IN DEPTH: Hays County, Travis Audubon demand full, public environmental review in legal challenge to Permian Highway Pipeline

Local opponents of the Permian Highway pipeline have taken a second major legal action to try to push the company developing the project into conducting a full and public environmental review.

Hays County, Travis Audubon Society and several private plaintiffs filed a notice of intent July 17 to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Kinder Morgan. The challenge follows months of discussion among elected officials and residents over the impact that the proposed natural gas pipeline could have on the environmentally sensitive region.

“Basically the suit is saying: We need you to do an environmental impact study,” said Christy Esmahan, a Travis Audubon board member and chair of the advocacy committee.

The letter of intent, which must be filed at least 60 days before a lawsuit is brought under the federal Endangered Species Act, charges the company with trying to avoid one.

“Kinder Morgan is deliberately choosing to force a 42-inch petroleum pipeline through one of the most ecologically unique and diverse areas of the state of Texas, as opposed to avoiding expected impacts to endangered species and the Edwards Aquifer by following a more traditional route that would avoid these impacts,” the letter of intent reads. “If Kinder Morgan is going to stubbornly insist upon this route for whatever reason, it should be required to follow the correct legal process.”

In addition to filing a letter of intent, the Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition—the organization funding the legal action—announced in July that it would appeal a previous lawsuit in which Hays County was a plaintiff. That suit was dismissed by a Travis County state district judge in June, but Hays County commissioners voted at their July 16 meeting to support the appeal.  The first lawsuit, originally filed in April, focused on the lack of regulation around the exercise of eminent domain by private pipeline companies—a power that land use attorneys and other experts have said is extraordinarily difficult to challenge.

Read more from Katharine Jose with Community Impact Newspaper here.