For Immediate Release, March 5, 2008
Paul Spitler, Center for Biological Diversity, (541) 306-4772
Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9611
Natural Gas Pipeline in Colorado Challenged;
Could Determine Fate of 60-million Acre Roadless Rule
DENVER, Colo.— In a suit that could serve as a national test case to interpret the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging approval of a natural gas pipeline that will require construction of more than eight miles of new roads in protected roadless areas.
Construction of the pipeline includes a 100-foot-wide “construction corridor” for heavy trucks and equipment traffic, complete with a “travel lane” and “passing lane.” The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which approved the project, claim that these travel ways are not roads and thus the construction does not prohibit a nationwide ban on road building within pristine roadless areas. If the agencies’ decision is upheld, new roads could be allowed in close to 60 million acres of currently protected forestland.
“By playing word games and calling the road a ‘temporary use area’ or a ‘construction zone,’ the Forest Service is attempting to skirt the spirit and letter of the law to punch this project through,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “This is a clear violation of the 2001 Roadless Rule and will set a precedent that could ignite a nationwide expansion of road building and development within roadless areas.”
The 2001 Roadless Rule prohibits road construction in over 58 million acres of pristine roadless lands in national forests across the United States and was supported by more than 97 percent of the 1.2 million people who commented on the rule. Still, the Bush administration has made repeated efforts to undermine the Roadless Rule, most recently by enacting its own, watered-down version in 2005. A federal court enjoined the Bush rule in 2006 after three states and 20 conservation organizations challenged its validity. The court simultaneously reinstated the original 2001 Roadless Rule.
“The Bush administration is flouting a court order and public mandate to protect the last undeveloped places in our national forests,” said Paul Spitler, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “These areas belong to the American people, not special interests like energy companies.”
The 25-mile Bull Mountain pipeline would include more than eight miles of roads in three separate roadless areas within the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison and White River national forests in western Colorado. The scale of development facilitated by the pipeline would turn some of the best elk and bear country in Colorado into an industrial zone resembling the gas fields along I-70.
Joining the suit in federal district court in Denver, Colorado are Pitkin County, the Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress, Western Slope Environmental Resource Council, High Country Citizens Alliance, and Center for Biological Diversity. The groups are represented by lawyers at Earthjustice.