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Biden administration backs city ordinance in pipeline suit

July 3, 2021 GMT

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Biden administration supported in court filings this week a South Portland air quality ordinance that has effectively prohibited the import of crude oil via a Canadian pipeline.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a 38-page legal brief with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston arguing that federal law doesn’t preempt the city’s Clear Skies Ordinance, the Portland Press Herald reported Friday.

“We’re happy to see the Biden administration is supportive of our interpretation of the law and we’re allowed to regulate what is put into the air in South Portland,” Mayor Misha Pride said. “Federal law doesn’t supersede South Portland’s ordinance when it comes to enactment of the Clear Skies Ordinance.”

The ordinance blocks the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from reversing the flow of its 236-mile (380-kilometer) underground pipeline, which had carried foreign oil from harbor terminals in South Portland to refineries in Canada. In recent years, the companies storage tanks and pipeline have been largely dormant, the newspaper reported.

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The company sued the city over the ordinance in 2015, pushing the case through several levels of judicial review over six years. It argues that the Constitution gives the federal government the authority to regulate international commerce, among other arguments.

The company declined to comment on the filing.

Environmental groups and activists hailed the move as an indication that the administration may side with other municipalities who have sought to regulate the operation of pipelines.

It’s not clear when the court will take further action in the case.