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The Clinic, working with co-counsel from our client organizations, is representing a coalition of national and regional conservation and tribal groups in a challenge to the U.S. State Department’s decision to approve a pipeline switcheroo by the oil pipeline giant, Enbridge, Inc. Enbridge’s scheme would approximately double the flow through the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline and would construct a new pipeline without any review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Diagram of the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline switcheroo
In 2009, the State Department completed a NEPA review process and approved the 1000-mile long Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline, which runs from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The pipeline, as approved in 2009, is allowed to transport 450,000 barrels per day and the Environmental Impact Statement at the time only examined the impacts of transporting tar sands at that volume.

In 2012, Enbridge submitted an application for a Presidential Permit to increase the capacity of the Alberta Clipper pipeline to 880,000 barrels per day. The State Department determined that a Supplemental EIS and new Presidential Permit were necessary for such expansion, and commenced the NEPA process. However, Enbridge decided to proceed with its proposed expansion without NEPA approval by switching the additional quantity of tar sands oil at the border crossing to an adjacent line. So, under Enbridge’s scheme, tar sands oil is switched from the Alberta Clipper line to a new line just north of the United States/Canada border. Then, the oil is switched back to the Clipper line after the border crossing in North Dakota. This scheme could result in up to three times more tar sands flowing into the Great Lakes region.

The State Department acquiesced in this scheme in a July 24, 2014 letter to Enbridge without conducting a NEPA review of either the construction of the new line or the increase of tar sands oil through Alberta Clipper. On November 11, 2014, White Earth Nation, Honor the Earth, Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Conservation Foundation, MN350, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club filed suit to challenge this approval in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. In April 2015, we moved for partial summary judgment and the summary judgment hearing was on September 10, 2015. Read about the hearing on our In the News page! Unfortunately, the Court denied our motion and granted the State Department's, but our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) claims are still active and the government has been ordered to release documents to us by November 2016.

Increasing the operation volume on Alberta Clipper could also open the way for the newly constructed line at the border to connect to a new line and separately transport tar sands oil. This would bring the amount of tar sands crossing the border from 450,000 bpd to around 1.5 million bpd, allowing for tar sands expansion to occur in the evergreen, boreal forests of Alberta, spurring harmful carbon pollution, and exposing more areas in the Great Lakes region and beyond to harmful tar sands spills.


SELECTED PLEADINGSEnvironmental law clinic students in an outdoor classroom

2014-11-11 White Earth Nation et al. Complaint

2015-02-20 Amended Complaint

2015-04-06 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
Memorandum in Support of MSJ

2015-05-29 Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Summary Judgment, & Response to Defendants' Opposition