Native & Green Groups Challenge State Dept. Permit for Dirty Oil Pipeline

'Alberta Clipper' would bring Canadian tar sands crude to U.S.


Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6755
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5619
Chuck Laszewski, MCEA, (651) 223-5969
Marty Cobenais, Indigenous Environmental Network, (218) 760-0284


Native American and environmental groups filed suit in federal court today challenging a proposed tar sands oil pipeline that would bring the dirtiest oil on Earth from Canada to the United States.

The U.S. State Department’s approval on August 20 of Enbridge Energy’s Alberta Clipper pipeline permits 450,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to be pumped from northern Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, for refining.

Tar sands oil is dirtier and, over its lifecycle, emits more global warming pollution than any other type of oil. Tar sands development in Alberta is creating an environmental catastrophe, with toxic tailings ponds so large they can be seen from space, and plans to strip away forests and peat lands of an area the size of Florida. (Photos at

The Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. They are represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice.

Read the complaint (PDF)

"The Alberta Clipper will mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in communities near refineries that process tar sands oil," said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. "The State Department fails to show how building a pipeline to import the dirtiest oil on Earth is in our national interest."

Kevin Reuther, legal director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said there are too many unanswered questions to allow the pipeline to go forward.

"What happens when this dirty oil leaks and spills from the pipeline?" asked Reuther. "How much more global warming pollution will be emitted? How much more water will be polluted? How many more migratory birds will die? No one knows, because neither the state nor federal agencies responsible for protecting us have done their jobs."

The Alberta Clipper is the latest of a massive network of tar sands pipelines up for approval by the State Department. The agency has been under pressure from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to allow the pipelines to go forward, despite the risks they pose to American communities, clean energy jobs, and national security.

"This project will lock our nation into a dirty energy infrastructure for decades to come," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "Instead of increasing our reliance on oil and piping in pollution, the State Department should support clean, American energy and the jobs that come with it."

Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network of Bemidji, Minn., said the State Department’s permit is invalid because the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa had not given its approval in a tribal referendum. "The voices and rights of the Leech Lake Band members are not being listened to by the Obama Administration," said Cobenais.

"This pollution pipeline will increase our dependency on foreign fuels and accelerate the development of one of the dirtiest, most destructive fuels on the planet," said Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy for the National Wildlife Federation. "We should be investing in clean energy technologies that will help solve the climate crisis."


  • Global warming pollution from tar sands production is three times that of conventional crude oil and tar sands oil contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen and five times more lead than conventional oil.
  • The Alberta Clipper pipeline would cross the border in Neche, N.D., and run for 384 miles through the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake tribal lands in Minnesota before terminating in Superior, Wis. Construction would impact over 200 water bodies and would destroy more than 1,200 acres of upland forested lands, more than 650 acres of open lands, and more than 1,300 acres of wetlands.
  • By approving the pipeline, the State Department overlooks the serious environmental, climate, and human health impacts of tar sands oil. The decision is a departure from the Obama Administration’s commitment to a clean energy future.
  • Development of tar sands oil poses a threat to national security because it increases our dependence on foreign oil and contributes to climate change, a growing source of concern for security experts.
  • Proponents of the pipeline claim it will create jobs. The truth is that more and longer-lasting American jobs can be created by investments in clean energy sources like wind and solar power.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.