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Northern Border Pipeline Co. v. Jackson County

Citation: 11 ELR 20791
No. No. 3-81-165, 512 F. Supp. 1261/(D. Minn., 05/01/1981)

The district court enjoins defendant, Jackson County, Minnesota, from enforcing a six-foot cover requirement for plaintiff's natural gas pipeline and rules that Minnesota law and the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, 49 U.S.C. § 1671 et seq., preempt the county from adopting pipeline safety standards. Plaintiff, a pipeline company, was granted the necessary certificates to install and operate a portion of the eastern leg ofthe Alaska Natural Gas Transportation System which will pass through Jackson County. Defendant's Board of Commissioners granted plaintiff a construction permit conditioned on the requirement that plaintiff bury the gas line a minimum of six feet. The Department of Transportation, pursuant to its authority to adopt federal safety standards under the Pipeline Safety Act, requires a minimum three-foot cover for pipelines. 49 C.F.R. § 192.327. The court rules that defendant lacks authority to impose the six-foot cover requirement on plaintiff because Minnesota statutory law exempts interstate gas pipelines subject to the safety requirements of the Pipeline Safety Act from state and local regulation. MINN. STAST. § 1161.06(d). That statute, being more recent and specific than the general enabling statute, MINN. STAT. § 394.01 et seq., giving the county the legislative power to zone, takes precedence. In addition, the language and legislative history of the Pipeline Safety Act clearly indicate that it preempts state law in the area of gas pipeline safety. Since the Department of Transportation has adopted minimum cover requirements for pipelines, the county is without authority to adopt additional or more stringent cover standards. 49 U.S.C. § 1672(a)(1). The court rejects defendant's contention that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) takes precedence over the Pipeline Safety Act, and therefore it can regulate interstate gas lines as an exercise of its power to regulate environmental quality. The pipeline is part of the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation System established under the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Act (ANGTA). Since the courts have no authority to review environmental impact statements under the ANGTA, the court determines that Congress has denied the courts the power to balance between the need to implement the ANGTA and the policies of NEPA.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (6 pp. $1.25, ELR Order No. C-1251).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Elmer B. Trousdale, Edward M. Laine, Dennis J. Trooien
Oppenheimer, Wolff, Foster, Shepard & Donnelly
1700 First Nat'l Bank Bldg., 55 E. 5th St., St. Paul MN 55101
(612) 227-7271

Counsel for Defendant
John M. Lundblad, Jackson Cty. Attorney
Muir, Lundblad, Meyer, Storey, Simons & Costello
603 2d St., Jackson MN 56143
(507) 847-2850

Devitt, J.