The ethics of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt have come into question recently, most notably the details surrounding his living arrangements in Washington, D.C. last year. While Pruitt was renting a condo owned by Vicki Hart, the wife of a friend of Pruitt’s, the EPA approved an expansion project on Enbridge’s Line 67 crude oil pipeline. The lobbying firm of Hart’s husband, Steven, lobbied for the project.
Speculation and rumors began swirling of favors being granted to the project because of Pruitt’s ties to the company. A New York Times article even cited a former government ethics official who said “entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision.”
As InsideSources recently noted, there are a few key elements that continue to be left out in the coverage. First is that the EPA plays a very small role in signing off on pipeline projects. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the agency in charge of evaluating whether a proposed interstate pipeline route should be approved. FERC then works with the EPA, USDOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and local and state agencies.
Second, the coverage fails to adequately portray just how rigorous and extensive the federal pipeline permitting process is. Companies must first file a pre-filing request and notify state, local and federal agencies, and any property owners that may potentially be affected. The NEPA then begins determining the environmental issues the project could bring.
Next the company submits an application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, which contains a detailed list of what the project is, the route, all construction plans, schedules, what other permits are required, environmental reports and mitigation plans, and alternative routes.
FERC reviews the information and assesses whether the project can move forward. A study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the average processing time from pre-filing to certification was 558 days. And even after it has been authorized, those who object to the decision can request a rehearing within 30 days.
Enbridge Line 67 began the approval process more than five years ago, when an initial application was filed with the State Department in 2012. Then in 2017 President Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance two pipelines in the U.S. The Enbridge pipeline was later added to the list.
Line 67 has been operating since 2010. The expansion allows crude oil from Edmonton, Alberta to be sent through North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.
To say that Pruitt’s connections are what spurred the advancement of the project is to completely overlook the facts of what exactly companies go through before approval. It is time to stop letting baseless lies sully the hard work that goes into getting these crucial infrastructure developments underway.