By Sharon Kelly, Nation of Change

Five environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in a Montana federal court alleging that the way that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for oil and gas pipelines nationwide violates some of the country’s cornerstone environmental laws.

This new lawsuit, filed May 3, is the most recent round in a nearly decade-long battle, sparked under the Obama administration, over how regulators approach the environmental impacts from oil and gas pipelines and the extent to which the public gets a say in the permitting process.

That battle centers on whether pipeline builders should be allowed to use a generic permit, known to regulators as Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12), when pipelines cross rivers, streams and wetlands.

Critics say authorizing pipelines with NWP 12 lets builders off the hook when it comes to the environmental scrutiny that would otherwise be required and eliminates a chance for the public to weigh in before construction begins. They say that the way the Corps has used NWP 12 for oil and gas pipelines, approaching each small water crossing separately instead of looking at the cumulative effects from an entire pipeline, has put both drinking water supplies and threatened and endangered wildlife like Florida manatees and whooping cranes at greater risk.

“Nationwide Permit 12 is a tool for corporate polluters to fast-track climate-destroying oil and gas pipelines and exempt them from critical environmental reviews and consultations,” said Doug Hayes, an attorney for the Sierra Club, which joined the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Montana Environmental Information Center in filing the lawsuit. “There’s no time to waste in eliminating this process, which only serves to bolster the oil and gas industry’s bottom lines.”

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