March was again another busy month for the environmental community both federally and within West Virginia.
New Study Details the Increasing Risks of the ACP
“The ACP is facing a triple threat,” so concludes a new study released March 25 by Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth. Atlantic Coast Pipeline – Risk Upon Riskcites three principal threats to the viability of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: 1) extensive legal and regulatory challenges that are delaying construction and raising costs; 2) fundamental challenges to its financial viability in the face of lack of growth in domestic demand for methane gas and increased affordability of renewable energy options; and 3) an unprecedented citizen initiative positioned to ensure strict compliance with environmental laws and regulations.
Some further highlights from the six-page study:
- “The ACP is a climate, environmental and human rights boondoggle.”
- “The ACP is facing an onslaught of legal challenges and losses. Seven federal permits have been stayed, suspended or vacated; in fact, all construction on the pipeline is currently stopped. When — or if — construction will start up again is unknown. Environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and others have brought at least nine court challenges to ACP permits and certifications, most of which are ongoing.”
- “In Dominion’s 2018 long-term Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), four out of five modeled scenarios showed no increase in methane gas consumption for power generation from 2019 through 2033.9 However, in December 2018, this IRP was rejected by Virginia state regulators, in part for overstating projections of future electricity demand.”
- “The most recent IRPs of Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas also revealed that previously planned methane gas plants have been delayed by at least five years beyond the original proposal, and none have been approved by the state regulator.”
- “Over the next decade, it is likely that the demand for methane gas in Virginia and North Carolina will decrease further as renewable energy and storage technologies continue to rapidly decline in price and undercut the cost of running methane gas-fired power plants.”
- “If construction proceeds, an unprecedented, highly coordinated science and technology-based Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) is positioned to make sure environmental laws and regulations are strictly applied and enforced during construction. It is spearheaded by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance and member organizations.” WVHC is a member organization.
Land and Water Conservation Fund Reauthorized
The March “Highlands Voice” reported that the Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) was permanently reauthorized by the Senate. The reauthorization was subsequently approved by the House of Representatives. However, it was reauthorized without funding. WVHC is working with West Virginians for Public Lands and other national organizations requesting that congress provide permanent funding for LWCF.
Forest Service Projects
The Public Lands Committee continues to monitor theForest Service projects in the Monongahela National Forest to determine if comments are warranted and for which WVHC has submitted comments concerning what are considered major flaws in terms of protecting sensitive resources and potentially conflict with the Forest Plan.
On March 26, 2019, WVHC submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Beulah Wildlife Enhancement Project located in Randolph County. http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51533 . Comments submitted included:
- Cheat Mountain Salamander and the Modified Proposed Action
- West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
- Watershed Protection
- Prevention and Control of Non-native Invasive Species Infestations
- Heritage Resources Analysis
- Blue Ridge St. John’s Wort
- Minor Factual Errors
The Forest Service is in the process of finalizing the environmental assessment for the Spruce Knob Grouse Management Area NEPA project and will soon be preparing the draft decision. April 2, 2019 a gut check follow up meeting to the March 7, 2019 meeting is scheduled to share updated maps, design features, and mitigations that will be incorporated into the decision notice. We are anxious to see the modifications after the prior meeting. A representative of the Public Lands Committee will attend the meeting.
Proposed Big Run Pump Storage Project in Tucker County, West Virginia
The January 3, 2019 United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service second comment letter to FERC stated:
“Our assessment remains unchanged; the Big Run Project is not consistent with the management goals, objectives, and standards identified in the Forest Plan for Management Prescriptions 8.2 and 4.1. Therefore, should FreedomWorks apply for a special use permit to the MNF, it is unlikely that a special use permit would be issued for the Big Run Project.”
On January 31, 2019 FERC sent a letter to the Forest Service asking that if FreedomWorks, LLC files for the special use permit, would the Forest Service would allow access to lands within the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) to conduct licensing studies that would include land disturbing activities.
On March 4, 2019 the Forest Service responded that it has determined that Freedom Works’ licensing studies proposed in the SUP proposal are not consistent with the management goals, objectives, and standards identified in the Forest Plan for Management Prescriptions. Therefore, because Freedom Works’ proposal to the MNF had been denied, Freedom Works will not be able to access NFS lands within the MNF to conduct licensing studies for the proposed Big Run Project.
On March 17, 2019 and again on March 18, 2019, FreedomWorks filed requesting that FERC continue with the process to grant preliminary permit number, while they work through an appeal to the U.S. Forest Service for reconsideration of their decision. No response has been received from FERC to date.
West Virginia Legislature
As stated in the March issue of the “Highlands Voice”, following the West Virginia legislature this year was very interesting. The West Virginia Environmental Council (WVEC) lobby team did a great job in keeping up with and reporting on legislation of concern. There were many concerning bills introduced with various outcomes. See the report on the legislative session in this issue of the Voice.