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Forest Service proposes two new rules, comment period ends soon

Comment period ends October 15, 2018

On September 13, 2018, the United States Forest Service published two advanced notices of proposed rulemakings (referred to as ANPRMs). The notices aim to streamline regulations regarding the exploration and development of oil, gas, and locatable minerals in national forests and grasslands. Locatable minerals are recognized as a mineral by the scientific community and make the the land more valuable for mining than for agriculture. Examples include gold, silver, limestone and copper.

A 30-day public comment period regarding the implementation of existing regulations and these new proposed rules ends October 15.

The two proposals, 36 CFR 228 Subpart A: Locatable Minerals, and 36 CFR 228 Subpart E: Oil and Gas Resources, are trying to expedite the Forest Service review process of projects in order to speed up development and benefit those who are trying to develop land instead of those who are trying to protect it. Speeding up the review process hurts the quality of environmental reviews and the ability of the public to submit comments. Activities related to excavating locatable minerals, oil or gas require a thorough environmental review.

In recent years, the Forest Service has experienced issues with staffing and funding because they have diverted so much of their budget to fighting wildfires. Thus, it is extremely important for experts and citizens to have appropriate time to weigh in on potential Forest Service projects.

What you can do:

The Forest Service must not be allowed to abdicate its responsibility of protecting our national forests and grasslands. Please make a public comment today to ensure our wild areas are given priority over energy developers.

For comments regarding locatable minerals: 

  • Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FS-2018-0052, which is the docket number for this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Notice link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  • By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: USDA-Forest Service. Attn: Director—MGM Staff, 1617 Cole Boulevard, Building 17, Lakewood, CO 80401.

For comments regarding oil and gas:

  • Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov/​. In the Search box, enter FS-2018-0053 which is the docket number for this Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Notice link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  • Mail: Address written comments to USDA-Forest Service. Attn: Director-MGM Staff, 1617 Cole Boulevard, Building 17, Lakewood, CO 80401.








Say NO to Dominion’s application to release air pollution

There is still time for you to tell the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board to deny Dominion’s application for a permit to release air pollution that will threaten the health and well-being of residents in the Union Hill neighborhood and beyond. The public comment period has been extended to September 21, 2018, so don’t wait – let your voice be heard.

Buckingham Compressor Station for the
Atlantic Coast Pipeline Air Quality Permit
Public Comment Period Ends 9/21/18
Submit your comments to:

DEQ, Piedmont Regional Office
Re: Buckingham Compressor Station


Piedmont Regional Office
4949-A Cox Rd.
Glen Allen, VA 23060

(804) 527-5106

What is the concern?

The draft permit prepared by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is woefully deficient, failing to provide the analyses and the levels of protection the law requires.

Dozens of people spoke at a public hearing on September 11th, most explaining technical and legal problems with the proposal and opposing issuance of the permit. Please add your voice to that strong message, to let the citizen members of the Air Board know you oppose this illegal and unethical proposal to victimize citizens for private profit.

What to say?

Even if you lack technical expertise, you can raise important issues the Board is legally-obligated to consider.

These include:

  • The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is not needed to supply energy to the areas Dominion claims would be served and
  • DEQ has failed to properly consider whether the placement of the facility is appropriate or to acknowledge the violation of environmental justice principles.

DEQ officials have stated that the Department and the Board lack authority to consider issues related to the need for the project and proper siting of the station.  State law explicitly contradicts this position. The State of Virginia not only has that authority, it has a solemn obligation to exercise it.

The Air Board, in approving permits, “shall consider facts and circumstances relevant to the reasonableness of the activity involved,” including:

  1. The character and degree of injury to, or interference with, safety, health, or the reasonable use of property which is caused or threatened to be caused;
  2. The social and economic value of the activity involved;
  3. The suitability of the activity to the area in which it is located; and
  4. The scientific and economic practicality of reducing or eliminating the discharge resulting from such activity.
    Code of Virginia § 10.1-1307.E.
No Need for the Pipeline and Compressor Station

A mountain of evidence proves that Dominion’s claims about the need for gas to be supplied by ACP are untrue. Importantly for this permit review, DEQ has refused to acknowledge this information or to incorporate it into its analysis of Dominion’s application for the air permit.

This deficiency is directly pertinent to the “reasonableness of the activity involved” and the “social and economic value of the activity involved,” which the Air Board must consider. Code of Virginia § 10.1-1307.E. Weighing against the lack of need for the project are the social and economic costs that will be imposed on the communities directly affected by the compressor station.

Unfair Targeting of Communities of Color and Impacts to Vulnerable Populations

The disproportionate impacts the compressor station would have on the African American community in and around Union Hill are clearly shown. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relied on incorrect and incomplete information about the local community to dismiss environmental justice and siting concerns. The Air Board must demand that DEQ provide and analyze correct data on these issues and must reject this permit unless and until the Department does so.

The Air Board is required to consider these facts in an analysis of the “character and degree of injury to, or interference with, safety, health, or the reasonable use of property which is caused or threatened to be caused” and the “suitability of the activity to the area in which it is located.” Code of Virginia § 10.1-1307.E. The Board must reject the draft permit prepared by DEQ and require that all pertinent siting considerations be investigated and analyzed before it considers the proposal further.

FERC relied on incorrect data from Dominion to conclude in its final environmental impact statement on the ACP that, on average, there are 29.6 people per square mile in the area surrounding the pipeline’s path in Buckingham—that number was provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, a survey of the community by Friends of Buckingham showed that FERC’s number was off by about 500 percent.

Even worse, FERC failed to acknowledge the certain impacts to the Union Hill community. As reported in a news article at Cville.com, Compressor anxiety: Historic African American community alleges environmental racism:

Members of the anti-pipeline group Friends of Buckingham went door-to-door to survey the Union Hill area. They spoke with 64 percent of the people living in the 99 households within that square mile, and of those 158 residents, 85 percent are African American.”

“The FERC report didn’t mention Union Hill, where a third of the residents are descendants of the freedmen community that was once enslaved there, and where there are freedmen cemeteries and unmarked slave burials on the site where Dominion wants to build its compressor station, according to Yogaville resident and cultural anthropologist Lakshmi Fjord.”

DEQ has also failed to account for the fact that these areas have unusually large percentages of elderly people and children, both of which are especially sensitive to the kinds of air pollutants the compressor station would emit.

Recently, Governor Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ) found evidence that ACP would have “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations due to gas infrastructure expansion.”

Based on that and other findings, the ACEJ recommended the “Governor direct DEQ to suspend the permitting decision for the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station pending further review of the station’s impacts on the health and the quality of life of those living in close proximity.” See ACEJ letter, dated August 16, 2018, at Environmental Justice Review of Virginia’s Gas Infrastructure. The ACEJ also recommended Governor Northam convene an Emergency Task Force on Environmental Justice in Gas Infrastructure. See article about the ACEJ’s action at Governor’s Advisory Council Call for Moratorium on Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, Global Justice Ecology Project, August 29, 2018.

Where to Learn More?

Wild Virginia

Wildlife Corridors and Habitat Connectivity

by Allie Lowy

“Is the deer crossing the road, or is the road crossing the forest?” – Freequill

Αn insurance company analyst, Master Naturalist, Department of Transportation employee, and conservation biologist walk into a bar. What do they have in common? 

Now that I have your attention, it was not a bar, but, rather, the meeting room of a public library —  and, on July 17, I found myself in that very room.The four were gathered as part of the Virginia Safe Wildlife Corridors Collaborative (VSWCC) — a nascent group formed to reduce animal-vehicle collisions on roads and provide safe passages for wildlife. Bringing together groups like the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Highway Loss Data Institute, and conservation groups like the Wildlands Network and Wild Virginia, VSWCC takes a multi-stakeholder approach to a complex, multi-disciplinary issue in road ecology.

Who is the Collaborative?

The Collaborative includes an analyst from Highway Loss Data Institute, who provides insurance companies with crash data; a conservation biologist from William & Mary, who does GIS mapping of animal habitat near interstates; a veterinarian from the Wildlife Center, which cleans up the carnage from crashes; an employee of VDOT — who researches animal passageways and measures to mitigate wildlife crashes; and Wild Virginia Director Misty Boos.  Also involved are members of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which releases statewide Wildlife Action Plans to determine the species of greatest conservation need in Virginia; the coordinator of the Virginia Master Naturalists Program, which provides training in ecology, animal and plant identification, and the scientific method; and a member of the Wildlands Network, which works to promote habitat connectivity, the Collaborative’s bigger-picture goal.

A map of core habitats (green) and corridors between them (yellow) in Virginia, from the Wildlands Network.


In the modern age, animal core habitats have become increasingly fragmented. Due to human construction, land mammals move two to three times less than they used to, which means a limited ability to mate, feed, and migrate. Coupled with the fact that fragmentation reduces species richness and nutrient cycling, and climate change forces relocation, the threat of species extinction looms more ominously.

A widely-accepted connectivity strategy that supports species migrations is building wildlife corridors. Corridors can vary in shape, scope, and the species on which they focus, but they all seek to connect protected areas of habitat. Currently, only half of protected habitats around the world are connected.

As stated on the Wildlands Network website: “Connecting wildlife habitats is critical to conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, which will increasingly trigger geographical shifts for wildlife populations, plant communities, and ecological processes.”

The Wildlands Network spearheaded the Eastern Wildway Initiative, which seeks to create a continuous unobstructed stretch of wildlife habitat along the East Coast, from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico. This wildway would contain some of the country’s most beloved wild places, from the Adirondacks to the Shenandoah Valley to the Great Smoky Mountains and Everglades National Park. The region harbors a wide range of climates, eco-regions and enormous biodiversity–in fact, the southeastern U.S. is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Wild Virginia is working to contribute to the Eastern Wildway as they work to improve habitat connectivity in Virginia.

A mother bear and her cubs look over I-64. Photo credit: Bridget Donaldson of VDOT.

Large Animal Crashes

The group’s primary concern is human safety, which is threatened by vehicle crashes with large animals like deer and bear. VDOT tracks bear and deer carcass data, and VDOT’s Bridget Donaldson has used this data to pinpoint hotspots for deer and bear crossings. According to Donaldson, deer make up 1 in 6 animal-vehicle collisions in Virginia, which puts the state in the top ten for deer-vehicle collisions nationally.

VDOT has begun building fencing to funnel animals into existing underpasses beneath large highways. On Interstate 64, 8 foot-high fencing now guides animals to a box culvert beneath the roadway and a bridge spanning a river. Cameras installed at the site show animals coming up to the fence, and turning around to find another way around, rather than crossing the interstate. It’s estimated that this is reducing crashes at a cost savings of $300,000 per stretch of fencing. The fencing includes jump outs: sections of fencing angled at the top to allow deer to pass one way — out of the road — but not the other. Recently, VSWCC has installed cameras in Buffalo Creek and Cedar Creek, which will be continuously monitored during November, deer breeding season.

A box culvert under I-64. Photo credit: Bridget Donaldson of VDOT.

At this point, you might be asking: why did the bear cross the road? But, in all seriousness, what is the biological impetus for large animals moving around so much? When mating, large-scale movement is crucial for genetic exchange and enhancing genetic diversity. Otherwise, inbreeding within the same area can hurt a species, reducing the biological fitness of a population.

Animals are naturally accustomed to moving around not only when mating, but when searching for food. Bear, whose food is scarce during winter months, must eat large amounts of food during the summer to survive, so they move constantly move to find it.

In the effort to reduce large-animal collisions, the Collaborative hopes Virginia will follow in the footsteps of other admirable states. In Montana, a 56-mile stretch of highway boasts 41 overpasses and underpasses for animals like deer, bear, coyotes, and bobcats. In Wyoming, underpasses for moose and elk and overpass bridges for pronghorn have reduced collisions tremendously. In Southern California, biologists have erected underpasses for the threatened desert tortoise, which long-tailed weasels and foxes have also benefited from. In Washington, squirrels cross over a major road on a narrow rope bridge between trees.

Outside of the U.S., the Netherlands has over 66 overpasses and ecoducts (wildlife bridges) to protect species like the endangered European badger, wild boar, and various species of deer. The Netherlands also boasts the longest wildlife overpass in the world, a half-mile long natural bridge which spans a railway line, park, roadway, and sports complex. In Australia, a bridge on Christmas Island helps 50 million red crabs migrate over a busy road.

Spotted salamander embryo emerging from egg in George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Photo credit: Steven David Johnson.

Small Mammals and Herps

VSWCC also has a Small Mammals and Herps Working Group. One animal the Collaborative focuses on is salamanders, whose core habitat is the vernal pool, a type of wetland generally devoid of fish. When breeding, salamanders must migrate back to their vernal pools, which often means crossing roads. To curtail salamander-vehicle collisions, the Collaborative is looking to use drift fencing to guide salamanders through plastic tubes under interstates. Other states — like Massachusetts and Vermont — have had success with similar projects.

A mass migration of salamanders in Charlottesville has led volunteers to block off roads to aid their crossing, during which the majority of salamanders normally die. Because of volunteer efforts in February, the development company owning the road (Polo Grounds Road) agreed to construct a salamander tunnel underneath it later this year.

Fortunately, researchers in Vermont have mapped vernal pools across the entire North East (and included Virginia), which has aided in this mission.

The Small Mammals Work Group is also considering possible efforts toward the eastern spotted skunk (which is very slow) and the northern flying squirrel (whose habitats are often fragmented). It is also looking at ways to improve habitat connectivity diamondback terrapins at sites near the Virginia coast.

Goals for the Future

Moving forward, the group looks to influence public policy by making animal-vehicle collisions a priority for state lawmakers. According to VSWCC, policy must protect both core habitats for animals and the “corridors” that enable safe passage between them.

In 2016, a Virginia congressman introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act to the House of Representatives, which helped bring attention to the issue at the federal level. The Collaborative hopes to introduce a similar bill to the Virginia General Assembly in 2019.

VSWCC also hopes to follow other states’ lead in increasing opportunities for citizen science, creating systems for reporting animal crashes by taking photos, obtaining GPS coordinates, and collecting user data about animal carcasses on roads. The Collaborative’s next meeting is October 15. Hopefully, the Collaborative will soon have opportunities for volunteer involvement. In the meantime, keep your eye out for roadside critters on your daily commute!

Learn more here

Peakbagging for a Cause: Eric Gilchrist’s Conservation Journey

 by Allie Lowy

On Wednesday, June 11th — a beautiful, sunny morning — at the top of Reddish Knob, I had the rare pleasure of meeting Eric Gilchrist. At 64 years old, Eric has spent the past two months ascending mountains on a mission: climb every peak in the George Washington National Forest (GWNF) over 4,000 feet. Eric’s environmentalism is deeply motivated by his passion for the outdoor spaces by which he is surrounded, which he feels a preservationist instinct to protect. Thus, Eric has dedicated his “peakbagging” project to Wild Virginia, asking friends and family to pledge money, all of which will go toward the organization. Of the 32 peaks in the forest over 4,000 feet, Eric has climbed 13, and raised $1,500 along the way. (You can pledge your donation to support Eric’s peakbagging the GW here.)

Most climbs have elevation gains of between 1,000 and 2,500 feet. Some of his favorite peaks thus far have been Freezeland Flats in Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness and the Switzerland-esque high-mountain meadow of Cole Mountain. Undoubtedly, his least favorite was the poorly-named “Big Knob,” which was only accessible via a road torn up by four-wheel drive vehicles.

Wild Virginia member Ernie Reed and I met Eric at the top of Reddish Knob, one of the highest points in Virginia, and a region steeped in history. Atop Reddish Knob, in 1999, Bill Clinton famously demanded that then-chief of the Forest Service Mike Dombeck craft a policy to protect unroaded areas in our national forests. This gave way to the 2001 Roadless Rule: a groundbreaking policy calling for protection of 58.5 million acres of roadless area within the national forests.

Years ago, Eric and Ernie set out to find the “wildest” place in Virginia: the region that is farthest from a road on all sides, that could be designated as wilderness. What they found was in the heart of Little River Roadless Area, a 27.3 thousand acre region of potential wilderness of which Reddish Knob is a part.

After meeting at Reddish Knob, the three of us peak-bagged Bother Knob, which gave me both a hearty sense of admiration for the fitness of my two hiking companions and a collection of nasty bush-whacking cuts on my bare legs. (That 40 extra years of wisdom Ernie and Eric have on me is really starting to make itself known.)

Talking to Ernie for any brief period of time is like dipping your toes into an unending pool of environmental knowledge, soaking up bits of passion along the way, remembering why you’re outraged and why you care so much. On this trip, it was particularly interesting to pick his brain about the absurdity of fracking policy. (Fracking — drilling into the Earth to extract gas and oil from shale — has had disastrous water quality and human health impacts, but, in 2005, president George Bush’s congress made it exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Safe Water Drinking Act, and the Clean Air Act, in what was famously termed “the Halliburton Loophole!”)

For a snack at the summit, Eric brought us his famous homemade pancakes made from banana, egg, cinnamon, and rolled oats.

Eric’s Story

Born in Staunton, Eric is a Central Virginia native, but he cites some of his first, most precious memories as exploring the Grand Tetons during his childhood in Idaho. After moving to Western Pennsylvania, Eric attained a B.S. in Man-Environment Relations from Penn State and went on to pursue an MBA there. After a 20-year stint as an account executive for large computer companies in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Eric longed to nurture his environmentalist roots. Upon returning to Central Virginia, Eric began volunteering for various environmental nonprofits. In 2002, he joined the board of the Shenandoah Ecosystems Defense Group, which now holds the catchier, less verbose title: Wild Virginia. On the board in 2002, he met Ernie, now one of his best friends, and the rest is history. After 12 years on the board, Eric resigned in 2014. Aside from Wild Virginia, Eric has done energy efficiency work in Charlottesville and helped found the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP), a nonprofit that conducts energy assessments and helps homes convert to solar energy. Eric also helped found Appalachian Sustainable Development, an organization that contracts with loggers to make available sustainable, locally-sourced lumber.

In the past decade, Eric has taken his sustainability to a new level through his latest project: building a completely eco-friendly house. Eric spent five years building an 800 square-foot house made entirely from wood harvested from right off his property, in GWNF. The small, cozy house is designed with a number of features that make it energy-efficient: it has no interior doors or hallways; triple-pane windows; a heavily-insulated roof deck; a metal roof; and the house is oriented toward the south. With windows on the south side, they get solar gain during the winter — heat is stored in thermal mass during day and released into the house in the evening. In the next couple years, Eric hopes to go off the grid. The house boasts a tiny wood stove, cabinets made from local wood, and radiant floor heating heated by a domestic water heater. In essence, this means that Eric’s family gets hot water for bathing and cooking from the same power source that heats the floor. The house’s walls are 12 inches thick, which means more thermal mass, modulating the indoor temperatures more evenly, and for longer periods of time.

Eric hopes to finish peak-bagging in October, after a brief interlude to vacation in Canada in August. What will Eric do next to save the planet? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I hope he cooks many more batches of healthy, homemade pancakes for those hard-working Wild Virginia interns.

Click Here to Support Peakbagging for a Cause

Wild Virginia Provides Access to Public Comments Submitted to Water Control Board

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, David Sligh of Wild Virginia and the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has acquired almost all of the comments citizens (around 10, 000 of them) submitted to State Water Control Board through the Virginia DEQ. Individuals and conservation groups explain why the Corps of Engineers’ blanket permit is not sufficiently protective of our state waters. DEQ has promised to supply the rest by today.

Here is a link to the documents: Comments to SWCB on NWP 12

Wild Virginia and DPMC are currently scouring the comments and will publish our summary of the whole body of information early next week. The vast majority we’ve seen so far are form emails and letters that contain no useful information the Board can use in making a decision whether to take new action. By contrast, the comments by landowners and technical experts contain much detailed, site-specific, and scientifically-based evidence of the dire threats to the thousands of waterbodies MVP and ACP propose to dig and blast through, under a lax Corps approval.

The Importance of Brook Trout Conservation

 by Allie Lowy

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

-Cormac McCarthy, the Road

Wild Virginia has long advocated for the protection of watersheds home to brook trout populations in George Washington National Forest (GWNF), which provide enormous ecological, cultural and economic benefits.


The state fish of Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, brook trout are a species of fish native to eastern North America that has thrived in the Appalachian Mountains for millions of years. They inhabit clear, coldwater streams, primarily at high elevations. Brook trout require particularly clean water and cannot thrive in stream temperatures higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A healthy stream can inhabit between 30 and 40 trout families.

Brook trout spawn during the fall, incubate during the winter, and hatch eggs in the early spring. The species prospers in closed-canopy forests, whose shade-cover regulates stream temperature. Since they require pristine habitats with high water quality conditions, an abundance of brook trout is indicative of a biologically robust watershed. For this reason, declining brook trout populations can serve as an early warning that the ecological health of an entire system is at risk.

When regions of forest were heavily clearcut in the early twentieth century, warming occured due to a lack of canopy cover, reducing brook trout populations. Because of their sensitivity to temperature changes, brook trout were largely replaced by rainbow and brown trout during this time. Brook trout populations have since declined extensively, for a variety of reasons (reduced water quality from runoff and acid rain, rising stream temperatures, and the like.)

Brook Trout & Climate Change

Currently, the livelihood of brook trout populations native to GWNF are threatened by anthropogenic climate change. Climate change is a long-term change in the statistics of weather, leading to irregularity in temperature and precipitation patterns. Both air temperature and precipitation are major drivers of stream temperature and flow, which determine population dynamics. For every degree Celsius that air temperature rises, water temperature rises eight tenths of a degree. Thus, the projected 4 degree Celsius rise in air temperature due to climate change would cause a 3.2 degree rise in stream temperatures.

Climate change is especially problematic for trout, because they require cold water habitats, which — due to human activity — are becoming increasingly rare and fragmented. Because of climate change, brook trout are shifting to higher elevation streams, with stream temperatures suitable for survival.

As climate change produces warmer winter temperatures, brook trout’s life cycle will be disrupted, as trout may emerge too early, when there is not sufficient food for survival.

One consequence of climate change for regions of GWNF and Shenandoah National Park (SNP) is high precipitation during the winter and early spring months. Longitudinal studies in SNP have found high winter/early spring precipitation to have strong negative effects on trout abundance, as flooding from extreme precipitation can threaten vulnerable eggs as they hatch. Additionally, high summer air temperatures — which will also increase with climate change — reduce trout abundance, and will force brook trout to either evolve or die off in the next two decades.

Another effect of climate change is acid rain: rainfall made acidic by atmospheric pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. In the Appalachian Mountains, acid rain has impacted between 60 and 80 percent of brook trout spawning habitat.


So, at this point, you may be asking: what can we do to save the trout? According to fishery biologist Ben Letcher, some solutions including putting more shade-producing trees along river banks; adding logs into streams; and limiting the number of wells removing cold spring water from the watershed.

Ultimately, brook trout populations are severely hindered by logging, development, and conversion of forested lands to be used for agriculture. To reverse this trend, it is indispensable that we prioritize increases in canopy cover and late-successional forest habitat in order to stabilize temperatures, continually monitor water quality, reduce sediment loads in streams, and create opportunities for brook trout populations to thrive and expand their habitat.

Pipeline Spotlight: Talking ACP and MVP With David Sligh, Wild Virginia Conservation Director

by: Julia Travers, volunteer writer with Wild Virginia


If you need a refresher or are taking a first dive into learning about the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, Wild Virginia Conservation Director David Sligh is here to help. He explains what’s going on with these projects and why they pose so many threats to Virginians and the Southeast. He also offers some ideas on how anyone who opposes the pipelines can make a difference (down at question four).

  1. Do We Need the Pipelines?

In short, no. We do not need the ACP, a 600-mile-long pipeline that would carry natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina, or the MVP, a pipeline that would source the same fracked gas and have the same destinations.

“If you look at the growth in overall energy demands in VA and NC in the last decade, there’s been a pretty small percentage of growth over the whole period,” David says. A 2016 study of this area’s energy demand for natural gas found existing pipelines can supply more than enough fuel through 2030.

And, while ACP originally claimed the pipeline gas was intended and needed primarily for VA and NC, it now states the gas may go to South Carolina and other areas. Similarly, after getting their original approval, MVP says it will build an addition spur into North-central NC.

Local energy needs can also increasingly be met with renewable sources — David says while pipeline companies like Dominion give “lip service” to these options, they simultaneously oppose the regulatory changes that would empower growth in the wind and solar sectors. He explains:

That’s because they can make such huge profits from fossil fuel projects — for example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows them to charge ratepayers additional amounts to provide them with up to 14 percent profit just on the cost of building these pipelines, and this profit is not dependent on showing a need for the gas.

Also, FERC has not carried out the legally required “valid needs analysis” relating to energy demand for the pipelines. Because of this, FERC Commissioners Cheryl Lafleur and Richard Glick supported a request for a FERC rehearing.

  1. Why Are the Pipelines a Bad Idea?

The pipelines directly threaten local drinking water, homes, endangered species’ habitats, parks, economies and other vital interconnected systems and attributes of the Southeast. They simply cannot be safely built. David says:

Building a 42-inch, high-pressure gas pipeline across the Allegheny Mountains, the Great Valley of VA and the Blue Ridge Mountains has never been done, for good reason … The companies would have to build on mountain slopes that in many cases are greater than 50 percent and where landslides are common. They would have to blast away mountain ridges and claim they would restore these areas to former contours, which is impossible. They would cut across large areas where limestone geology, termed karst, lies beneath the soil and forms caverns and conduits through which pollution from land disturbance can move to wells and springs quickly, without any filtering. ACP proposes to bore a hole over 4,500 feet through the Blue Ridge and push the huge pipe through the hole. Finally, together, the two projects would cross well more than 1,000 streams and wetlands, many of which have exceptional resource values and are also very sensitive to disturbance.

Map of portion of ACP: dpmc-gis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries

Also, if the pipelines are built, the industry will use them to validate an avalanching investment in natural gas for decades to come.

  1. What Are the Current States of the Projects?

“FERC issued what are inappropriately termed Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity for both MVP and ACP last October,” David says. At this point, the companies were empowered to take landowner’s property rights.

In December 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board issued water quality certifications that require the companies to submit additional plans, some related to erosion and sediment control, before construction. David says the ACP’s certification will not be officially in effect until the plans are approved. The Board also said it might take other actions at that point as well.

Over the winter, both companies began permitted tree felling. In March 2018, the VA DEQ approved the MVP’s additional plans and construction has now begun.

Roanoke County, VA tree cutting for MVP, May 2018: wdbj7.com

David says “court challenges to actions taken by the Board, FERC, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are still in progress against both pipelines.” One suit already resulted in a court order stating an ACP permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act was wrongly issued and must be redone. This order led to an ongoing dispute between citizens and the ACP over whether it must stop construction overall or only in some areas.

Recently, the VA Board ordered the DEQ to hold a public comment period relating to waterbody crossings, which ended June 15 — over 13,000 opinions were submitted. The more than 1,000 planned water crossings “have so far been covered under a blanket permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers [and] should receive additional scrutiny and regulation by VA,” David says.

“The public is now pleading with the Board to act quickly to head off further work on either project before any additional reviews can be finished,” he adds.

The push for an immediate and thorough review of the ACP’s potential effects in VA is very important because the MVP project has already broken the law, allowing large loads of mud to flow off construction sites into streams and onto private properties.

“While WVA officials have already issued four Notices of Violation, the VA DEQ has been largely unresponsive and has taken no effective action,” David says.

On June 21st, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of a Corps of Engineers permit, which prevents MVP from constructing through any streams or wetlands in West Virginia until court hearings scheduled for September.

  1. How Can People Help?

Here are three powerful steps David says you can take if you’d like to join the movement against ACP and MVP construction:

  1. Join in calling on the Water Control Board to conduct the additional reviews of waterbody crossings.
  2. Volunteer with the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative, or CSI, which looks for and responds to damages and non-compliance by ACP, and Mountain Valley Watch, which does the same with the MVP.
  3. Join Wild Virginia to help us continue to lead the efforts to stop and/or avoid damage from these pipelines and to oppose any destructive projects in our region, so we can preserve as much of Virginia’s wild and natural land and resources as possible.
David Sligh and other citizens deliver petitions and call on Governor Ralph Northam to take action on the proposed pipelines in March 2018: frackcheckwv.net

Who is David Sligh?
Wild Virginia Conservation Director David Sligh has 35 years of experience in environmental law. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia and a law degree from Vermont Law School. He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar. Dave has worked as a Senior Environmental Engineer for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; Founder and Director of Virginia PEER, the state branch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility; Southeast Regional Representative for American Rivers; Upper James Riverkeeper; Adjunct Instructor of Environmental Science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and as a consultant and adviser to citizen groups around the country.

Make Your Comments to DEQ

Wild Virginia offers the following to help citizens begin to frame their comments in response to DEQ’s public notice.

We plan to provide additional help, including some examples of comments we develop for some specific stream crossing areas. We welcome any comments, questions, or examples of issues you plan to raise in comments but don’t see discussed here. You can contact
Dave Sligh: david@wildvirginia.org.

Any comments you submit will be enhanced by photos of existing good conditions or any other background documents that show a history of usage of waterbodies and the values they have held for people. We also welcome you to send us any copies of comments you send to DEQ so that we can keep track of the places addressed and the issues raised for both pipelines.

Deadline for comments: June 15, 2018 – 11:59pm

Include in your comments:
• The name(s), mailing address(es) and telephone number(s) of the person(s) commenting.

• Information about specific wetland or stream crossings. Comments should reference exact wetlands and streams crossings by the identifiers provided in documents supplied by DEQ.

Submit by email to:
For MVP: NWP12InfoOnMVP@deq.virginia.gov
For ACP: NWP12InfoOnACP@deq.virginia.gov

Submit by mail to:
DEQ, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218
deliver to – DEQ, 1111 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Substance of Comments:
DEQ’s public notice states:
The sole purpose of the written public comment period is for interested persons to submit technical comments and/or information for the MVP and ACP projects relevant to:

1) the sufficiency of the Corps NWP 12 permit’s general and regional conditions, as they relate to specific, wetland or stream crossing(s);

2) the sufficiency of the Corps NWP 12 permit authorization for each project, as relate to specific, wetland or stream crossing(s); and/or

3) the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s § 401 water quality certification of NWP 12, as related to specific, wetland or stream crossing(s).

In simple language, we need to show that the requirements applicable to the Corps permit will not uphold our Water Quality Standards (WQS) in specific places. If they will not, then
Virginia’s Clean Water Act (CWA) section 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) for any particular crossing is not legally valid. The State of Virginia must “ensure” that state Water
Quality Standards (WQS) will not be violated by the activities covered.

The parts of Virginia’s WQS that will likely be most pertinent are: 1) designated uses and 2) antidegradation requirements. In addressing each of these issues, there are technical analyses that require expertise in certain scientific and engineering fields. However, there are important facts that landowners or others can raise that are absolutely valid for you to address. Do not be deterred by the fact that DEQ’s notice specifies that the comments are to be “technical” in nature. Also, don’t think that the interests and threats you can address must be exactly at the crossing point. These activities will affect downstream areas and, though DEQ tries to deny or minimize
their importance, downstream water quality must also be protected. This is especially important where multiple crossings of tributaries or a single stream will have cumulative impacts on
downstream waters. In some cases, you may want to cite a group of crossings and discuss both the individual impacts and the combined impacts.

One particularly egregious deficiency in the Corps’ analysis it that it examines each crossing that it deems “separate and distant” (a term the Corps refuses to precisely define) as stand-alone
projects and ignores the overall impacts. This is especially important in some headwater drainages where as many as eight or more crossings are proposed.

What are “designated uses?”
All state waters have designated uses for aquatic life support, recreation, support wildlife, and production of edible or marketable resources such as fish and shellfish. Other designated uses
that apply only in specified waters include support of trout populations and public water supplies.

The WQS name swimming and boating as examples of recreationaluses but this category includes any recreational uses, including wading (where the stream is too small for swimming),
fishing, and simply aesthetic enjoyment. Also, note that many of these uses also qualify as“existing uses,” even if Virginia has failed to list them as designated uses (more discussion of this below under the antidegradation section). Note: the water quality impacts that are prohibited need not be of a type that are dangerous to health, they may simply make use of the area unpleasant or cause users to abandon these areas in favor of other more acceptable waters.

Examples of “recreational” uses you can demand that Virginia protect:
• You, your kids, or your dogs like to jump in the stream.

• You hike, camp, or picnic along a stream.

• The waterbody is an amenity for your local community, the people who visit and enjoy your
inn, bed and breakfast, etc.

• You use public recreational areas, including the National Forest, state or national parks, local
parks, etc. in and around the affected waterbody.

• You fish, take photos of natural environments, bird, hunt, etc. on any part of the waterbody
that may be affected

Examples of impacts that may affect your recreational uses:
• Sediments that will be released during crossing construction activities and after will affect the appearance and viability of using the stream. The Corps permit assumes that as long as the sediment in the waters only persists for a short time in the area directly in and around the construction site and that any discharges are minimized, this pollution need not be counted as an impairment of uses. Sediments in the water also interfere with fishing, because they lessen the ability of the fish to see lures and of the fisherman to fish by sight. This directly conflicts with WQS, which require that uses be protected at all times.

• Sediment deposition on the stream bottom that, in some cases, will stay in place for extended periods before they are swept away by high flow events. These occurrences will interfere
with the aesthetic value of the stream, with the habitat that supports fish and the insects, etc. that they feed on. Sediments may also flow into reservoirs or impounded sections of streams
and will not disperse. Sediment input to such waters are one of the major sources of impairments and may also carry other pollutants into the reservoirs, such as nutrients which contribute to algae blooms.

• Elimination of streamside trees, which will drastically change the appearance of the stream and its surroundings and allow more light to reach the stream when leaves are off and the temperatures are highest. This also eliminates habitat for wildlife that lives near but not in the waterbody.

• Changes to the banks and the bed of the stream will change the appearance of these waters and affect uses. Elimination of vegetation from banks will increase the likelihood of erosion
in those areas. Replacement of that vegetation by rip-rap, which the Corps discourages but will allow in some circumstances, eliminates the biological values provided by native plants, such as hiding places for fish and habitat that is necessary for other organisms.

• Changes to the physical structure of the stream bottom. The Corps requires that the ditch through the stream be filled after construction so that the “original contours” are restored.
However, if the ditch is refilled with loose materials, that soil and rock mixture may wash away in storms, resulting in a depression and even exposing the pipeline. Where construction requires ripping or blasting through solid rock stream bottoms, the materials put in to replace that bottom may be much less durable that the bedrock and may degrade. In some cases, the companies propose to fill bedrock cuts with concrete.

Reasons the Corps permit requirements will not prevent impairment of uses
• The Corps does not place adequate requirements on the physical changes to the stream and banks in light of recreational uses. In fact, the Corps has admitted that: “Activities authorized
by this NWP may change the recreational uses of the area. Certain recreational activities, such as bird watching, hunting, and fishing may no longer be available in the area. Some utility line activities may eliminate certain recreational uses of the area.”

• Some of the Corps’ requirements prohibit more than “minimal adverse impact” but the Corps admits that “[t]he term ‘minimal adverse effect’ cannot be defined because it is a subjective term, with ‘minimal’ and ‘adverse effect’ dependent on the perspective of the person conducting the evaluation or assessment.” The state has a duty to define the level of impact that is allowable under its WQS and that definition, when applied to recreational and aesthetic uses should reflect the users’ values, not that of the Corps or the pipeline company.

• In numerous cases, the Corps imposes requirements that are necessary to protect uses only “to the maximum extent practicable.” Violations of WQS may not be permitted by Virginia
just because the Corps or the company cannot identify a “practicable” alternative. If there is no method of building the pipeline through a waterbody to meet WQS, then that activity is
not allowed.

What is antidegradation?
Any activity that lowers water quality in state waters may violate antidegradation requirements in state law. The Corps has made no specific analyses that address antidegradation in covering
these projects under NWP 12. As explained above, in many cases the Corps expresses the vague requirement that water quality impacts be minimized, which cannot ensure that antidegradation
conditions are met. As with all other portions of the WQS, these requirements apply to water directly at the crossing points and in any other portions of the waterbody where effects may be
caused. For all state waters, the antidegradation policy requires that all “existing uses” be fully supported. Under both state and federal law, “existing uses” are “those uses actually attained in
the waterbody on or after November 28, 1975, whether or not they are included in the water quality standards.”

If you have made beneficial use of a waterbody addressed in your comments in the last four decades, that use is protected. This includes any of the uses listed above but may also include a
range of other uses. Examples could include use of the water for livestock watering, irrigation of gardens or crops, a commercial or industrial purpose – any use that is of value to you and does
not damage the waterbody. Antidegradation requirements contain even greater protections for high quality waters (Tier 2
waters), where conditions are better than the minimums otherwise provided in the WQS. In those cases, water quality may not be lessened unless “allowing lower water quality is necessary to
accommodate important economic or social development in the area in which the waters are located.”

Neither the Corps nor DEQ has conducted antidegradation analyses for any of the waterbodies that would be affected by these pipelines. Further, since the supposed economic or social benefits the projects would not occur “in the area[s] in which the waters are located,”
lowering of water quality could not be allowed in any case.
Finally, antidegradation requirements provide the highest level of protections for designated “exceptional state waters” (also known as Tier 3 waters). To gain this designation, citizens must
go through an extensive process and show that there are very high value resources.

Most new discharges are prohibited into these waters. Any lowering of water quality must be of very short duration and “after a minimal period of time the waters [must be] returned or restored to conditions equal to or better than those existing just prior to the temporary source of pollution.”

Forest Service Quietly Revises Closure Order: Further Restricts Public Access Around Work Areas for Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline

Wild Virginia has learned, through a March 24, 2018 email from Forest Supervisor Joby Timm of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, that the U.S. Forest Service issued two revised Emergency Closure Orders for areas of the Jefferson National Forest, covering two roads and the proposed path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). New versions of the original Order from March 7, 2018 were issued on March 10 and March 19, 2018. The Forest Service did not issue news releases to alert the public to these revised Orders and has not yet posted alerts about the revisions on its web site.

The latest version of the Order (Order Number 08-08-11-18-03, Revised Mountain Valley Pipeline Project Emergency Closure) prohibits public access to specified roads and portions of the Jefferson National Forest for more than one year, until March 31, 2019. This reverses a part of the original Order that banned the presence of motor vehicles on road sections “where construction associated with pipeline activity is occurring and when closed by a sign, gate, or barricade.”

The March 7 Order was unclear as to the time period for closure of lands in and adjacent to the pipeline right-of-way. The current version defines an exclusion zone stretching 200 feet on either side of the center line for the pipeline in areas where tree cutting has not yet occurred. In areas where a “disturbance corridor” has already been cut through the Forest, the public may not approach within 100 feet on either side of the approved right-of-way, which itself will be 125 feet wide in most areas.

The stated purpose of the Order is to ensure public safety during construction activities related to the MVP but this prohibition on the use of roads and substantial areas on the Forest for more than a year, even during periods when no work is occurring, is not justified by safety concerns. As stated in a March 12 letter in which Wild Virginia sought clarification of the original Closure Order, “it is vital that the public retain the right to visit and use all portions of our public lands to the greatest extent possible, consistent with safety concerns.”

David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director stated: “the Forest Service has allowed a new assault on the public’s rights and interests in our precious lands and waters. First, the agency conceded to industry pressure and granted the pipeline builders the right to destroy public resources for profit. Now it bans us from using sections of the forests and streams it is supposed to hold in trust for us, attempting to justify the act with invalid claims about safety.”

In addition, Sligh said, “the Forest Service revised the Closure Order, not once but twice in a short period, but made no attempt to let the public know that new rules applied and what they were. We have to ask why such an important decision that affects all who wish to use the Jefferson National Forest was made in secret. Anyone who was not scouring Forest Service documents would have had no notice that they were violating the law during the last week.”

Forest Service Must Clarify, Limit Scope of Closure for Pipeline

Wild Virginia wrote Jobi Timm, Forest Supervisor for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests today, calling on him to clarify provisions in an Emergency Closure Order for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Wild Virginia seeks assurances that any restrictions on the people’s use of our public lands will be strictly limited and clearly defined.

The letter states: “We fully understand the need to enforce some requirements to protect the public and workers, if work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) continues, but we also feel it is vital that the public retain the right to visit and use all portions of our public lands to the greatest extent possible, consistent with safety
concerns.” Supervisor Timm’s Closure Order, signed March 7, 2018, prohibits public entry or use in two areas of the Jefferson National Forest: 1) on two sections of road in the Forest and 2) within a zone stretching 200 feet from the center line of the right-of- way for the MVP. David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director stated in the letter, “[o]ur primary concern about the Closure Order is with the time periods described.”

The Closure Order prohibits the presence of motor vehicles “where construction associated with pipeline activity is occurring and when closed by a sign, gate, or barricade,” apparently excluding the public only while active construction is taking place and warnings or barriers are in place. On the other hand, the Order fails to explicitly limit the period of closure on and adjacent to the pipeline right-of- way and does not call for signs or barricades around the affected areas. Further, while the Order uses the word “construction,” the Forest Service failed to define that term in relation to the Closure rules. Sligh said, “other state and federal agencies have created a false distinction, claiming the tree cutting now damaging our forests is not ‘construction.’ We need to know whether that bogus use of the term is to apply to the Forest Service’s Order or not.

Wild Virginia notes in its letter: “As you know, we have grave concerns about the damages pipeline-related activities will cause on our Forest lands and we intend to document any such impacts. Proper access, without unnecessary and unwarranted
limitations, will allow the public to play its proper role as safeguards of the public interest.” Wild Virginia calls on Supervisor Timm to answer our letter as soon as possible but, more importantly, to give the public clear and explicit answers to the questions we and many others have regarding our use of these treasured areas, which the Forest Service is charged with managing for the wider public benefit.

Link to the letter