Three environmental groups sued the U.S. government on Tuesday, challenging claims in a State Department report that said a proposed Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline poses little risk to endangered species because spills on the line were unlikely.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth filed a suit in federal court in Nebraska, challenging an appendix in the State Department's final environmental impact statement that said spills are unlikely to occur.
The groups said that statement was contradicted in the State Department's environmental assessment, which said that TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline will cause one or two small spills a year during its 50-year life.
"We're asking either the agencies or the government to set aside the conclusion that the pipeline is not likely to result in spills," said Amy Atwood, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity.
She said potential spills near Nebraska's Sand Hills region could harm whooping cranes and that the endangered birds could also collide with power transmission lines that are required by the project.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska.
With Tuesday's litigation, the environmental groups expanded their original case filed earlier this month that seeks to stop the government and TransCanada from doing preliminary work on the line in Nebraska.
The project could face many legal and regulatory hurdles that could delay it. Approval for it has been pending since late 2008.
Opponents of the pipeline say oil sands production releases large amounts of greenhouse gases and that the fuel is potentially corrosive to pipelines.
Supporters say the pipeline would create thousands of jobs and boost imports from a close ally.
A spokeswoman for the State Department said it had no comment on the litigation.
TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said there is nothing new in this amended complaint, "and we continue to believe it is without merit."
TransCanada hopes the $7 billion pipeline will be built by 2013. The State Department hopes to decide whether it should give TransCanada a final permit for the line before the end of the year.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Andrea Evans)