A conservation group fears Lahontan cutthroat trout and other endangered fish will be impacted by a Texas company's plans for a $3 billion natural gas pipeline across Northern Nevada and three other Western states.
The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Ariz., filed a lawsuit Friday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals naming the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as respondents.
The suit challenges decisions by those agencies that allow construction of the 677-mile Ruby natural gas pipeline across more than 1,000 rivers and streams from Opal, Wyo., to Malin, Ore.
A subsidiary of El Paso Corp., of Houston, plans to construct a 42-inch-diameter pipeline across Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon. It's scheduled to go into operation next year, according to the company's website.
The center says the pipeline would cut across 209 streams where federally protected fish, including Lahontan cutthroat, live.
Lahontan cutthroat, a threatened trout in Nevada, was listed for protection 40 years ago under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Its populations are scattered across streams and drainages in Northern Nevada where the pipeline would run.
"If there's one lesson we should have learned from the Gulf (of Mexico) disaster, it's that things can and do go wrong when regulatory agencies don't do their jobs," said the center's endangered species coordinator, Noah Greenwald.
"If the pipeline ruptures at a stream crossing, it could have devastating consequences for these endangered fish and other stream life," he said, referring to the Lahontan cutthroat, Warner Creek sucker, Lost River sucker, and the Colorado pikeminnow .
His comments came as the Environmental Protection Agency was assessing habitat damage Friday from 1 million gallons of oil that leaked into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
Beside the impact from constructing the pipeline, including use of 400 million gallons of river water and groundwater, Greenwald said if the pipeline ruptures, it could result in explosions and fires that could raise the temperature of streams and kill fish.
El Paso Corp. pipelines have ruptured and exploded in the past, killing 12 people in Carlsbad, N.M., in 2000, and hurting three people in a more recent incident in Bushland, Texas.
Neither rupture was discussed in the Fish and Wildlife Service's final review although the service had noted other concerns for threatened and endangered species in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dated 2008.
The commission approved the pipeline project on April 5, and rights-of-way were granted by the BLM on July 12, about a month after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had issued its biological opinion for the project.
In its lawsuit, the center argues that the commission and the BLM rushed the project's authorization before information about environmental impacts was submitted and mitigation measures were considered by the agencies.
A BLM spokeswoman in Nevada said bureau officials hadn't seen the lawsuit yet and couldn't comment on it.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.