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My end-of-year letter

Elections produce change, they can shock the system, and they create new challenges and, often, unanticipated opportunities.  President-elect Trump does not share ELPC’s values and that creates enormous challenges.  Some fundamentals, however, still present positive opportunities in the Midwest states where ELPC focuses, leads and knows how to get things done.

The Midwest is the nation’s most pivotal region for transitioning to a clean energy economy and is the nation’s transportation crossroads where vehicle and mobility innovations can make the most difference in the ways that we live and work.  Cleaning up the energy and transportation sectors are the most important climate change solutions that are needed to save our planet.  Likewise, we must protect the Great Lakes, which are 22% of the world’s freshwater resources, supplying drinking water to 42 million people.  The leadership gap and gridlock in Washington DC makes clear that states and cities are key places for ELPC to drive environmental progress.

ELPC is effective.  We advance savvy policy changes that combined with technological innovations are driving energy markets to accelerate solar energy, wind power, battery storage and energy efficiency.  We are seizing opportunities to transform the transportation sector with innovative new electric and driverless cars and trucks that pollute less and smart mobility options including high-speed rail, better public transit and shared vehicles.  ELPC public interest attorneys are winning strategic litigation with our conservation partners to protect the Midwest’s special wild and natural places – the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Sylvania Wilderness, Great Lakes and Northwoods.

Your support will help ELPC win in 2017, advancing cleaner energy in the Midwest, accelerating transportation innovations, and protecting the great lakes, rivers, forests and prairies that we love. Please read the enclosed report, consider ELPC’s track record of success, and make a contribution by phone, mail or at

ELPC shows that smart, strategic legal and policy advocacy can both improve environmental quality and grow the Midwest’s economy. ELPC’s teams of expert public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates, communications specialists and science advisors play to win and know how to get things done – truly making a difference for a better world.

ELPC is on the Cusp of Transformational Electricity Policy, Market and Technological Changes, Leading the Midwest to a Clean Energy Future, State by State.  New solar energy, wind power, battery and lighting technologies can help clean up and transform the electricity sector.  ELPC attorneys, M.B.A.s and policy experts are driving new pro-innovation and pro-competition policies to remove barriers and open up markets for solar, wind and storage technologies before the state public utilities commissions where “the rubber hits the road.”  We are playing both offense and defense to accelerate clean renewable energy across the Midwest.  The stakes are high for our future energy mix and climate change solutions.

We Can Make Solar + Batteries = 24/7 Electricity Market Game Changer. Midwest energy policies do not support (and in some ways impede) widespread implementation of new solar energy and storage technologies that would provide both economic benefits – less expensive ways of achieving reliability for business and residential consumers – and environmental value as a very low-carbon part of the electricity system when grid integrated.  ELPC is also working at regional transmission organizations to design policies for demand response and battery storage that provide grid support, enhance reliability, and reduce need for old coal plants.

ELPC Is Taking on Peabody Energy – the Biggest Coal Mine Company.  ELPC attorneys are making progress before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in challenging Peabody Energy’s flawed “self-bonding” practices — a promise to pay, without guarantee — for its mine reclamation obligations. Peabody and other coal mine companies must fulfill their environmental cleanup responsibilities and not shift their costs onto taxpayers.

ELPC Is Winning in the Courts to Clean Up or Retire Coal.  ELPC won a federal district court decision requiring the Edwards coal plant in Peoria to reduce dangerous soot pollution, and ELPC attorneys helped stop First Energy’s and AEP’s requested bailouts of uneconomic old coal plants in Ohio. Because of coal plant retirements, Illinois is already 81% and Michigan is 90% of the way toward achieving their full Clean Power Plan carbon pollution reductions by 2030.

ELPC is Accelerating Electric Vehicles (EV) and “Driverless” Car Policies to Steer the Right Course to Clean Up and Rapidly Transform the Transportation Sector.  We are exploring ways to develop a modern EV fast-charging network that brings together homes, public sites and fast-charging stations powered by solar or wind energy along major Midwest interstates.  ELPC is leading the national environmental advocacy with government agencies to integrate greenhouse gas reduction standards into emerging federal safety policies for driverless vehicles.  Done right, the technological advances spurring development of driverless cars create opportunities to lower traffic fatalities, optimize fuel efficiency to produce less pollution, and reduce congestion.  That’s a winning strategy.

ELPC – the Go-To Public Interest Litigation Attorneys for Conservation Partners Working to Protect the Midwest’s Wild and Natural Places When Serious Threats Emerge:

  • We’re Protecting the Sylvania Wilderness, a beautiful 18,327-acre area of interconnected lakes and old growth trees along the Michigan-Wisconsin border where people canoe, fish, hike, camp and enjoy the quiet of the outdoors.  ELPC attorneys represent environmental groups intervening in litigation brought by private plaintiffs seeking to overturn the Forest Service’s limits on “grandfathered” uses of loud gas-powered motorboats.  In June, ELPC won a favorable Federal District Court summary judgment decision to limit large motorboat uses that disturb the wilderness experience and potentially bring in invasive species.  If upheld on appeal, that decision will also set a precedent for protecting other Midwest National Parks, Lakeshores and Wilderness Areas.
  • We’re Ditching the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle and Protecting the Remarkable Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The Illiana Tollway is a fiscal folly, undermines sound regional planning, and would harm wildlife and ecological values in the 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. ELPC attorneys representing the Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club have now twice prevailed before the Federal District Courts, which have declared that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statements and Record of Decisions violated NEPA and are invalid.  ELPC’s media outreach has secured 20 editorials against the Illiana “road to nowhere” during Illinois’ fiscal crisis when there are much higher priorities for limited transportation infrastructure funds to enable badly-needed fixes for transit and commuter rail, intercity higher-speed rail, and bridge repairs.  It’s time to finally bring the proposed Illiana Tollway to an end.
  • We’re Protecting Clean Water in the Great Lakes and Midwest Rivers. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has bipartisan support and sustained appropriations, which have largely avoided political squabbling. The projects supported by close to $2 billion of federal funds over the past seven years are achieving real results for restoring the Great Lakes ecological system. In Illinois, ELPC attorneys won a state court decision overturning agencies’ failure to establish sound phosphorus standards and a separate permit appeal challenging discharges of superheated water into Lake Michigan.  In Iowa, ELPC attorneys won a court decision reversing an agency’s flawed “antidegradation” standards that should keep clean water clean.

ELPC believes in the core principle that environmental progress and economic growth can be achieved together, and we put that sustainability principle into practice every day. Our multidisciplinary staff teams of public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy experts and communications specialists are fully engaged across the Midwest, and we’re achieving progress.  ELPC’s strong Board of Directors, scientist advisors, and next-gen and state advisory councils expand our capabilities, talent and networks to succeed.   It isn’t easy; real change never is. We don’t give up. We play to win and work with diverse partners to accomplish results that matter.

Thank you for your engagement and your support.  Please consider making a contribution by mail, phone or online at to support ELPC’s effective work to seize opportunities for transformational changes and achieve a brighter Midwest future for all.

Victory in Federal Court! Illiana Tollway Tier 2 EIS “Invalid”

ELPC litigation success! U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle issued an Order yesterday holding that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 2 environmental impact statement and record of decision for the boondoggle Illiana Tollway are “invalid” and “no longer effective.” ELPC Staff Attorney Rachel Granneman and I are representing Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club in this case.

Federal judges have now twice held in favor of ELPC and our clients that the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway were invalid and illegal. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) impermissibly skewed their environmental reviews from the outset to somehow justify the proposed new Illiana Tollway. Their Tier 1 EIS, which was held to be illegal by the federal court on June 16, 2015, relied on improper methodologies to support the proposed Illiana Tollway and reject better alternatives. Their Tier 2 EIS relied on the flawed underlying Tier 1 EIS in then choosing among proposed corridors to build this tollway.

The new federal court decision yesterday ruled “invalid” and “no longer effective” the Tier 2 EIS approvals by IDOT, INDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. Accordingly, the court then stated that the case is now “moot” and dismissed the lawsuit. We are pleased that the federal courts have now held that both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental impact statements are illegal and cannot be relied upon for the proposed new Illiana Tollway.

The U.S. District Court’s decision means that IDOT and INDOT must start over their environmental reviews from the beginning based on much more realistic data and do it right without impermissible shortcuts. However, if done right, that would very likely show that the proposed costly Illiana Tollway is not economically justified and is not environmentally sensible.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The proposed new Illiana Tollway proposal is fiscally irresponsible, contradicts sound regional planning, and would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. It’s time for IDOT and INDOT to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and time, and instead bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to its well-deserved end.

Thank you for your continued engagement and support. We’re winning.

Take down the TRUMP sign along the improved Chicago Riverwalk!

TakeTrumpSignDownThe enormous TRUMP sign along the scenic Chicago Riverwalk is a 20-foot-high, 141-foot-across blight on this otherwise beautiful environmental, architectural, cultural and economic corridor. This sign offends community values and shouldn’t be there. Help end this offensive visual pollution by signing our petition to #TakeTrumpSignDown!

Respected Chicago Tribune architectural writer Blair Kamin has blasted the sign on Chicago’s Trump Tower as “grotesquely oversized” and “crudely detailed.” And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the sign “awful” and “in very poor taste.” In fact, the mayor was so moved by the sign’s unpleasantness – and, no doubt, by the scores of Chicago voters who agreed with him – that he drafted a new ordinance, later adopted by the city council, to limit the size and placement of future signage along the Riverwalk.

But the Trump sign eyesore remains. Tell the mayor you want it taken down. 

The newly improved Chicago Riverwalk is generating broad public support to preserve the public space as a place where civic values take priority over this offensive commercialism. Chicago’s downtown Riverwalk should be a recreational showplace lined with trees, walking paths and restaurants – NOT Las Vegas-style excess. Take action today to support the removal of the “TRUMP” sign on this tower along our community’s iconic Chicago River.

Litigation Victory! Federal Court Finds that Dynegy’s Edwards Coal Plant Violates Law on Particulate Pollution and Opacity

Victory! ELPC and our partners won a major victory as Federal District Court Judge McDade just issued a very favorable decision granting us summary judgment in our lawsuit challenging excessive particulate emissions, which exacerbate respiratory problems, from the old Edwards coal plant near Peoria, IL. The Court’s opinion holds that a Dynegy subsidiary, the plant owner, violated the Edwards coal plant’s operating permit thousands of times over seven years – emitting an illegal amount of harmful soot pollution.

ELPC attorneys Jenny Cassel and Justin Vickers represent client plaintiffs Respiratory Health Association and Sierra Club, and we are working with co-plaintiff Natural Resources Defense Council. Together, we alleged that the Edwards coal plant was not properly controlling soot pollution – also known as “particulate matter,” which is associated with asthma, decreased lung function, and other respiratory problems.

This important legal victory reinforces the ability of environmental advocacy organizations to bring and win citizen enforcement lawsuits against polluters, even when state agencies do not enforce the permits they issue. It’s time for Dynegy to recognize that if it is going to continue to operate the Edwards plant, it must follow the law by installing sufficient modern pollution control equipment.

Going forward, the case will shift to a “remedy” phase for the Judge to determine what steps Dynegy must take to reduce pollution and comply with its permit, as well as what penalties should be paid for violations.

Kudos to ELPC attorneys Jenny Cassel and Justin Vickers and our partners who all worked hard on this case. This court decision will reduce pollution and set a precedent for environmental enforcement lawsuits brought in the public interest.

Take Action: Tell Bill Schuette to Drop His Litigation to Stop Sensible Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards that Protect Children’s Health

What is Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette thinking? He seems to somehow believe that more mercury pollution in Michigan’s water and in your food is just fine.  Attorney General Bill Schuette continues to lead endless litigation to stall and delay the important federal Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which protect children’s health, clean air and safe water. Have you had enough? Click here to take action.

Let’s look at the facts.

  1. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is harmful to children, impacting fetal brain development and leading to harmful effects on language, memory, visual-motor skills and attention.
  2. The Mercury & Air Toxics Standards require utilities to install widely available mercury pollution reduction control technology, and that limits both in-state mercury emissions as well as pollution that often drifts across state lines.
  3. Michigan coal plants have already stepped up to comply with these standards, so why is AG Bill Schuette still leading the federal litigation against those standards?
  4. Since December, AG Bill Schuette’s repeated appeals have been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Enough is enough.
  5. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has “disassociated” the State of Michigan from these appeals. AG Bill Schuette is doing these appeals of the mercury pollution standards on his own.
  6. The implementation of MATS is moving forward, even as AG Bill Schuette’s latest appeal proceeds.

Bottom line: AG Bill Schuette should drop his litigation, which is being fought with taxpayer dollars and at the expense of public health. Let’s work together to hold AG Schuette accountable.

Michigan’s leaders should stand up to better protect children’s health, safe water and safe food. Please ask AG Schuette to drop his litigation against sensible mercury pollution standards.

ELPC Gains Favorable Bankruptcy Court Ruling for Actions to End Peabody’s Flawed “Self-Bonding” of Its Mine Reclamation and Environmental Cleanup

ELPC has achieved a breakthrough in our advocacy campaign challenging Peabody Energy’s flawed “self-bonding” of its coal mine reclamation and environmental clean-up requirements under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. We are seeking to avoid the risk that Peabody will evade its financial responsibility and force the public to pay for the coal mine clean-up costs. Taxpayers should not be left holding the financial bag for Peabody’s obligations.

The irresponsible practice of “self-bonding” is a coal mine company’s promise that funds will be available in the future, rather than setting aside actual funds or purchasing surety bonds, to pay for its mine reclamation and environmental clean-up responsibilities. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court made two key rulings on July 20th in response to ELPC’s motions.

First, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Barry Schermer ruled from the bench that ELPC has standing as a “party in interest” to engage before the bankruptcy court to seek to require Peabody Energy to fully comply with its responsibilities to pay for full and effective mine reclamation and environmental clean-ups at its coal mine sites. Peabody’s lawyers argued, in a remarkable 33-page brief, that ELPC lacked any standing to express our position on mine reclamation bonding. In short, Peabody essentially said that environmental organizations could not even question Peabody’s promises to return the land to its pre-mining condition. The Judge rejected these arguments in his opinion from the bench and subsequent Order.

Second, when a company is in bankruptcy, federal law places an “automatic stay” on some outside legal proceedings. The Court granted ELPC’s and the Western Organization of Resource Councils’ motion to lift the stay, to the extent that it applied, on our citizen complaints to require the Illinois, Indiana, New Mexco and Wyoming departments of natural resources and the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to take action to make sure that Peabody provides sufficient funds for its mine reclamation.

These two rulings are significant. They put ELPC in a position to assert that sufficient funds be made available for mine reclamation and environmental clean-up at coal mines in Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico and Wyoming. And, as a practical matter, the Judge has made clear that these environmental responsibilities are on the court’s radar alongside the competing demands of Peabody’s creditors.

This is key progress in ELPC’s and our allies’ advocacy against Peabody’s irresponsible practice of self-bonding going forward. Stay tuned for more news to follow.

Victory! ELPC Wins Federal Court Case Protecting Michigan’s Pristine Sylvania Wilderness Area

Victory! This week, the Federal District Court ruled in favor of ELPC, our clients, and the U.S. Forest Service to uphold restrictions on the use of loud and disruptive gas-powered motorboats in the beautiful interconnected lakes of the Sylvania Wilderness Area, which includes 18,000+ acres of old-growth trees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the Wisconsin border.

Federal District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar’s decision enables the U.S. Forest Service to enforce the laws to protect the Sylvania Wilderness as place to canoe, hike, camp and enjoy the quiet of the outdoors. The Court held that restrictions on large gas-powered motorboats “are precisely the type of regulation that Michigan courts have upheld as reasonable” and are rationally connected to achieving the goal of preserving Sylvania’s wilderness character.

ELPC attorneys represented Sylvania Wilderness Cabins, Friends of Sylvania, and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition in this case. ELPC’s legal victory will help preserve pristine water quality, reduce the spread of damaging invasive aquatic plant species, and preserve the wonderful quiet and scenic enjoyment of this special natural place. This is an important court victory that sets a precedent for protecting the Sylvania Wilderness Area and other protected National Lakeshores and Wilderness Areas around the Great Lakes and Midwest.

Kudos to ELPC Staff Attorney Jen Tarr and ELPC Board member Bob Graham, who worked with me on this important case.

Best wishes and bravo all on this victory for the Midwest’s wild and special places!

Remembering ELPC Photographer James Linehan

JimI want to let ELPC’s “extended family” know the sad news that photographer James Linehan, who worked closely with ELPC, passed away on May 29th after a long illness.  Jim was 50 years old and lived in Chicago and in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

Jim was a fine friend, great outdoorsman and wonderful photographer. Jim photographed a series of images of the Midwest’s special wild and natural places that ELPC succeeded in protecting and saving, and his photographs have been on display in ELPC’s office for many years. Some of these photos are included below.

Jim’s love of the outdoors was reflected in his photography. He was an accomplished ice climber, fly fisherman and paddler. Jim did much more than enjoy the outdoors; he lived and loved the outdoors.

ELPC, with curator David Travis, will be showing a special exhibit of Jim’s great Midwest landscape and wildlife photos. We have been working with Jim over the past few months to plan this retrospective photo show.

Jim was a great friend and colleague for ELPC. We will all greatly miss Jim and his work in many ways to preserve the Midwest’s natural environment.



#DitchTheIlliana: Please Donate to Support ELPC’s Public Interest Litigation to Stop the Illiana Tollway and Protect the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

The boondoggle Illiana Tollway is on the ropes. ELPC’s public interest attorneys are in Federal Court and State Court fighting back against the Illinois Department of Transportation and Indiana Department of Transportation in order to bring the Illiana Tollway to a well-deserved end. This litigation is expensive, but necessary and effective. Please make a donation to support ELPC’s effective public interest litigation to win these federal court and state court lawsuits that can stop the proposed Illiana Tollway and protect the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.


Midewin_Illiana_250x330ELPC’s public interest attorneys are representing the Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club Illinois challenging the approval of the flawed “Tier 2” Environmental Impact Statement by the Federal Highway Administration and the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation.

The Tier 2 EIS is based on the very circular logic that the Illiana is needed to accommodate growth that would be generated by building the Illiana. If this sounds familiar, that’s because ELPC attorneys won a major legal victory invalidating the “Tier 1” EIS on the same grounds last year. The environmental studies are “tiered” because, generally, the first one selects a project site and the second one determines more specifics about that site. ELPC is arguing that the Tier 2 EIS is illegal both because it’s based on the already-invalidated Tier 1 analysis and the illogical assumptions about population growth and traffic patterns. ELPC’s legal briefs in this case are due in June.  ELPC’s public interest environmental attorneys are working hard to win. Please donate to support this important ELPC litigation to stop the Illiana Tollway boondoggle, support sound regional planning and protect the Midewin National Tallgras Prairie.


Homepage_MidewinIllianaBisonELPC’s public interest attorneys are representing Openlands and Sierra Club challenging the Illiana Tollway being illegally included in the “GO TO 2040” regional plan.

For a project to be included in the regional plan, state law requires approval from the CMAP Board (which voted no), and federal law requires sign-off from the MPO Policy Committee (which voted yes).  Including the Illiana Tollways in the GO TO 2040 Plan, even though the CMAP Board voted against it, violates the Illinois Regional Planning Act. ELPC has filed a motion for summary judgment in this case. A final round of briefs is due in June, and we will be urging the court to uphold and enforce Illinois’ regional planning law. Please donate to support this important ELPC litigation to stop the Illiana Tollway boondoggle, support sound regional planning and protect the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

The proposed new Illiana Tollway proposal is fiscally irresponsible, contradicts sound regional planning, and would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. We have won in the court of public opinion with your active support, and now we need to keep winning in the courts of law. Please make a donation to support ELPC public interest environmental litigation to #DitchTheIlliana.


Getting Real About Oil Prices and Impacts on Oil Pipelines

Bakken shale oil and Canadian oil production is falling, and pipeline companies are now biting the bullet and deferring projects. Here’s an update on oil prices, Bakken shale oil, Canadian tar sands, and the impacts on oil pipelines in the Midwest. Markets matter.

Today, the Nymex market price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil is $29.57/bbl. That’s low, and many analysts believe that WTI oil prices will stay below $50 bbl, or go even lower, during the next two years.

Bakken Shale Oil – Fewer Rigs, Less Production, Weakened by Today’s Market Prices: North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil’s break-even prices are WTI $45-$50/bbl for the most efficient producers and WTI $50-$60/bbl for the rest of the producers. That depends on how rich the well is, how costly and efficient the company’s construction and operations are, and how close the rig is to infrastructure. Then, the Bakken shale oil must be transported by pipeline or rail to distant refineries in the Midwest or Texas.

The number of drilling rigs now operating in North Dakota is the lowest since July 2009, and, as production ends at some existing rigs, the rig count will likely decline further. According to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, Bakken output fell to 1.15 million barrels a day in December, down 2.5 percent from the previous month and 6 percent below the all-time high in December 2014. Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn D. Helms stated that oil production could fall to 1 million barrels a day by the end of 2016. According to Helms, oil production and service companies are planning more layoffs in the first half of 2016, and there could be additional bankruptcies in June 2016 when banks often recalculate their debt limits for oil companies.

Unless and until WTI oil prices reach $50/bbl, the rig count and production will continue to decline in Western North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil region.

Canadian Oil Sands – New Production Not Economical with Today’s Market Prices: Canadian tar sands’ break-even prices for new production are around WTI $80/bbl for the “best of the best,” WTI $90-$100/bbl for the “rest of the best,” and WTI $100+/bbl for the “rest of the rest.” Canadian oil production will stagnate until WTI oil prices reach at least $80/bbl. Some current oil sands drilling and production operations have enormous sunk costs and will continue to operate as a long-term play as producers wait out what they hope will be higher prices in 2-3 years.

Less Oil Production Means Less Need for New Pipelines: Financing for new North American oil pipelines is drying up until bankers and other investors see WTI prices rise and thereby lead to more oil production. For example, Enbridge Energy Partners just announced that its Sandpiper Pipeline Project (running from Bakken shale in Western North Dakota through Grand Forks and Northern Minnesota to the oil refinery in Superior, Wisc.) and the Line 3 Replacement Program (running from Alberta through Eastern North Dakota and Minnesota to the oil refinery in Superior, Wisc.), which were originally scheduled for completion by 2017 and 2018, respectively, will both be held back as construction delays “cause a shift in the in-service dates to early 2019 and increase costs for the [Line 3 Replacement] and Sandpiper projects.”

That’s the market situation. As vehicle fuel efficiency (mpg) for North American cars and trucks continues to improve, that will reduce demand for gasoline, as will longer-term trends of Millennials driving less. We’ll see if low gas pump prices, on the other hand, continue and result in more vehicle miles travelled.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. Oil prices and markets have changed dramatically in the past 15 months, and the consequences for oil pipelines are significant.

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