All posts by Wild Virginia

Westerman Bill Creates Loophole to Allow Exploitation of National Forests

 

by Susannah Gilmore

The H.R. 2936 “Westerman Bill” has just entered the process of amendment and discussion in Congress. Proposed last June, it seeks to “improve forest management” by essentially allowing industry to bypass environmental assessment as mandated in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 in order to expedite industrial progress. The bill states that any forest management activities that “produce timber” or “increase water yield” and many others are exempt from conducting any form of assessment or producing an environmental impact statement.

Additionally, when deciding whether an action falls under an “exception” to environmental assessment, important factors like endangered species habitat, potential wilderness areas and cumulative environmental impact will not have to be considered by the Forest Service. While the bill also contains exclusions that may seem beneficial for forest systems, such as allowing controlled logging to prevent  forest fires without having to go through traditional environmental assessments, this creates a loophole for timber industries to exploit national forests under the guise of fuel management.

This bill would also increase the acreage allowed for logging projects to bypass assessment regulation from a previous 250 acres to 10,000 acres, which is the size of more than 7,000 football fields. This would open the door to large-scale industrial projects that could devastate our national forests.

George Washington National Forest

The Westerman Bill would undermine democracy by limiting the time frame for public involvement on large-scale projects on public lands and allowing agencies to eliminate judicial review in federal courts. Wild Virginia encourages you to stay informed about H.R. 2936 and advise your congressmen about the unjust environmental and public health risks of this bill.

For more information on the potential impacts and implications of the Westerman Bill: westerman-hr-2936-factsheet

The Westerman Bill in full: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2936/text

 

Wild Virginia Response to VOF’s Failure to Defend Conservation Easements

We are very disappointed in yesterday’s decision by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) to decline to defend easements on 13 Virginia properties and approve a conversion that will allow the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines to violate standing conservation easement agreements with VOF.

We cannot emphasize how important conservation and trust agreements are in protecting specific conservation values of lands.  As we continue to find ways to permanently protect large areas of lands from development and extraction for the ecological benefits they provide, we concurrently encourage protection of private lands that provide essential protection against habitat fragmentation and opportunities for restoration of migration corridors.

Wild Virginia encourages landowners to seek out and implement both traditional and creative conservation strategies in protecting Virginia’s forests, mountains and waters and the species that call it home.

The Pipeline Fight Continues – No Time to Let Up Now!

Despite recent bad news, the future remains uncertain for two huge, destructive natural gas pipelines proposed to mar our precious mountains and forests. Approvals for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline issued on Friday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are just one step in a continuing battle to determine the fates of these pipelines. The outcome in each case is still to be determined and we, the public, can still act to preserve our natural treasures. We have no intention of relenting in our fight and believe these bad projects can still be stopped.

When FERC granted Certificates for MVP and ACP, it betrayed the public interest in favor of private corporate greed. We understand the disappointment many of you are feeling. It is always discouraging when supposed “public servants” fail in their duties to protect our environment and our communities. But there are a number of reasons to maintain hope. First, in a relatively unusual action, one of the FERC members dissented from her colleagues’ decisions. Such divisions within the Commission in regard to pipeline proposals have been very rare and Commissioner Cheryl Lefleur’s conclusion, that neither project was shown to best serve the public, will be useful in the court challenges that we anticipate will begin soon. The many serious deficiencies in FERC’s environmental analyses and its failure to honestly assess the need for the pipelines could be fatal flaws.

In addition, we continue to pursue formal objections before the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Draft approvals for the pipelines to cross the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and amend forest plans are unsupported by the facts and the law. It is clear that Trump administration officials overruled the resource managers who know our National Forests best. The hard work those scientists did in defining necessary studies and identifying major threats to the forests and users interests was largely discarded and ignored by the political appointees in the Service and the Department of Agriculture.

Another vitally-important forum in which the pipelines can be stopped is the State of Virginia’s process for applying the Clean Water Act. The Department of Environmental Quality will make recommendations for approval or denial of each project in December. Neither Dominion nor EQT has met its burden of proof to show construction and operation of the pipelines will fully protect water quality – to the contrary, the very difficult terrain through which the pipelines would cross and the sensitive resources that could be destroyed or degraded make it impossible to predict that water quality standards can be met, based on the severely deficient evidence provided. Further, the unfair and legally-flawed processes DEQ has conducted have deprived the public of its rights. We will expect and demand that the citizen members of the State Water Control Board do the right thing and veto the projects in Virginia.

 

The pipeline companies would love for us to become discouraged by the news from FERC but we will not give them that satisfaction. From the start, we knew that FERC has traditionally been a mere “rubber stamp” for the power industry. So, while the Commission’s failure to do its duty honestly is disappointing it is not a surprise.

We need you to stick with us to enable us to continue to work to protect Virginia’s natural forests and landscapes.

Click here to to find out what you can do to fight the
Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Click here to to find out what you can do to fight the
Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Suggested Comments – Virginia Water Quality Certifications for the ACP and MVP

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting comments through Aug. 22, 2017.


Comments for ACP should be submitted to:

comment-acp@deq.virginia.gov 
See ACP Public Notice

Comments for MVP should be submitted to:
comment-mvp@deq.virginia.gov
See
  MVP Public Notice

Describe ways you use waterbodies that would be directly affected by pipeline work or are downstream of those areas. If you use a stream for fishing, boating, swimming, or just for aesthetic enjoyment those are valid recreational use that DEQ must protect. Describe waters you know to have valuable and sensitive species (brook trout, mussels, endangered species, etc.).

Other Sample Comment Topics:

The DEQ….

    • Failed to provide adequate public participation: The public participation process is deficient and must be re-started or expanded. The current schedule deprives the public of the chance to play its rightful role.
    • Failed to consider cumulative impacts. DEQ must consider cumulative impacts to state waters from all pollution sources to waters that would be affected by these projects. Such cumulative impacts analyses are conducted by DEQ for all other individual reviews of regulated polluting activities.
    • Refused to consider evidence: DEQ has illegally refused to even consider that the evidence may require it to deny certification for either proposed project. The burden of proof to assure that all water quality standards will be met is on the applicants and DEQ.
    • Must not accept late submissions: DEQ may not allow vital detailed information to be submitted by the pipeline companies after the certification process has been completed.
    • Must limit variances: DEQ must forbid or limit variances to water quality protection requirements in the certifications, not allow open-ended authority for agencies or companies to grant variances after certifications are issued.
    • Must consider impacts: DEQ has not analyzed impacts to recreational and aesthetic uses that would result from construction or maintenance of the pipelines.
    • Must protect existing uses: The activities proposed will impair or deny existing or designated uses that must be fully protected in affected state waters.
    • Must analyze requirements to protect streams: DEQ has failed to analyze whether antidegradation requirements to maintain high water quality in streams can be met in any of its analyses.

Read More:
Legal Bases for Section 401 Reviews

Mountain Valley Pipeline Record of Decision

-The MVP will result in permanent forest fragmentation,
impacts to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail Scenic Corridor, and harm to Endangered Species

-The Record of Decision (ROD) includes 11 exceptions to the existing Jefferson National Forest Plan that would allow:

—-destruction of 51 acres of national forest for creation of the pipeline corridor and access roads and construction areas,  

—-upgrading 31 acres of access roads and creating .8 acres of additional workspaces,  

—-cutting of 4.6 acres of old growth forest,  

—-a 75 foot construction corridor through sensitive wetlands,  

—-violation of existing protection for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail viewshed,  

—-and destruction of habitat of 22 threatened, endangered, or candidate species including the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, 4 species of bats, 6 freshwater mussels, and 6 endangered plants.  

-Mitigation for these serious impacts is to be determined after the project is approved.

-The Forest Service has not considered alternatives or included an analysis of a route that does not cross Forest Service Lands (FSM 2703.2(2)b)

-The ROD fails to include an analysis of a route that utilizes existing energy corridors.

-It fails to demonstrate overall need for the pipeline projects.

-In order for the Forest Service to permit this pipeline, the Forest Service must change the Forest Plan for the Jefferson National Forest.  This plan was developed through public consultation and  is in place to protect our forests.  We should not amend this Forest Plan  to allow this destructive project.

Specific points of concern about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Image Credit: Deirdre Skogen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will destroy 214 acres of National Forests and construction will eliminate a total of 4,892 acres of critical interior forest habitat.

-The Pipeline will cross 2.4 miles of porous and unstable karst areas on Forest Service lands and two cave systems of high significance: the Cocheran’s Cave Conservation Site and Burnsville Cove Cave Conservation Site.

-The Record of Decision (ROD) will eliminate a total of 14 National Forest standards as it applies to the pipeline, including impacts to soils, wetlands, old growth, the Appalachian Trail, and the endangered Indiana Bat.

-The ROD fails to consider the cumulative impacts of both the ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipelines, which is in clear violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Image Credit: Deirdre Skogen

-The Forest Service is amending the Forest Plan to allow this pipeline on the condition that mitigation plans are met.  However, those mitigation plans could be revised after this decision.

-The ROD fails to include an analysis of a route that utilizes existing energy corridors

-The ROD fails to demonstrate overall need for the pipeline projects.

-There is insufficient analysis of alternative routes in the ROD.

-In order to permit this pipeline, the Forest Service must change the Forest Plan for the George Washington  National Forest.  This plan was developed through public consultation and is in place to protect our forests.  We should not amend this plan to allow this destructive project.

MVP & ACP Draft Record of Decision

The Forest Service has decided to allow pipelines to harm watersheds, old growth, and endangered species in our National Forests.

Raise your Objection Today!   

The USFS recently issued the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the ROD for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. These terrible decisions authorize the pipeline companies to amend the Forest Plan, to cross National Forest Lands, and to harm species.

The Forest Service has a duty to ensure the environmental review is complete and to protect our public lands.  Sadly, the Forest Service settled for the flawed and incomplete information presented in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  for both pipelines.  Find the ACP FEIS here and the MVP FEIS here.

Image Credit: Deirdre Skogen

These decisions present a clear and present danger to our public lands.

  • The need for these projects must be, and has not been, established.
  • The Forest Service is required to consider options for these pipelines that would not impact Forest Service lands.  They have not yet done this.

Click below to learn more about the specific impacts outlined in the recent Record of Decision for each pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Mountain Valley Pipeline

Image Credit: Deirdre Skogen

Please take the time to object to the Forest Service about one (or both) of these pipelines.

You are eligible to do this if you:

  1. Submitted any comments during previous comment periods. (signing a petition or letter is o.k.)
    • Your objection should reference your previous comments or issues that came up after the public comment period if you can.
  2. OR you wish to object to information that has come out since the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

If you’re not sure if you are eligible to file an objection, just give Wild Virginia a call.  We’re here to help. 

Need ideas about what to say in your objection? 

While there are a lot of legal and technical reasons to dispute these decisions – it is just as important to  focus on why you love your public lands in your objection.

Do you love to hike, fish, hunt, swim or play in the National Forests?

Describe uses you make of our public lands and things that you value that would be affected by the pipelines. Discuss how you use the lands: recreation, aesthetic appreciation, appreciation of large tracts of intact forests, etc. Your experiences using these lands matter.  Tell them you strongly oppose any decisions that would destroy or devalue these features of our forests.

Image Credit: Deirdre Skogen

You have a right to ask the Forest Service to protect the integrity and beauty of your public lands.  They should not be handing them off to a company for private profit.

Here’s a handy document that will walk you through the Objection process.

If you need more help with what to say or want help drafting your objections, please contact us.  We’re ready to help.  info@wildvirginia.org 434-971-1553

Important Deadlines:

Mountain Valley Pipeline: August 7 by 5pm

Atlantic Coast Pipeline: September 4 by 5pm

Comment to the BLM Today

Tell the BLM “No Pipeline through our National Forests”.

The BLM is accepting comments on the Mountain Valley Pipeline about the impacts to National Forest Lands.  We know that our national forests will be impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Please take time to contact the BLM by mail or email by the comment deadline of July 31st .

Mail your comments to:
Vicki Craft, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Southeastern State District Office, 273 Market Street, Flowood, MS 39232.
(Comments must be postmarked by July 31st)

Email your comments tovcraft@blm.gov

What to say?
Describe uses you make of our public lands and things that you value that would be affected by the pipelines. Discuss how you use the lands: recreation, aesthetic appreciation, appreciation of large tracts of intact forests, etc. Your experiences using these lands matter.  Tell them you strongly oppose any decisions that would destroy or devalue these features of our forests.

Image Credit: Deidre Skogen

Sample Comments

  • Both the draft and final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) fail to fully describe and analyze many environmental threats, and the BLM has a duty to reject these documents and deny a right-of-way permit until NEPA requirements are fully satisfied.
  • The Purpose and Need for the project and the crossings of federal lands are not adequately analyzed and do not justify the project.
  • The alternatives analysis fails to apply the correct standard at which crossings of National Forest lands must be held, and the proposal cannot meet that standard.
  • Environmental damages that cannot be avoided or mitigated make the crossing of public lands unacceptable. These include forest fragmentation, cumulative impacts to surface waters and groundwater, and impacts to endangered and threatened species.
  • Neither project impacts on global warming nor impacts on the ability of the Forest to respond and adapt to ongoing climate change are adequately assessed in the EIS.
  • Large bodies of additional information were submitted to federal agencies after the public comment period for the Draft EIS had ended, depriving the public of the chance to respond to those documents.

If you need more help with what to say or want help drafting your comments, please contact us.  We’re ready to help.  info@wildvirginia.org 434-971-1553

Forest Service Decision Gives Priority to Private Profit

Today, the Forest Service released a Draft Record of Decision (ROD) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

This terrible decision would authorize the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to construct  21 miles of pipeline on lands managed by the George Washington (GWNF) and Monongahela National Forests (MNF). The proposed pipeline route would also cross both the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Forest Service had to issue this decision because current forest plan standards for both forests do not allow this destructive development.   The Forest Service chose to change the rules for ACP and approved 14 total amendments to standards in these forest plans.  Without amending these standards the ACP project would violate the forest plans for both of these forests.

These  standards were created to protect our forests and water.  The Forest Service has put the integrity of our public lands at risk and goals of private profit ahead of the safety of our watersheds.

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This decision is based on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)

This FEIS is drastically incomplete and in no way addresses the impacts to our lands, air, and water.  Read more from our  coalition press statement released today:   FERC’s final Atlantic Coast Pipeline report a sham.   The FEIS glosses over the “profound and permanent harm to water resources and drinking water supplies, forest ecosystems, wildlife and endangered species habitat, historic sites, agricultural resources, public lands including the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, and local economies”.

This is an important time to make your voice heard:

You have the right to object to this decision if you:

1. Previously submitted timely, specific written comments to the Forest Service or to FERC during comment periods. (If you’re not sure if you did, we can help you look it up).

2. Can raise an issue that arose after the formal public comment period closed.   More information on how to object  Click Here 

Join us for a Objection/Comment Night next week

July 24
Comment Writing Night on Record of Decision in Staunton

July 25
Comment Writing Night on Record of Decision in Charlottesville 

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Quick Facts from the Draft Record of Decision:

-214 acres of Forest Service lands will be will be maintained and operated for long-term use by ACP.

-The Pipeline  would be installed under 17 perennial, 28 intermittent, and 11 ephemeral waterbodies on Forest Service lands.

-ACP will cross about 2.4 miles of karst topography on Forest Service lands.

-The Pipeline could also impact cave invertebrates and other subterranean obligate species (amphipods, isopods, copepods, flatworms, millipedes, beetles, etc.) that are endemic to only a few known locations.

An Assault on Public Lands and Democracy: H.R. 2936

H.R. 2936, The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (more commonly called the Westerman Bill) is currently being discussed in the House of Representatives. This bill is intended to “expedite environmental analysis and availability of categorical exclusions to expedite forest management activities.”
categorical-exclusion

Apart from being destructive to forest ecosystems, the Westerman Bill is designed to benefit industry and ignore public interests. It is similar to other bills that we have seen in the past in that it seeks to bypass environmental and judicial protections. However, this bill is a more urgent issue than similar preceding bills. Not only does the Westerman Bill take much more drastic and harmful action against the forests, it has the potential to be passed into law in the current administration. This step to forgo analyses and categorically exclude certain areas from examination is a blow to public lands and undermines democracy.

The ways that this bill would disregard environmental regulations and judicial review are innumerable. Specifically, the Westerman Bill: undermines the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by creating sweeping and arbitrary waivers at unprecedented levels, limiting consideration of alternatives, and establishing radically short deadlines; eliminates citizen access to judicial review, even when the government fails to follow the law; opens up millions of acres of treasured roadless areas to harmful roadbuilding and logging; reallocates funds away from environmental restoration toward timber production, thus prioritizing industry over public interest and safety; dismantles inter-agency consultation that provides checks and balances integral to protecting critical wildlife under the Endangered Species Act; and finally, threatens national monument designation under the Antiquities Act.

This bill would have catastrophic effects in Virginia.  Expediting environmental analysis and offering categorical exclusions to projects, as the Westerman Bill proposes, would have serious impacts on the environment, cultural history, public interest, and public health.

Wild Virginia and other forest defense groups are monitoring the progress of HR 2936 and encouraging our members to stay informed and to express these concerns to your congressperson.

For more information on the potential impacts and implications of the Westerman Bill: westerman-hr-2936-factsheet

The Westerman Bill in full: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2936/text