Federal Energy Regulatory Commission invokes forest plan in locating pipeline

Another example of how forest planning can influence major permitting decisions.  (It’s especially nice to see the role of forest plans acknowledged by FERC.)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has asked developers of the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline to consider an alternative route through the Monongahela National Forest that would veer southward from the currently proposed route, to avoid environmentally sensitive areas, including the Cheat, Back Allegheny and Shenandoah mountains, and use existing utility right-of-way corridors whenever practicable.

“Please note that we will not be able to consider construction and operation of any proposed action or alternative unless it complies with the National Forest’s LRMP, or Atlantic has documented that the U.S. Forest Service would amend a respective LRMP for activities deemed inconsistent with the LRMP,” wrote Kevin Bowman, environmental project manager for the commission, in the commission’s request for environmental information.

Bowman wrote that after commission officials consulted with Forest Service personnel and reviewed the Monongahela National Forest’s long-range management plan, “we have determined that alternative routes to the south of the currently proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route may offer environmental advantages over the currently proposed route.”

“It’s a very exciting development that FERC is concerned about impacts to one of the most ecologically sensitive sections of the Monongahela National Forest that is home to the protected West Virginia northern flying squirrel and the Cheat Mountain salamander,” said Judy Rodd, executive director of the Friends of Blackwater, part of a coalition of conservation groups monitoring the pipeline project. “It shows that FERC is paying attention to national forest issues and doesn’t want to make the national forests rewrite their management plans to accommodate the pipeline.”

(The part about committing to amend the plan makes me a little nervous, though.)

2 Comments

  1. It’s curious that the MNF is trying to throw up roadblocks to these pipelines. In 2008, when Berry Energy sought to drill a gas well on the Fernow EF in karst near an endangered Indiana bat cave, the MNF bent over backwards to violate ESA, bully USFWS, violate CWA, etc. to make it happen claiming it was “critical to national energy security”. The real reason was that MNF didn’t want Berry Energy to exercise its legal right to drill in the neighboring Otter Creek Wilderness Areas so the USFS wouldn’t have to deal with all the enviro’s coming out of the woodwork to complain. Flash forward to the present. Two pipelines that will move gas to the East and/or export markets somehow IS NOT critical? Please. Now that MNF’s ox is getting gored, they suddenly are at odds with this. The flying squirrel was delisted – nothing with these pipelines threatens viability of the subspecies. That being said, with gas prices so low and companies folding like cheap suits, it ain’t gonna happen anyhow.

  2. A couple of other differences. One is that if the drilling company owned the mineral rights, there is less the Forest Service can do to regulate (as they found in a lawsuit on the Allegheny) than for a permit to construct a pipeline. The other could be the difference in presidents between 2008 and 2012 (although the forest plan provisions being cited by FERC were adopted in 2006, the administration may not have noticed at the time). The actions the Forest Service took to attempt to regulate drilling on the Allegheny were under the current administration, in contrast to apparently the opposite approach taken by the Monongahela under the prior administration. The Forest Service is a political animal.

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