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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.

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

Safety Tips for the Great Outdoors

by Donna Fitzgerald

This summer, hike around in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests or do some wildlife watching and camping. Summertime in Virginia is one of the best times of year to get outdoors and enjoy some of the state’s most beautiful forests.

Whether you spend as much time as you can outdoors, or you have little experience hiking around in nature, safety should always be your number one priority.

Don’t forget these reminders and tips to help keep you and your family safe as you enjoy all the sights and sounds of nature in Virginia’s beautiful forests and parks.

Whether you’re camping or going for a three-hour hike, it’s important to dress for the weather. Any Virginian knows that the summer heat can feel oppressive, but temperatures may change once you’re in the heart of the forest. Wear light layers and always wear shoes with good tread.

In addition to dressing appropriately, take a look at the forecast before you head out. Today, it’s easier than ever to find out the weather forecast. Be sure to look at a weather app before you start hiking, just in case you don’t get a good signal on your smartphone.

Sunscreen and Water

Water and sunscreen may seem like common sense to most, but they are often overlooked when people head outdoors. Staying hydrated is a must when spending time outdoors, regardless of what you’re doing. Sunscreen should always be worn, even on sunny days or under the canopy of tree tops.

Be a Responsible Camper

If you’re planning on camping, you have the rare and exciting opportunity to experience dispersed camping in Virginia’s national forests, which means that you can set up camp on your own, away from designated campgrounds. While dispersed camping offers a lot of freedom, make sure that you’re being a responsible camper.

If you’re planning on building a campfire (who doesn’t want to roast a marshmallow or watch sparks drift into the night sky?), always teach young children about fire safety and keep a safe distance from your campfire.

Respect Plants and Animals

The great outdoors in Virginia are without a doubt breathtaking and picture perfect. Many people take trips to the forest to get in touch with nature, and it’s encouraged as long as you are adhering to rules of the forest.

Some people don’t have a lot of experience in nature can feel a little hesitant about what they encounter when they’re hiking. A trip through the forest should not only be an adventure but also a learning experience. The more you learn, the more likely you’ll learn to appreciate and become a friend of the forests.

Never share your food with wildlife and if you’re going off trail, be sure to watch where you’re walking. Take the time to connect and listen to all the sounds that you hear when walking through the forests. One of the most wonderful things about nature is the quiet and calm; embrace it and be part of it rather than being part of noise pollution (although feel free to sing or exclaim your happiness).

Additional Tips

Here are a few more tips to consider to keep you safe while being a steward of nature:

  • Bring a small first aid kit.
  • Have a plan, just in case of an emergency.
  • Know your limits; pushing yourself can lead to injury.
  • Take plenty of breaks. Stretch and warm up.
  • Let people know where you are in case of an emergency.
  • Watch your children closely.
  • If you hike at night, wear a headlamp.
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN!

US Forest Service Allows Exceptions for Mountain Valley Pipeline

The US Forest Service (USFS) just released their Draft Record of Decision (ROD) for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). This document would allow 11 exceptions to the Jefferson National Forest Plan and adopt an amendment that would allow the destruction of old growth forests, rare species, and wetlands by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

In addition, by accepting the recently released Final Environmental Impact Statement for the MVP (FEIS) in this draft decision, the USFS has refused to fully analyze the purpose and need of the pipeline project. Also, by accepting the FEIS, the Forest Service has redused to look into any alternative that would be consistent with the current Jefferson National Forest Plan.

The Draft Record of Decision (ROD) on the Mountain Valley Project Land and Resource Plan Amendment for the Jefferson National Forest, released June 23, would adopt exceptions to the plan that were not even considered in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

“The USFS has decided to adopt an alternative plan amendment that wasn’t even discussed or analyzed in the DEIS,” said Misty Boos, Director of Wild Virginia.  “This deprived the public and other agencies from any consideration or any meaningful analysis.”

The Record of Decision (ROD) states that “the proposed plan amendment is needed…because the MVP Project cannot meet several Forest Plan Standards…to protect soil, water, riparian, old growth, recreational and visual resources.” (ROD, pg. 4)

The ROD allows 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
  • Cutting of 4.6 acres of old growth forest
  • A 75 foot wide construction corridor through sensitive wetlands
  • The violation of existing protection for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail viewshed
  • 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 impacts to be determined after the project is approved
  • Upgrading 31 acres of access roads and creating .8 acres of additional workspaces

The ROD refers to Executive Order 13766 recently issued by President Trump that directs the USFS to “expedite, in a manner consistent with the law, environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects that are a high priority for the Nation, such as …pipelines.”

“It is unconscionable for the Forest Supervisor to issue a draft decision that throws the forest under the bus for the sake of this unnecessary and misplaced project,” said Dave Sligh, Wild Virginia Conservation Director. “It is based on an incomplete DEIS that doesn’t meet USFS requirements.”

“The Forest Service has the responsibility and right to reject the FEIS and this project.  So far, it has done neither,” said Wild Virginia President, Ernie Reed.   

The proposed amendment must be either accepted, rejected or modified, before the Bureau of Land Management can issue or deny a right of way grant for the project

The Mountain Valley Pipeline will also adversely affect many endangered or threatened species, including:

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Gray Bat (Myotis grisescens)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Roanoke Logperch (Percina rex)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Running Buffalo Clover (Trifolium stoloniferum)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Small Whorled Pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Virginia Spiraea (Spiraea virginiana)

Photo from https://www.fws.gov
Photo from https://www.fws.gov

Shale Barren Rock Cress (Arabis serotina)

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Arabis_serotina.jpg
Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Arabis_serotina.jpg

The MVP Project is proposed to cross the Jefferson National Forest in Giles and Montgomery Counties in Virginia and Monroe County, West Virginia.

FERC’s Analysis of Pipeline Impacts Insufficient and Unacceptable

Today,  the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)  was released.

What’s in it – or more importantly – what is not?
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has again failed to adequately address many of the most important impacts and issues related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.   The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had fatal flaws that could not be fixed in this final version,  but even many of the gaps that could have (and should have) been filled in this document were not.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Some impacts can never be healed once they are inflicted, including forest fragmentation, loss of valuable core forest areas, and loss of watershed integrity.

Most importantly, FERC continues to avoid clearly addressing their statement that there is a basic need for the pipeline or for the gas it would transport. This makes obvious what we have known since the beginning, that this project and its potential impacts are unnecessary and lethal.

The Forest Service requires, and  has repeatedly stressed, that an alternative route, one that does not pass through  USFS system lands, be thoroughly examined.  The public expects them to hold fast to that demand. If it fails to do so, the Forest Service will betray our interests. 

Click image to enlarge

What’s Next?
Wild Virginia is particularly concerned about how the Forest Service and BLM will act in light of the deficiencies. The Forest Service and BLM must refuse to adopt this EIS.   We are also calling on the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to do their job and protect our water.

What can you do?

Ask the Governor to tell the DEQ to do their job:  Click Here

Stay connected with Wild Virginia’s email list for updates and ways to make your voice heard: Click Here

Background
This proposed pipeline crosses the Jefferson National Forest in Giles and Montgomery Counties in Virginia and Monroe County, West Virginia. The Mountain Valley Pipeline sources the same fracked gas and has the same delivery destinations as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

  • The MVP would affect over 1,000 waterbodies and slice through the headwaters of the Roanoke River watershed, crossing through 20 surface water protection areas.
  • The MVP would cause irreparable damage to 41 core forest areas in Virginia and West Virginia
  • The MVP would impact the habitat for 23 federally recognized sensitive and rare species.
  • Permanent visual impacts to the Appalachian Trail would be significant and irreparable
  • 2/3 of the MVP would cross mountains, ridges and slopes that are susceptible to landslides and major erosion.

The route passes through the Appalachian National Scenic Trail Corridor and would cross the Appalachian Trail.

mountain-valley-pipeline-simulation
Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

 

 

Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Status, Prospects, and Actions

What’s the status of the FERC Review?

FERC is scheduled to release the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on July 21, 2017. The FEIS will apply to the entire project, including permits to cross the Monongahela and George Washington National Forest.

All comments on the Draft EIS are part of the official record and can be used in future legal challenges if they are unresolved in the Final EIS. Issues to be challenged may include abuse of eminent domain for private profit, damage to waterbodies, impacts on endangered species, climate change, economic damage, environmental justice, and cultural resources.  Since FERC issued the draft EIS, Dominion has submitted thousands of pages of additional information that was not available for public review and comment in the DEIS process.

Image Credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition
Image Credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition

The U.S. Forest Service will have a 45-day “objection” period followed by a 45-day “resolution” period. Objections can be filed on points relevant to the National Forests raised during the DEIS comment period or on new information not available when the DEIS was published. Litigation may then follow.

FERC currently has 2 (of 5) commissioners, so they don’t have the quorum necessary to approve any pipeline projects. The administration has nominated 2 replacements who will undergo Senate review.

How can the ACP be significantly delayed and/or stopped?

  • FERC can deny a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the ACP.
  • Dominion can withdraw its application with FERC.
  • The U.S. Forest Service can deny the issuance of a special use permit to construct the ACP on National Forest Lands.
Image Credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition
Image Credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition
  • A pending lawsuit on the legality of the issuance by the Buckingham Board of Supervisors of a permit to construct the Buckingham County compressor station could derail the entire project.
  • The State of Virginia can deny a water quality permit for the ACP. The Virginia Governor can direct the VA Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to strengthen its review, rather than deferring to the U.S. Corps of Engineers for a broad-scale, less rigorous review.
  • The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) can deny the issuance of easements across properties with VOF conservation easements.
  • Litigation, combined with an injunction for procedural violations by many groups including FERC, USFS, Dominion or Duke Energy, and VA or WVA or NC Departments of Environmental Quality could temporarily or permanently stop the ACP.

What can I do today to help fight the ACP?

Image Credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition
Image Credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition
  • CALL Ralph Northam’s office and urge him to tell the governor to direct the DEQ to undertake a full review of the impacts the ACP might have on all streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, and to require that the ACP would meet all state water quality standards.
  • CALL Senators Kaine and Warner and your representative and request that they push FERC to create a Revised EIS with a new public review and comment period.
  • If you have money in banks funding the ACP (ex. Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, Bank of America), consider divesting and state that you are pulling your money because you oppose the ACP.
  • If you hold Dominion stocks, follow the lead of Exxon stockholders and push for company executives to explain how their investment plan responds constructively to global climate change. Ask why Dominion has so little invested or planned for renewables.
  • Landowners can refuse to sign any easement agreements and continue to deny access for survey of their properties.