Category Archives: Environmental Impact

President Signs Order Waiving Environmental Reviews for Key Projects

On June 4, 2020, President Trump signed an Executive Order “Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities.”   According to the Washington Post report, the order instructs “agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects given the current economic ’emergency.’ Declaring an economic emergency lets the president invoke a section of federal law allowing ‘action with significant environmental impact’ without observing normal requirements imposed by laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. These laws require agencies to solicit public input on proposed projects and analyze in detail how federal decisions could harm the environment.”

The order directs that “Agencies, including executive departments, should take all appropriate steps to use their lawful emergency authorities and other authorities to respond to the national emergency and to facilitate the Nation’s economic recovery.  As set forth in this order, agencies should take all reasonable measures to speed infrastructure investments and to speed other actions in addition to such investments that will strengthen the economy and return Americans to work, while providing appropriate protection for public health and safety, natural resources, and the environment, as required by law.”

The President maintains that waiving requirements will help the country recover from virus-related economic losses.

There are instructions in the order specific to:

  • Expediting Delivery of Civil Works Projects Within the Purview of the Army Corps of Engineers
  • Expediting the Delivery of Infrastructure and other Projects on Federal Lands
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Emergency Regulations and Emergency Procedures
  • Endangered Species Act (ESA) Emergency Consultation Regulations
  • Emergency Regulations and Nationwide Permits Under the Clean Water Act (CSW) and Other Statutes Administered by the Army Corps of Engineers

The Post report says, however, that “It is unclear how the directive will affect individual projects, especially since developers are often wary of legal challenges they could face from environmental or public interest groups. Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said in an email that ‘companies would be reluctant to rely on such an executive order,’ knowing they would later have to prove that they were operating in an emergency.”

Additionally, the Post notes, “Thomas Jensen, a partner at the firm Perkins Coie, said in an email that any decisions made in response to the executive order could be challenged in court. He noted that the National Environmental Policy Act was enacted 50 years ago partly to prevent arbitrary federal decisions such as building highways through parks and communities of color and that the current administration cannot simply set aside laws aimed at protecting vulnerable Americans or the environment. ‘I will not be surprised to see many observers comparing this move — declaring an emergency to shield agency decisions from the public — to the order to clear Lafayette Square on Monday evening,’ Jensen said, referring to actions in a Washington park this week. ‘It’s just one more face of authoritarian ideology, with a clear link to issues of race and equality and government accountability.'”

Court Denies Request to Reinstate NWP 12

On May 28, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request by the Army Corps of Engineers, Transcanada Keystone Pipeline, and other pipeline companies to reinstate Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12). This means NWP 12 will remain invalid while the Ninth Circuit considers whether the Montana district court correctly ruled that the Corps violated the Endangered Species Act.

The District Court’s April 15 ruling came in a case challenging the NWP12 permit for the Keystone project and was extended to affect permits for other new oil and natural gas pipelines. The ruling impacts the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, neither of which currently have valid NWP12 permits. At this point, the Corps cannot authorize either the MVP or the ACP to use NWP12 unless and until the Ninth Circuit reverses the Montana district court’s determination that the Corps violated the Endangered Species Act.

Appeals Court Urged to Keep Freeze on Army Corps’ NWP 12 for Pipelines

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #277, May 22, 2020:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been urged to uphold a Federal District Court in Montana’s ruling prohibiting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12) program from issuing new permits for oil and natural gas pipelines. The District Court’s April 15 ruling came in a case challenging the NWP12 permit for the Keystone project and was extended to affect permits for other new oil and natural gas pipelines. The ruling impacts the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, neither of which currently have valid NWP12 permits.

In a May 20, 2020 brief filed with the Court, the Northern Plains Resource Council, a Montana-based conservation group, argued that Army Corps had failed to evaluate the cumulative impact on endangered species of all projects under the NWP12 and that the agency should have completed a programmatic review under the Endangered Species Act before reauthorizing the program for a five-year term beginning in 2017. The case is before the Ninth Circuit on appeal by the Army Corps and industry groups that are asking the Appeals Court to overturn the District Court’s freeze of the NWP12 program until the case is decided the issues. For a copy of the brief, click here.

Rockbridge Planning Commission to Consider Approval of ACP Yard

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update 275, May 7, 2020:

A proposed storage yard for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be the subject of a May 13 meeting of the Rockbridge County (VA) Planning Commission to discuss its possible approval. (See Concerns Expressed About Proposed ACP Yard in Goshen, VA.) The proposed contractor yard, to be located in Goshen, VA, would be an active hub for pipe welding, fuel storage, pipeline worker rendezvous, material storage, and construction vehicle travel to pipeline installation locations in neighboring Bath, Highland, and Augusta counties.

Action is needed! ABRA members and activists are urged to file comments in opposition to the proposal with the Planning Commission in advance of the May 13 meeting.

For more information, click here for an alert and share it with others.

ACP Effects on Virginia Wetlands


From the Digital Commons at Longwood University comes this interesting 15 minute video presentation on The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Effects on Wetlands in Virginia, a Longwood University Student Showcase by Travis Wood and Coleman Behne, April 22, 2020.

Their summary statement:

Wetland mitigation banking is a familiar topic in Virginia, especially with the introduction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The proposed pipeline, which extends from West Virginia to North Carolina, impacts nearly 315 acres of wetlands in Virginia alone. Under current Virginia law, wetlands are to be undisturbed by any destruction-related actions. The pipeline, however, has raised many questions as to why the State is making certain exceptions for a natural gas pipeline. There is a gap between society’s demand for natural gas and the negative environmental impacts the pipeline brings. Environmental justice is also a concern, when groups of people resist placing compressor stations in their communities (e.g. Buckingham County). The wetlands that will see the largest impact is the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, with 22 proposed wetland crossings that will impact 75.9 acres of wetlands. This paper examines how the pipeline is able to disturb wetlands that are deemed ‘untouchable’. The proposed pipeline also comes within 100 feet of wildlife boundaries. Additionally, 13 forested wetlands will be crossed resulting in 21.7 acres of permanent conversion to scrub-shrub or herbaceous wetlands. In preparing plans and scoping areas the natural gas pipeline can pass through, many wetlands and other nationally protected areas are being disturbed and we examine whether the potential benefits outweigh the negatives.

ACP Survey Claims Are Contested as Outdated

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #271, April 9, 2020

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC’s has contended to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that bat surveys it conducted in 2015 should be considered “current.” This contention was challenged in an April 2, 2020, letter to FERC by the Southern Environmental Law Center. SELC pointed out that the surveys were valid only for two years, in accordance with established guidelines by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The SELC letter also a similar problem exists for mussel surveys done by the ACP in Virginia and North Carolina.

For a copy of the SELC letter to FERC, click here.