United States Department of Justice joins appeal of Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line case


The U.S. Department of Justice – on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior – has joined with the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project co-owners in filing a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit appealing the Federal District Court’s ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lacks authority to approve the proposed crossing of the project in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (Refuge) and that the environmental impact statement for the project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service requires changes.

In the filing, the U.S. Department of Justice argues that:

  • The District Court erred in adjudicating whether the USFWS has authority to approve a land exchange for the project.
  • The District Court erred by finding that the Plaintiffs had standing to challenge the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the project, wrongly rejected the EIS’s explanation of the purpose and need for the project and failed to consider alternatives favored by the plaintiffs, and erred in vacating the EIS.

Co-owners’ joint statement regarding U.S. Department of Justice appeal of federal NEPA case:

The appeal filed June 8 by the U.S. Department of Justice – on behalf of the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – is a vote of confidence in the lawfulness of all the federal agencies’ decisions related to the Cardinal-Hickory project and the ability of the project to be built in full compliance with federal environmental laws. This action reinforces the assertion of the project’s co-owners – American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative – that the federal agencies fully complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the USFWS has multiple sources of authority to allow the project to cross the Refuge with appropriate environmental conditions.

The U.S. Department of Justice brief reaffirms the authority of Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) to plan the Multi-Value Project transmission portfolio, including the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project, to provide multiple benefits for electric consumers. As stated in the brief: “Rural Utilities Service’s Environmental Impact Statement reasonably relied on MISO’s transmission planning process in defining its purpose and need statement. When MISO recommended the construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Project, it did so as part of its federally-authorized transmission planning process.”

The appeal also reaffirms the authorizations provided in the Refuge Act for federal agencies to negotiate land exchanges, such as the one currently under consideration to allow the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line to be routed through the Refuge. According to the USFWS’s Manual as cited in the brief, “lands under Service or other Federal agency control can be exchanged for land having greater potential for achieving habitat protection objectives.”

The co-owners welcome the support of the federal agencies and look forward to the Seventh Circuit’s full consideration of this case later this summer. The Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line will reduce energy costs by ensuring the clean, renewable energy that consumers are seeking is available, and reinforce the reliability and resilience of the regional transmission grid.

Utilities are depending on the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project to facilitate the region’s transition away from fossil fuels, all to support decarbonization goals. Currently, 127 renewable generation projects totaling more than 19 gigawatts were dependent upon its construction – enough to power millions of homes with clean energy. The critical role of this project in meeting the region’s energy needs compels the co-owners to ensure it is built for the benefit of electricity consumers by the scheduled in-service date of December 2023.

Construction of the approximately 101-mile, 345,000-volt electric transmission line continues to move forward in Iowa and Wisconsin. ITC Midwest began construction on the Iowa project segment outside of the Refuge in April 2021, and ATC began construction outside the Refuge in Wisconsin in November 2021. Additional project information is available at www.cardinal-hickorycreek.com.

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