawsuit against the State Department, federal officials have sat on documents pertaining to plans for changing the pipeline’s mission. The group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the records in question, but after two years of denials, NWF decided to take its case to a federal court in Vermont.


Environmentalists contend that in 2008, the pipeline company’s owner, Exxon, submitted a plan detailing its intentions to reverse the pipeline for tar sands use. They also claim the State Department informed the Portland Pipe Line Corporation that it did not need a new permit to carry out this plan. But the State Department has changed its position, saying the company must submit its plans for approval. However, details of the proposal are still not public.


“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” Jim Murphy, NWF’s senior counsel, said in a press release. “Our patience is exhausted. This information is critical and it must be provided.”


Opponents of changing the pipeline’s mission include residents of more than 40 New England towns that have adopted resolutions demanding that tar sands not be transported through the region via the 63-year-old pipeline.


In addition, many New England congressional representatives, as well as New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, have demanded the State Department conduct an environmental review and permitting process for any tar sands-related project.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

NWF Sues State Dept. to Uncover New England Tar Sands Pipeline Proposal Documents (by Jim Murphy, National Wildlife Federation)

National Wildlife Federation v. State Department (U.S. District Court, Vermont) (pdf)

Tar-Sands Oil Concern Prompts Letter from Congressional Delegation (by John Koziol, New Hampshire Union Leader)

State Dept. IG Report Diffusing Keystone Contractor Controversy Seen as Revealing Flawed Process (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Karla Labrecque 4 years ago
Regarding the Keystone XL, we are the farm families on the front lines of Canada’s oil sands development. What message does it send to the world about Canada’s oil sands production when Baytex Energy (NYSE:BTE) is making us sick and forcing my family and our neighbours from our homes through open venting its oil sands processing tanks? Baytex is putting profits ahead of people. Please see firsthand what’s happening up here at The Alberta Energy Regulator’s public inquiry vindicated us and confirmed the truth of the harm Baytex is doing yet Baytex keeps open venting its emissions and has done nothing to help us get back into our homes. Breathable air and a thriving energy sector are not mutually exclusive. The energy industry and Canada can do better. Get the facts and Facebook at

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