Category Archives: Natural Resources

FERC Asks Fish and Wildlife to Reconsider


On August 28, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “reinitiate consultation,” asking the Service to reconsider its earlier finding that the MVP would not significantly harm protected fish and bats along the route. The Fish and Wildlife Service has said it will comply.

The announcement came two weeks after environmental groups filed an August 12 challenge to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 opinion (see New Lawsuit Launched Against MVP). On August 15, three days after the challenge was filed, MVP said it was voluntarily suspending work on parts of the project where impacts to endangered species were in question. It is not yet clear whether any, some, or all work on the pipeline would now have to stop.

A statement from the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in the August 12 challenge, said, “Because the project does not have a valid Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement, all work on the pipeline should halt until a new one is issued.”

Natalie Cox, director of communications for Mountain Valley Pipeline, attempted to give a positive spin to the FERC request, saying that the company had “received and reviewed the FERC’s letter and we are encouraged that the process is moving forward.”

New Rule Will Reduce Future Endangered Species Protections

A new rule that will significantly limit protections for endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was announced by the Trump Administration on August 12, 2009, and will take effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register. Note that ESA issues related to the Atlantic Coat Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline are not impacted by the new rule, as it is only applicable to future listing and delisting of threatened and endangered species.

The Trump Administration says the new rule will ease “the regulatory burden on the American public.” Environmental and conservation groups have a different take:

  •  Undermining this popular and successful law is a major step in the wrong direction as we face the increasing challenges of climate change and its effects on wildlife. – Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club
  • “We are in the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, yet the Trump Administration is steamrolling our most effective wildlife protection law. This Administration seems set on damaging fragile ecosystems by prioritizing industry interests over science. – Rebecca Riley, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “Threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants in our national parks already face habitat changes and impacts of a climate crisis that is accelerating each year. Instead of working with Congress and states to better protect and restore wildlife as the climate changes, the Trump administration is reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act to weaken protections. – Bart Melton, National Parks Conservation Association.

In an August 22, 2019 letter to the editor of The Recorder, Robert “Bobby” Whitescarver says, “Representative Leonor Sullivan (D) stated the reason for the law succinctly on July 27, 1973, on the House floor when she introduced the bill: ‘From the most narrow possible point of view, it is in the best interest of mankind to minimize the losses of genetic variations. The reason is simple: they are potential resources. They are the keys to puzzles which we cannot solve, and may provide answers to questions which we have not yet learned to ask.’ In other words, it is not wise to wipe off the face of the Earth a species that could hold the cure for cancer or any number of human ailments. Today, one-fourth of all pharmaceuticals come from, or are derived from, plant and animal material.”

The courts have twice tossed out the permit for allowing the elimination or “taking” of an endangered species or its habitat by Dominion. Whitescarver concludes, “If a bee, a bat, a mussel, or a crustacean can stop Dominion’s pipeline, I’m all for it. I wish the people in its path had as much standing in court as the critters.” With the new ruling, it seems that neither the people in the path nor endangered/threatened species would have any power against the will of for-profit corporations.

New Lawsuit Launched Against MVP

The following press release from the Sierra Club announces the lawsuit against the Mountain Valley Pipeline filed on August 12, 2019.

Monday, August 12, 2019
Contact: Doug Jackson, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3045 or doug.jackson@sierraclub.org
Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 310-4054, jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org

RICHMOND, Va. — Conservation groups today launched a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The petition for review of the project was filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, issued an opinion that allowed the pipeline to move forward — despite its serious threats to endangered species. The agency failed to accurately measure the pipeline’s impacts on endangered wildlife like the iconic Roanoke logperch and failed to set limits for how many threatened and endangered bats can be harmed or killed.

The lawsuit seeks to vacate the Service’s decision and force the agency to re-evaluate the project’s impact. The groups argue that construction on the already-foundering pipeline should stop until that process is complete.

Today, the groups also sent a letter to the agency requesting that it stay the biological opinion and incidental take statement pending court review. The species at issue include the Roanoke logperch, Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat. The suit was filed by the Sierra Club on behalf of Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Additionally, MVP does not have Clean Water Act authorization to cross streams and wetlands from the Army Corps, and does not have necessary U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management authorizations.

In response, Sierra Club Staff Attorney Elly Benson released the following statement:

“The fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline puts several endangered species in harm’s way, while serving only to line the pockets of polluting corporations. MVP has proven it can’t build this unnecessary pipeline without devastating streams and rivers, as well as the forest habitats of Appalachia. The public should be able to trust that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making protection of endangered species its highest priority, but it fell short of that obligation here.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director for Wild Virginia stated:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, like numerous other government agencies tasked with protecting the public and our resources, failed to do its job. Citizens cannot and will not accept actions that endanger the future of some of our rarest and most precious wildlife species. This destructive pipeline has already caused great damage to the environment and the public and it must be stopped before that damage gets worse.”

Roberta Bondurant, Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL, said:

“Our mountain communities continue to witness MVP ravage the forest, field, stream and wetland sanctuaries of species that have supposedly been protected by federal law. We ask USFWS and the courts to do no more—and no less—than uphold that law through a critical review of the Biological Opinion. At best, the writers of that document ignored evidence of MVP construction as a threat to species survival—survival which will ultimately implicate our own.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proven its carelessness in forcing through a permit for the similarly destructive Atlantic Coast Pipeline. We have seen this same carelessness in the Service’s permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This pipeline has already wreaked havoc on the landscape; it must not be allowed to continue to jeopardize the existence of our invaluable endangered species.”

Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney, said:

“This pipeline is a major threat to the Roanoke River system and the people and imperiled species that rely on it. Regulators can’t keep shrugging off the environmental harms of pipeline projects. We need to stop destroying habitats and waterways for fossil fuels that are driving the climate catastrophe.”

Jason Rylander, Senior Endangered Species Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, said:

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline poses an enormous threat to the fish, wildlife, forests, and people in its path. The Trump administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fast-tracked this project and failed to properly evaluate its impact on imperiled species. The Service needs to reconsider its biological opinion and further construction of this environmentally destructive project should cease before iconic species and landscapes are lost forever.”

Fish and Wildlife Permit Vacated by 4th Circuit


An Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance email distributed early on July 27, 2019, comments on the Fourth Circuit Court’s opinion vacating the Fish and Wildlife Service permit:

The Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals Friday struck down the latest permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had issued for the the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The issue arose from a requirement in the Endangered Species Act that (quoting from the decision) “the proposed pipeline will not jeopardize the continued existence of several endangered and threatened species that are likely to be impacted by pipeline construction. As relevant here, the Biological Opinion concluded that the pipeline will not jeopardize four species: the rusty patched bumble bee, clubshell, Indiana bat, or Madison Cave isopod.” The FWS issued an opinion in 2017 stating that the ACP did not endanger any endangered species. The permit was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wildlife Committee (the latter two organizations being ABRA members).

In response to that legal challenge the Fourth Circuit in May 2018 vacated the FWS permit, which it explained in its opinion (not issued until August 6) that the “FWS’s vague and unenforceable take limits are arbitrary and capricious.” The agency reissued a new permit in September 2018, which was again challenged by the same plaintiffs. The Fourth Circuit stayed the new permit and, in response to that, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC suspended all construction of the project in late 2018.. The case decided Friday was argued on May 9, 2019 (see ABRA Update #229, May 10, 2019).

In today’s decision, the Fourth Circuit stated:

Specifically, Petitioners assert that FWS improperly determined that pipeline construction will not jeopardize the rusty patched bumble bee or the clubshell, and they challenge the validity of the take limits imposed for the Indiana bat and the Madison Cave isopod. Because we find that FWS arbitrarily reached its no-jeopardy conclusions and failed to correct the deficiencies in the take limits that we identified in the previous appeal, we grant the petition and vacate the 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, SELC stated:

“In its rush to help this pipeline company, the agency failed to protect species on the brink of extinction – its most important duty. This pipeline would blast through some of the last populations of these rare animals,” said Patrick Hunter, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There is no evidence that this pipeline is needed for anything other than Dominion and Duke Energy profits. For the sake of these rare species and its customers’ wallets, it’s time for these utilities to walk away from this badly planned boondoggle.”

Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been stopped since December 2018 when multiple permits were called into question or overturned including permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those permits are all still outstanding. Among the problems for this pipeline is a Federal Court decision that the Forest Service erred in allowing the pipeline to carve through national forests and was not authorized to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail. There is no clear path forward to construct the pipeline on its current route. The project is several years behind schedule and more than $2 billion dollars over budget. If constructed, ratepayers will be expected to pay for the pipeline while the energy companies collect a 15% profit.

Quoted in Charlottesville’s July 27, 2019, Daily Progress article, Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said, “Based on the clear direction provided by the court in today’s opinion, we expect FERC and the Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to immediately begin working to correct the issues identified by the court. Once the new Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement are issued, we will seek the necessary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to resume construction. We’re confident we remain on track to complete the project by late 2021.”

The Daily Progress article says, “If the Fish and Wildlife Service were to issue a new permit, Dominion has said it would begin building the pipeline from Buckingham County to the southeastern Virginia coast, connecting it to Hampton Roads and extending it through eastern North Carolina. The company plans to build a natural gas compressor station at Union Hill in Buckingham under a state air pollution permit that environmental groups also have appealed to the 4th Circuit. Separately, Dominion and its partners have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review another opinion by the same federal appeals panel last December that threw out a U.S. Forest Service permit to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail between Augusta and Nelson counties.”

Deadline July 27 – Submit Comments

Deadline July 27, 2019: Submit your comment to the Army Corps of Engineers to stop fracked-gas pipelines from blasting through West Virginia rivers.

When West Virginia regulators initially considered the Clean Water Act permits needed for the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in 2017, they decided to place three strong but reasonable requirements on pipeline companies, above what the Army Corps required, in order to protect the state’s valuable water resources. These reasonable measures would have prevented pipeline construction from impeding the movement of fish and would have limited pipeline construction across major rivers like the Gauley, Elk, and Greenbrier to 72 hours. They would also make large diameter pipelines like ACP and MVP ineligible for the one-size-fits-all review process, requiring them to undergo an individual review process.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network argued — and the court agreed — that MVP had no plans to comply with West Virginia’s 72-hour time limit when crossing major rivers, and that this failure meant that the entire permit, not just as it applied to specific crossings, was defective. After this decisive court decision rejecting MVP’s permit, the Army Corps voluntarily threw out its permit for the ACP too.

But now the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is trying to rewrite its own rules and remove the environmentally protective conditions they placed on projects like the ACP and MVP.

The Army Corps of Engineers is asking for the public’s opinion on whether it should accept attempts by West Virginia regulators to modify the conditions they put in place to protect water quality. This request places the Corps in an untenable position, asking the Corps to commit an unlawful act and to be drawn once more into a time-consuming and expensive conflict over the proper regulation of the two proposed fracked-gas pipelines.

The Corps is only accepting comments until Saturday, July 27, 2019. Time is running out. Write to the Corps TODAY to ask them to SAY NO to West Virginia’s illegal request.

CLICK HERE to use Chesapeake Climate Action Committee’s email letter, but please be sure to customize the email with your county and state and include any other concerns you may have.