The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance has launched its new Conservation Hub, a program designed to enhance the capabilities of environmental, conservation and citizen groups to better assess the impacts of projects in the greater Allegheny-Blue Ridge region and to help assure that the overall environmental integrity of the region is maintained. The program will employ some of the same technological tools that formed the basis of the ABRA Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program that was developed to monitor construction activities of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).
Among the expected outcomes of the Conservation Hub program are:
Empowering stakeholders to make more informed decisions about proposed projects that impact the environment of their communities and the region.
Improving the quality and comprehensiveness of information presented to government regulatory bodies in helping their evaluation of proposed projects and, if such projects are approved, providing ongoing monitoring information to those agencies to assist their regulatory role.
Encouraging regulatory agencies, when evaluating whether to permit a project, to consider the cumulative impacts that the project would have on the affected region. It has been our collective experience from fighting the ACP project that state and federal permitting agencies are ill-equipped to evaluate the cumulative environmental impacts that projects can have.
Details on the Conservation Hub and its projects are available here on the ABRA website.
On September 2, 2020, the U.S. Forest Service (NFS) published in the Federal Register a proposed rule that would ease existing restrictions on oil and gas development in the National Forests. The action follows a September 2018 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR).
“Fifty-seven public comments included statements of general opposition, and twenty-three included statements of general support for the proposed rule. The remainder expressed neither opposition nor support.
“Stated reasons for general opposition include the destruction of national forests and natural resources for financial or political interests; inadequate protection of human and environmental health; adverse impacts to recreation opportunities and tourism; and unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels.
“Stated reasons for general support include the generation of revenue; large existing demands for oil and gas; decreases in regulatory burden on the oil and gas industry; promotion of domestic energy production; and creation of a simplified process leading to quicker leasing decisions and elimination of duplication with the Bureau of Land Management.”
From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #282, June 25, 2020
Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc. filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on June 22 a new Biological Assessment (BA) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), but designated the information as “privileged and confidential” and thus not available to the public. The new BA, which was developed in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), is a necessary step toward the issuance of a new Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement (BiOp/ITC) for the ACP, as required under the Endangered Species Act. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously twice vacated the BiOp/ITC for the ACP, which led to construction activity on the ACP being suspended in December 2018.
From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update 281, June 18, 2020
West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited have released a new report [June 2020] discussing the impact pipeline construction has on rivers and streams. Reducing Impacts of Pipelines Crossing Rivers and Streams notes that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline routes include over 2,600 waterbody crossings in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, including approximately 250 rivers and streams containing species of concern such as native and naturally reproducing trout, anadromous fish and sensitive mussels. The 7-page study discusses the various methods used for pipelines to cross streams and rivers and includes several case studies that document the environmental challenges posed by pipelines crossing water bodies.
Back in January we posted ten reasons why Friends of Nelson opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and said you’d be hearing more about them. Now we’re happy to share our slide show on the 10 reasons – use it to help you to explain to family, friends, neighbors, and legislators why you oppose the ACP.
From the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #280, June 11, 2020
Development of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was announced June 11  by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The Notice of Intent, published in the Federal Register, is in response to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals action of December 13, 2018 vacating the USFS’s Record of Decision and Special use Permit issued for the ACP. While one of the reasons for the Court’s action – whether the USFS had the authority to authorize the ACP to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST) – is on appeal to and awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, there were several other issues in question that the SEIS process will focus upon:
Issues identified in the Court ruling including the potential for the proposal to cause adverse impacts to soil, water, and threatened and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Threatened and Endangered species and their habitat;
The purpose and impact of the Forest Plan amendments on affected resources (soil, water, ESA Threatened and Endangered species, scenic integrity, ANST, and eligible recreation rivers) and consistency with the Planning Rule;
The feasibility and practicality of having routes that are not on NFS lands; and,
A re-evaluation and assessment of erosion, sedimentation, and water quality effects in relation to anticipated mitigation effectiveness.
The USFS Federal Register Notice of Intent states that a draft SEIS will be available in July 2020 and that a final SEIS is anticipated later in 2020. The Notice indicated that when the Draft SEIS is made available there will be information provided about how public comments can be made.