The battle over a proposed Utah natural gas pipeline, raging in political circles for the past year, is now being waged in the courts.
Bountiful Hills residents and the Concerned Citizens Association Friday filed a response in the Denver 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to a motion by the Kern River Gas Transmission Co., Wyoming-California Pipeline Co. and the Federal Regulatory Commission to dismiss the groups' appeal of the pipeline approval.The residents' appeal was filed last July, asking the court to review and set aside FERC's decisions that granted the two competing pipeline companies the rights to build a 900-mile line from Wyoming's gas fields to markets in Southern California.
"We have to get past this first hurdle, to get to the next step in our appeal, which will bring out the alarming environmental abuses that will take place in the routing of the pipeline," Kenley Brunsdale, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Saturday.
Other than federal legislation, which is unlikely, the appeal may be the opponents' last chance of stopping the project.
The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Utah Wildlife Federation are joining in the legal battle, which also targets FERC's ruling to authorize the pipeline.
Rather than calling for the termination of pipeline construction altogether, the plaintiffs are fighting to have the "Wasatch variation" of the pipeline routed through an existing utility corridor that bypasses Davis County, Brunsdale said.
If constructed, the Wasatch variation will go from Wyoming through Morgan, Salt Lake and Davis coun-ties to supply natural gas to California.
According to a recent environmental impact statement, the pipeline would go through residential areas, landslide zones, active faults and an electric transmission corridor, where a small gas leak could trigger a fire or explosion.
Using the utility corridor, which is 20 miles longer than the Wasatch variation, would cost the pipeline companies an additional 11 percent. But Brunsdale said Wycal and Kern River, which are competing to build the pipeline, stand to lose more time and money fighting a legal battle than by complying with the wishes of a "concerned community."
"The environmental impact of the pipeline would be disastrous. On the bottom line, our legal case involves standing up for Utah and for our quality of life," Brunsdale said. "At the expense of supplying cheap natural gas to California, our state would be environmentally trashed."
A spokesman for Kern River said the utility corridor is an unacceptable route for general efficiency and economical feasibility. "The route is bad for a large variety of reasons," an engineer for Kern River said. "We have permits and the legal right to begin construction. That's what we're going to do."
Despite legal approval from the federal government, construction of the pipeline has been slowed down by community "uproar," a Bountiful councilwoman said.
The companies were to begin construction on the Wasatch variation last spring.
"We've held them up this long," said Renee Coon, president of the Concerned Citizens Association. "We have more than 11,000 residents who have signed petitions, and that's just in Davis County. Our fight has support in the community."
Jeff Appel, an attorney assisting in the case, said the legal battle boils down to a simple case of "money vs. the environment."
"No one really trusts a for-profit corporation to look out for the good of the environment over its own monetary interest," he said.