MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Senate has delayed action on a bill toughening environmental reviews over possible changes in the use of a crude oil pipeline after the state's leading business law firm sent a letter outlining potential legal problems if the bill were to become law.
The Senate was to vote Thursday whether to apply Vermont's Act 250 environmental law to a possible flow reversal in the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line that could allow Canadian tar sands oil to be shipped across northern New England to South Portland, Maine.
The existing Portland-Montreal Pipeline carries oil from a port terminal in Maine to a refinery in Montreal, but environmental groups have been warning for months of possible plans to reverse the pipeline's flow and carry heavier-grade "tar sands" oil southeasterly from Canada across New England for shipment out of Portland.
The bill would require changes to the pipeline to come under the Act 250 land use review system if the changes were not solely for the purpose of repairing the pipeline.
The letter from the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin says the bill would discriminate against the company that owns the pipeline, may be pre-empted by federal law and may interfere with the president's power to rule on foreign oil shipments.
Signed by Joseph Choquette III, a lobbyist with the firm, the letter urges the Senate to "seek qualified legal advice" before passing the bill.
"The discriminatory treatment of this one company and facility as arguably prohibited by the Common Benefits Clause of the Vermont Constitution" and "would arguably run afoul of federal pre-emption principles that explicitly ban states from regulating oil pipeline safety," the letter states.
It also said the bill could "constitute an impermissible attempt to nullify the President's exercise of his foreign affairs power" to regulate pipelines crossing the international borders.
It also warned that, "This company (the Portland Pipe Line Co.), like all others, is entitled to protect its rights under the Vermont and U.S. Constitutions related to common benefits and interstate and international commerce."