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Judge rules against Alabama enviro group’s attempt to block Northern Beltline

Black Warrior Riverkeeper logoLate Friday afternoon, a U.S. District Court ruled against Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc., a local Alabama environmental group, in their request to block the start of construction for the Northern Beltline.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the permit for the first phase of construction on the beltline in September of last year. Less than a month later, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper challenging the permit and seeking to block construction.

The lawsuit was based on the premise that beginning the first phase of construction — a 1.8 mile segment joining State Roads 79 and 75 — violated requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act stating that environmental impact studies must be performed before permits can be granted. The Corps of Engineers had conducted such a study on the first segment of construction, but not the entire 51-mile project.

The court found that “requiring the Corps to prepare [a study for each section of the beltline ahead of time] would likely result in the project never being started at all and would be useless and redundant.”

The court’s ruling concluded the latest battle between local anti-growth environmental groups and economic developers.

Map of the Northern Beltline
Map of the Northern Beltline

Costly lawsuits have become the primary avenue through which environmental groups push their agenda.

U.S. District Court Judge William M. Acker Jr. is currently considering another SELC lawsuit asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make changes to its permitting process for coal mines and to further consider the environmental impacts of coal mining in north Alabama. The Alabama Coal Association expects 1,000 Alabama coal industry workers to be laid off if a judge sides with the environmental groups.

The Southern Environmental Law Center was granted $1.8 million last year by a national environmental group, including $60,000 during Alabama Public Service Commission hearings specifically earmarked “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants in the Southeast.”

At least five other Alabama groups received grants for similar purposes. In all, roughly $3 million was pumped into the state to fund various green energy or global warming-related advocacy efforts.

On the national level, the State of Alabama last month joined a group of 27 states in an amicus brief pushing back against the ever-expanding power of the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. Alabama’s section of the brief focused on the Northern Beltline.

Once completed, the Northern Beltline will be a 52-mile highway that will run from Interstate 59 in northeast Jefferson County to the Interstate 459 and I-20/59 junction in southwest Jefferson County. The first phase of construction is set to begin this year.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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