Lawsuit against Kinder Morgan in the works

A second round of litigation against a proposed 42-inch, 430-mile underground natural gas pipeline could be forthcoming.

On Tuesday, Hays County Commissioners voted 4-0 to file a notice of intent to sue Kinder Morgan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relating to the controversial Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), according to a press release. Hays County joins the Travis Audubon Society and three private plaintiffs that have filed a similar notice. Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra was absent Tuesday and did not vote. Plaintiffs seek a full environmental study of the PHP.

Filing of the notice stemmed from the possible environmental impact the PHP could have on the area, if constructed.

PHP, a $2 billion project, is slated to go from far west Texas to the Houston area, cutting through the Texas Hill Country. According to a Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition (TREAD) release, the PHP’s current route crosses “some of the most sensitive environmental features” in the state.

That includes both the Edwards and Edwards-Trinity Aquifer Recharge Zones and habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell said officials opted to take action Tuesday due to a lack of information from Kinder Morgan on mitigating any environmental impacts.

Plaintiffs who filed the notice seek a full environmental impact study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). TREAD officials said the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Kinder Morgan intends to use the Nationwide Permitting verification process.

Through NEPA, entities are required to consider alternative routes. TREAD officials alleged Kinder Morgan could bypass a “crucial step” in order to speed its timeline and avoid public transparency.

Kinder Morgan estimates the PHP to be constructed and operational by the fourth quarter 2020.

“In requesting that an environmental review process be followed and a study performed by Kinder Morgan, we are asking for nothing more than what Hays County has to do when planning and building county infrastructure,”  Shell said in a statement. “The county conducts extensive environmental studies when developing roadways to protect endangered species habitat and water quality.”

Plaintiffs who have filed the notice must wait 60 days before filing for litigation, per the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s our hope that Kinder Morgan will do the sensible thing and comply with federal law, which could obviate the need for a lawsuit to be filed,” said David P. Smith, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the suit.

Meanwhile, Hays County Commissioners Tuesday supported an appeal of a ruling that dismissed litigation aimed at increasing oversight of the pipeline routing and eminent domain process.

Hays County joins Kyle in objecting to a decision made by Travis County District Judge Lara Livingtston, who in June tossed out the suit filed against Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission.

Andrew Sansom, owner of the Hershey Ranch and plaintiff in the eminent domain lawsuit, said plaintiffs are confident that “at some level, the courts will look favorably on our argument.”

Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell said in a statement the city seeks greater transparency in the pipeline process.

Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan vice president of public affairs, said the company will continue to work with all stakeholders, including state and federal regulators.

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