Category Archives: National Forest Service

Conservation Groups File Challenge to Forest Service’s Hasty Decision

Press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, February 5, 2018:

For Immediate Release: Monday, February 5, 2018
Contact: DJ Gerken, Senior Attorney,, 828-258-2023
Claudine McElwain, Communications Manager,, 434-977-4090
Doug Jackson, Deputy Press Secretary,, 202-495-3045

Conservation Groups File Challenge to National Forest Service’s Hasty Decision
NFS Decision Fails to Protect Public Lands from Destructive Pipeline Richmond, VA

Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center and The Sierra Club on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups filed suit in federal court against the National Forest Service over a grant recently issued to developers of the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“Political pressure forced approval of this boondoggle through steep slopes and landslide-prone areas on a treasured national forest,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney DJ Gerken. “Forest Service staff warned of the impacts this project would have, but the agency ignored them and granted special exceptions to let these pipeline developers get their way.”

The Forest Service repeatedly requested additional information from developers yet moved ahead and approved this risky project with its questions unanswered. The pipeline is slated to cut through 20 miles of steep, rugged mountainous regions of national forest land in West Virginia and Virginia. Much of this land provides habitat for rare and endangered species and is land that is regularly used by hikers and campers.

“The terrain which developers propose to cross with this pipeline is completely inappropriate for this kind of project,” said Sierra Club Attorney Nathan Matthews. “This fracked gas pipeline would cause permanent damage to the public lands that are so important to West Virginia’s and Virginia’s natural beauty. It is reckless to threaten the pristine land and tourism economy of those states with a dirty, dangerous project that they don’t even need.”

Pipeline developers have yet to receive all the permits needed for this project, including a water certification from Virginia meant to ensure protection of sensitive waterways. The Forest Service should not allow any work to move forward on national forest lands until this project is fully permitted.

Today’s petition was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Highlanders For Responsible Development, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Wild Virginia.

File Your Objections to Forest Service Decision on ACP

The deadline for filing objections with the U.S. Forest Service against their draft record of decision for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is September 5, 2017. (Deadline for Mountain Valley was August 7, 2017).  Write your letters!

On July 21, 2017, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Forest Service release statement is available at:

The draft Decision document is available at:

Wild Virginia provides instructions for how, where, and what to file.

Forest Service Issues Record of Decision

On July 21, 2017, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Forest Service release statement is available at:

The draft Decision document is available at:

Wild Virginia’s statement on the Forest Service release says,

This terrible decision would authorize the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to construct 21 miles of pipeline on lands managed by the George Washington (GWNF) and Monongahela National Forests (MNF). The proposed pipeline route would also cross both the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Forest Service had to issue this decision because current forest plan standards for both forests do not allow this destructive development. The Forest Service chose to change the rules for ACP and approved 14 total amendments to standards in these forest plans. Without amending these standards the ACP project would violate the forest plans for both of these forests.

“These standards were created to protect our forests and water. The Forest Service has put the integrity of our public lands at risk and goals of private profit ahead of the safety of our watersheds.

This decision is based on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)

This FEIS is drastically incomplete and in no way addresses the impacts to our lands, air, and water. Read more from our coalition press statement released today: FERC’s final Atlantic Coast Pipeline report a sham. The FEIS glosses over the “profound and permanent harm to water resources and drinking water supplies, forest ecosystems, wildlife and endangered species habitat, historic sites, agricultural resources, public lands including the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, and local economies”.

This is an important time to make your voice heard:

You have the right to object to this decision if you:

  1. Previously submitted timely, specific written comments to the Forest Service or to FERC during comment periods. (If you’re not sure if you did, we can help you look it up).
  2. Can raise an issue that arose after the formal public comment period closed. More information on how to object Click Here

The release statement sets forth the following parameters for objections to the draft record of decision:

Quick Facts from the Draft Record of Decision:

  • 214 acres of Forest Service lands will be will be maintained and operated for long-term use by ACP.
  • The Pipeline would be installed under 17 perennial, 28 intermittent, and 11 ephemeral waterbodies on Forest Service lands.
  • ACP will cross about 2.4 miles of karst topography on Forest Service lands.
  • The Pipeline could also impact cave invertebrates and other subterranean obligate species (amphipods, isopods, copepods, flatworms, millipedes, beetles, etc.) that are endemic to only a few known locations.

Press coverage of the Forest Service release may be read here:  7-21-17 Nelson County Times/News-Advance. Forest Service issues draft decision to OK use of National Forest System lands for pipeline.

Conflicts of Interest

This letter to the editor by Jane Twitmyer, published in the Washington Post on July 3, 2017, is a fine summary of the multiple conflicts of interest in reviewing the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “We need to know if anyone is actually working for us.” Indeed!

Evidently, ensuring that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s 1,989 water-body crossings comply with Virginia’s water-quality standards is just too big a job for our Department of Environmental Quality, even if it is its job, so the Department of Environmental Quality handed its responsibility off to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A Permit 12, issued nationwide by the corps, could approve all 1,989 water-body crossings of the pipeline without any site-specific review.

To make the handoff to the corps, the Department of Environmental Quality is required to determine that the corps’s requirements comply with Virginia’s water-quality standards for these projects. The Department of Environmental Quality outsourced that job, too, and Dominion agreed to pay a contractor hired by the state to evaluate its pipeline proposal for the Department of Environmental Quality. Incredibly, the contractor is doing several other jobs for Dominion. So Dominion is paying a familiar contractor to approve its work on behalf of the Department of Environmental Quality. This clearly is a conflict of interest, but it’s not the only one. A contractor hired by the Forest Service to represent its interests in the pipeline’s Blue Ridge Parkway crossing is working for Dominion on the pipeline project, and the third-party contractor hired by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to review the pipeline is tied to Dominion’s main environmental consultant in the project.

The administration and our regulators need to release all of their documents. We need to know if anyone is actually working for us.

HDD: A Limited Review by a Company Working for Dominion

[Photo by John Claman:  Piney Mountain,Three Ridges, Reed’s Gap]

On April 17, 2017, the US Forest Service submitted a supplement to a filing made on April 6, 2017, which transmitted Forest Service approval of the primary and contingency proposals for the horizontal direct drilling (HDD) drilling under Reeds Gap and the Appalachian Trail near the sole entrance/exit for Wintergreen. The supplement provides the documents the Forest Service received from GAI, the 3rd-party contractor who conducted the review.

The GAI review should have included – but didn’t – the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) report, A High Risk Proposal: Drilling Through the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Instead of being comprehensive, GAI’s review is limited, stating only, “Based on our review of the geotechnical and geological data provided for the proposed HDD, GAI believes an HDD in this location is feasible.”

DPMC’s Rick Webb says there is, “No real discussion or analysis of the issues or even reference to most of the issues – just an opinion – no reference to the lack of geophysical info for most of the drill-path or the extreme conditions.” The DPMC report on drilling through the mountain includes detailed information on how the HDD could fail, which GAI seems to have ignored, and GAI did not address at all the extreme environmental footprint of the project.

Webb continues, “I expressed concern about an obvious conflict of interest to the Forest Service when I heard that GAI was the reviewer. GAI works for Dominion on the ACP. See:

Webb adds, “GAI reps were at the open houses during the EIS scoping period – assuring us of the high-environmental standards and technical capacity of Dominion and the pipeline industry. GAI was also the company that prepared the Erosion and Sediment Control Plans for the recent Stonewall Gathering Pipeline in WV (notable for poor behavior with respect to implementation of the ESC plans on the ground; see; also in the path of the ACP).”

Note added on April 21, 2017DeSmog reported on April 20, 2017, that after DeSmog’s story linking GAI to Dominion, GAI removed mention of its link to Dominion from its Web page.