Endangered species could be harmed by Kinder Morgan pipeline, new lawsuit claims

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Austin city council votes to join new lawsuit, another one on the way

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members voted to join a new federal lawsuit against the Permian Highway Pipeline on Thursday.

It argues that the pipeline violates the Endangered Species Act by going through two aquifers in Hays County.

“Any contaminants that could leak from the pipeline would move through the aquifer could impact any of the people drinking from the aquifer and could impact the water quality and the habitat for the Barton Springs and Austin blind salamanders, which is our concern,” says Austin’s environmental officer Chris Herrington.

Herrington says Edwards and Trinity aquifers feed into Barton Springs.

While those resources lie outside of Austin’s jurisdiction, Herrington says they are important to protect.

“We care because it is an incredibly important recreational and cultural resource for the city of Austin,” he says.

The lawsuit also targets the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Austin joined other cities in filing an intent to sue back in October.

After waiting 60 days without an answer from either of the three groups, council members voted to officially join the lawsuit today and contribute up to $100,000 in legal funds.

It’s not the only federal lawsuit coming Kinder Morgan’s way.

“The pipeline may not be subject to state jurisdiction but actually be an interstate pipeline,” says Clark Richards, a partner at the Richards, Rodriguez and Skeith law firm in Austin.

Richards represents clients for both lawsuits.

Kinder Morgan’s pipeline map. (Courtesy: Kinder Morgan)

The lawsuit argues that all the feeder lines going in and out of the PHP could eventually mean the operation crosses state lines.

If that’s the case, federal regulations would require hearings before the company can claim eminent domain.

“It is very important because Texas does not require oil and gas pipelines to undertake that sort of public scrutiny before they begin to take people’s property,” Richards says.

Plaintiffs also say Kinder Morgan has a history of turning intrastate pipelines into interstate ones to skirt around stricter federal regulations; out of the seven pipelines feeding into the PHP that they know of, only one stayed within the original state.

Kinder Morgan has already acquired nearly 1,000 tracts of land from landowners.

Richards says those people might still be able to get their land back.

“That’s certainly within the realm of possibility,” he says.

KXAN reached out to Kinder Morgan for a response.

They declined to comment but directed us to this fact sheet, where it indicates that an environmental study was done between September 2018 and June 2019.

KXAN requested the results of that study but did not receive one.

Plaintiffs in the environmental lawsuit are now asking the courts for a preliminary hearing within a few weeks of filing their lawsuit and to delay pipeline construction to protect endangered species like the Golden-cheeked Warbler and salamanders.

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