Forest Service Approves Amendments to Forest Plans for ACP

On November 17, 2017, the US Forest Service released a final Record of Decision (ROD) approving amendments to the Forest Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest to accommodate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Although this action had been anticipated after the Forest Service’s recent rejection of objections to the draft ROD, the November 17 decision provides the basis of the USFS issuing a Special Use Permit for the ACP.

An overview of and link to the 63-page decision is here.

Both Wild Virginia and Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) released statements condemning the decision.

Lew Freeman, ABRA Executive Director, said, “We firmly disagree with the decision announced today by the U.S. Forest Service to allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through publicly owned forest lands – valued by millions of visitors and the source of drinking water for thousands of people. We believe this decision is based on seriously deficient and incorrect information. The action imperils some of the nation’s most treasured natural resources and reflects a rush to judgment that is contrary to the standards of deliberation that we have a right to expect from the Forest Service. The decision should be strongly challenged.”

“One of the most egregious aspects of this action is that high-ranking officials in Atlanta and Milwaukee clearly yielded to pressure from industry and their bosses in Washington and disregarded the opinions of those who know these lands best, the Forest Service scientists who work every day to protect and preserve these precious areas,” said Misty Boos, Director of Wild Virginia. “Throughout the last three years, these locally-based experts have raised alarms about the wide range of threats and the certain damages that would result – many of them long-term, some permanent and irreparable.”

During its evaluation of the proposal, the Forest Service repeatedly either asked Dominion for additional information or said it did not have enough information to make a decision – but has now approved it despite the many unanswered questions, allowing Dominion to submit many of its environmental protection plans after the fact. “They’re letting the company basically make up a lot of it after the approval happened,” said David Sligh, an environmental attorney. “There’s way too much latitude for the agencies and the companies themselves that should be open to public involvement and public comment.”

“For the last two years, the Forest Service has been clear that ACP developers did not provide the agency with enough information to make a decision on this project. Serious questions remain about whether or not the pipeline can be built safely through the steep, unforgiving terrain of the Appalachians, but the agency abruptly changed course and approved the project,” said SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “The Forest Service now joins the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in approving a project that isn’t needed and that is designed to enrich developers at the expense of landowners, utility customers, and natural resources. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will strip people of their private property, raise their energy bills, and put thousands of waterways and forests in harm’s way – for the sole benefit of utility companies.”

Richmond Times Dispatch coverage of the story is here, and NBC29 coverage, including the releases from the Forest Service, from Dominion Energy, and from Southern Environmental Law Center, is here.