WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Environmental groups sued the U.S. government on Wednesday to stop the clearing of grasslands, the moving of threatened species and other work going on ahead of U.S. approval of $7 billion Canada to Texas planned oil pipeline.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth sued the U.S. State Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop work they called "illegal construction" on the 1,700 mile pipeline.
The suit, the first of many legal and regulatory hurdles that the pipeline could face, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska. The complaint can be seen here: http://link.reuters.com/gad34s .
TransCanada wants to build the pipeline to take 500,000 barrels per day of crude from Canada's vast oil sands to refineries in Texas. The line could also drain U.S.-produced oil from new oil fields that has caused a glut in the Cushing, Oklahoma crude hub.
"It's outrageous that TransCanada is already clearing the way for the Keystone XL pipeline before the public has had a chance to have its say and, indeed, before federal agencies have even said it can be built," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The groups say the State Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service have quietly allowed TransCanada to do the work, including mowing a corridor of native prairie grasslands in Nebraska's ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region.
Backers of the pipeline say it will provide jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on oil from countries that are unfriendly to Washington.
Environmentalists oppose the line because production of oil sands releases large amounts of greenhouse gases and because the line would cross the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive source of water in the heartland of the country.
The State Department is expected to decide later this year whether the pipeline can go forward. It has already released impact assessments that say the line would not wreck the environment.
The State Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Jackie Frank)