The consumption of oil pervades everyday life in America. The network of pipelines transporting oil from field to consumer is largely invisible. Until a major news event bursts pipelines onto headlines, this indispensable and invisible system fuels the country without fanfare. At the same time, concern over global climate change has made new large-scale projects for fossil fuel extraction and consumption highly controversial. The Keystone XL (“KXL”) pipeline was originally designed to transport crude oil extracted from oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for international export. After more than a decade of false starts, the project currently sits dormant.

This Comment uses the battle over the KXL to illustrate the federal framework of interstate oil pipeline regulation in the United States. It examines the preliminary regulatory hoops required for construction and the energy policies gatekeeping key permits. At the heart of the KXL controversy is the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (“Corps”) permitting program under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. This Comment critically examines whether the regulatory path of the KXL was appropriate. The KXL sought to fast-track construction by using the Corps’ Nationwide Permit 12, but legal challenges to that permit halted the KXL’s construction.

This Comment ultimately recommends that the Corps and the fossil fuel industry stop relying on Nationwide Permit 12 for large-scale pipeline projects. Pipelines longer than 250 miles should instead be individually permitted. Individual permitting would trigger review under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the bedrock environmental law that examines direct and indirect environmental impacts of major federal actions. Comprehensive NEPA review would promote transparency through public input and give the federal government an important foothold in combatting climate change.



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