Judge dismisses Sierra Club's oil sands lawsuit

A federal district court dismissed a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations aimed at preventing the US Department of Defense from buying fuels made from Canadian bitumen and heavy oil.

The judge said plaintiffs had legal standing as injured parties based on the effects of climate change but ruled they didn’t show harm from pipeline movements or refining of crude from Canadian oil sands or from DOD purchases of related products.

The groups said in their complaint that the Defense Logistics Agency violated Section 526 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which bars federal agencies from buying fuels with greenhouse gas life cycle impacts greater than those of conventional fuels.

Industry associations applauded the decision.

Calling it “the right result for America’s economy and energy security,” the American Petroleum Institute said, “Ultimately, the plaintiffs want to shut off secure supplies of energy, not just to the military but to all Americans.”

National Petrochemical and Refiners Association Pres. Charles T. Drevna said the decision strengthens US economic and national security by securing DOD’s ability to benefit from a reliable US neighbor’s energy supply. “Oil from Canadian oil sands is being used in an environmentally sound manner by America’s fuel and petrochemical manufacturers to create vital products, jobs for American workers, and a stronger economy,” he said.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which intervened in the case in September with API and NPRA, also supported the decision. “This case simply does not belong in our courts,” said Robin Conrad, executive vice-president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the group’s public policy law firm. Conrad called the lawsuit “another effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through litigation rather than legislation.”

Karen A. Harbert, president of the chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, called the ruling a victory for US industries that produce, process, transport, or rely on oil derived from Canadian oil sands and for consumers. “At this time of high energy prices and economic hardships, the last thing we should do is restrict the use of a stable, reliable fuel source which would harm our energy security and cost us jobs,” she said.

A Sierra Club official told OGJ the organization was disappointed with the ruling, although it was a procedural loss.

Kate Colarulli, deputy director of the group’s Beyond Oil campaign, said that while bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal EISA Section 526, DOD has argued against the proposals. “Even though the judge ruled against us, this is a law both DOD and the Sierra Club feel is important to our national and environmental security,” Colarulli said.

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