Construction of the only oil refinery and supertanker terminal under active consideration in energy-short New England has been blocked because the proposed $700 million project threatens servival of the American bald eagle.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency late Monday refused to give the Pittston Co. of New York a water pollution discharge permit because of potential damage to the eagle, an endangered species which makes its home mostly around the rocky Cobscook Bay near the Candaian border here.
The decision was based on a warning from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that construction of the 250,000-barrel-a-day refinery -- planned for nearly a decade -- "is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of" America's national symbol.
Arnold F. Kaulakis, vice president in charge of energy development for the Pittston Co., said in a statement released yesterday that the company would abandon the project unless it can get a speedy appeal hearing.
The firm's decision to appeal hinges on "whether the company will encounter the same bureaucratic delays, misinterpretations and consequent misunderstandings that were so prevalent in the initial licensing process," he said.
The case is reminiscent of that of the snail darter, another endangered species that forced an end to construction of a multimillion-dollar dam on the Snake River in Tennessee. The Pittston case is likely to be bogged down in the federal bureaucracy and the courts for several years if the company decides to appeal.
"We're talking about the symbol of the... country, not some snail darter," said an environmental official. "It's the American eagle we're talking about, and that may be a difficult hurdle to clear."
"We think decisions like this can put the environmental movement in a disadvantageous light, but the eagle is a symbol of the fight for a clean enviromment," said Robert Gardiner, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "If this refinery is bad for the eagle, it is bad in many ways for mankind."
Countered Pittston's Kaulakis: "The difficulties that we encountered in trying to get the necessary federal approvals of the Eastport refinery are symptomatic of what is wrong with our nation's economy today and why industry is reluctant to make new investments in many areas."
The EPA decision is based on the National Environmental Policy Act and guidelines which allow denial of the wastewater permit if "the quality and scarcity of resources at risk is such that no significant threat to their impairment should be incurred."
Regional EPA Administrator William Adams Jr. said the refinery would have "significant adverse impacts on the eagles and their habitat as a result of oil spills, air pollution and the impact of refinery construction and operation.
"These potential impacts could not be avoided or mitigated by any means short of denial of the permit," Adams said.
The company has 10 days to file its appeal with EPA Administrator Douglas Costle. It may also file an appeal with Endangered Species Committee, a review board composed of agency heads including Costle. Neither is expected to reverse the decision because of the way the law is phrased. A court suit is also possible, but the company would not comment on their legal plans.