There’s an interesting observation in this opinion piece about the process for amending the Allegheny forest plan to allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It required replacing standards in the forest plan for this “project” – here’s one of them:
“Standard SW06: Severe rutting resulting from management activities shall be confined to less than 5 percent of an activity area with the exception of the construction of Atlantic Coast Pipeline, where the applicable mitigation measures identified in the COM (Construction Operations & Maintenance) Plan and SUP (Special Use Permit) must be implemented.”
The problem this author points out is that the COM was written by the permittee and it wasn’t written when the public NEPA process was going on. The result was the Forest essentially writing a blank check for plan components that the Forest did not evaluate the effects of and the public did not get a chance to comment on. I think there’s some (legal) problems here.
This story got my attention because I’ve been looking at a lot of plan components being proposed for forest plans being revised under the 2012 Planning Rule. One common theme is to not make any commitments in a forest plan, often using language that says essentially, “we’ll figure it out later,” often project-by-project. It’s kind of hard to evaluate the effects of that forest plan decision. Sometimes it’s kind of like this example – where the forest plan defers to someone else, for example the states to tell them how to manage for wildlife. But there’s an even bigger problem when there are legal requirements that a forest plan must meet, particularly those related to plant and animal diversity. A plan component that writes a blank check for a future decision does not demonstrate legal compliance.