100-mile transmission line violated NEPA and laws that protect the refuge

“We are pleased that the Court saw the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project for what it was: a commercial utility line that would promote deforestation and habitat fragmentation in what must remain a safe haven for wildlife. As the Court decided, the proposed project has no business cutting through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a crown jewel of the Midwest.”  

Lindsay Dubin, Defenders of Wildlife staff attorney conservation law.
Madison, WI

Defenders of Wildlife and three other conservation groups – the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation – prevailed on January 14 when a Western Virginia District Court judge ruled in a court case filed by the groups that the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project cannot be built across the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge through right-of-way or land transfer. 

“We are pleased that the Court saw the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project for what it was: a commercial utility line that would promote deforestation and habitat fragmentation in what must remain a safe haven for wildlife," said Lindsay Dubin, Defenders of Wildlife staff attorney conservation law.  "As the Court decided, the proposed project has no business cutting through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a crown jewel of the Midwest."

The proposed 102-mile Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) transmission line violated federal environmental laws designed to protect the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires full and fair consideration of reasonable alternatives that are less environmentally damaging and less costly. 

The Court’s Opinion stated: “The Utilities are pushing forward with construction on either side of the Refuge, even without an approved path through the Refuge, in order to make any subsequent challenge to a Refuge crossing extremely prejudicial to their sunk investment, which will fall on their ratepayers regardless of completion of the CHC project, along with a guaranteed return on the Utilities’ investment in the project.”

Geoffrey L. Haskett, President, National Wildlife Refuge Association: 
“The Federal District Court’s ruling on Friday is a resounding victory for the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The proposed transmission lines across the Upper Miss NWFR, which preserves the largest area of floodplain habitat in the country, stretched across four states, would cause irreparable damage to an iconic refuge. The massive Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line violated environmental laws designed to protect this Refuge, and we are grateful for the District Court’s decisive ruling in this case."

Jennifer Filipiak, Executive Director, Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC): 
“The one very obvious inadequacy in the federal agencies’ and ATC's and ITC’s environmental assessment was that they never evaluated an option in which the transmission line does not go through the Refuge. We are pleased that the Court agreed with us that the Environmental Impact Statement was grossly inadequate.

“DALC has been fighting this line since 2016, when we learned that it would threaten conservation easements that we are legally obligated to protect. Our sustained efforts, in partnership with our Environmental Law & Policy Center attorneys, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and grass roots supporters, have steadily been paying off in showing that this line is not necessary - there are more economical alternatives to bring green energy to Wisconsin. We hope this recent decision prompts ATC and ITC to stop throwing good money after bad and stop the environmental damage.”

Mark LaBarbera, Executive Director, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation: 
“Good energy solutions, conservation and environmental protections are not mutually exclusive. As a hunter, angler and conservationist who cherishes family time on the upper Mississippi River, I know first-hand what a valuable, world-class resource we all have free access to, and it needs to be protected and used wisely. 

“Our Federation members and affiliated clubs and alliances understand that viewscapes are important just like fish, wildlife and other natural resources of the upper Mississippi. The Court's decision helps restore confidence in our democracy and reaffirms the value of the Federation's individual members, partners, affiliates and the public speaking truth to power."

Howard Learner, Attorney for the Conservation Organizations and Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center: 
“The U.S. District Court’s comprehensive decision concluding that approvals of the massive Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line violated environmental laws is well-grounded in law and supported by the facts. The Court’s Opinion makes clear that this huge transmission line is not compatible with the purpose and statutory protections for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Running a huge high-voltage transmission line with 20-story high towers through the protected National Wildlife Refuge is illegal and is contrary to common sense and sound policy.

“The Court’s Opinion also makes clear that the agencies and the transmission companies essentially rigged the environmental impact statement process to preclude fairly evaluating alternatives to the huge proposed transmission line, which is the heart of the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements.” 

“The transmission companies’ continued clearcutting and destruction in the face of these illegalities is irresponsible. The transmission companies should pause, step back, and stop wasting money that they plan to charge to consumers, and stop the unnecessary environmental damage they are making.”

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Communications Specialist
karberg@defenders.org
(202) 772-0259

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