Today, a scheme to build the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline—one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States—was dismissed by a federal agency. The pipeline would have devastated the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harmed the Colorado River downstream. The dismissal of the preliminary permit application by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is a significant setback for the plans of a private developer to turn water into profits.
“FERC made the right call,” said McCrystie Adams, Earthjustice staff attorney in Denver. “This proposal would have drained the Green River, placing local economies, recreation, fish and wildlife in jeopardy. We are confident that this project will never be approved. We will continue to oppose any project that threatens the West’s rivers and way of life like the Flaming Gorge proposal did.”
The applicant, Aaron Million, previously sought a permit for the pipeline from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In July of 2011, the Corps terminated its review of the project because the applicant missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the Corps. A few months later, the applicant redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Despite the modifications, the project remained a huge energy hog—the proposal included at least nine air-polluting natural gas-fired pumping stations that would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Million has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would have used more energy than the project would have created through hydropower.
“It’s hard to imagine a worse idea, in this era of global warming, than burning fossil fuels to pump already-imperiled rivers hundreds of miles across mountains to fuel sprawl,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s decision is a victory for rivers, endangered fish and people—a victory we hope proves fatal for the pipeline proposal.”
A coalition of 10 conservation groups from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona, the Colorado River Protection Coalition, intervened in the FERC review of the pipeline project. The coalition, represented by Earthjustice, called upon FERC to deny the permit on numerous grounds. The coalition’s lead argument—and the one that FERC adopted in its decision—was that the pipeline was a water supply project requiring environmental review and approval of a massive pipeline and diversion, not merely a “hydropower project,” and thus FERC’s involvement in the process was premature. The Colorado River Protection Coalition argued that the pipeline was unlikely to gain necessary approvals due to the irrevocable harm to the Green and Colorado Rivers and other extreme environmental damage that would be associated with the pipeline’s construction and operation. Specifically, the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges, and would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area, in addition to a number of other impacts.
Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, Utah Rivers Council, Rocky Mountain Wild, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, and Glen Canyon Institute.