The U.S. Forest Service (NFS) released on July 21 a Draft Record of Decision regarding the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) through the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) and the George Washington National Forest (GWNF). The document, which was sent to the ABRA mailing list on the day it was issued, sets forth proposed amendments to the current Forest Plans for the MNF and GWNF and concludes:
Based on our review of the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement issued July 21 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and project record, we have decided to authorize Atlantic to use and occupy NFS land to construct, operate, maintain, and eventually decommission a natural gas pipeline on NFS lands administered by the MNF and GWNF.
ABRA has been in dialogue with NFS officials, regionally and nationally, for over a year regarding the serious environmental consequences of permitting the currently proposed route through forest lands. An earlier proposed ACP route had been disapproved in January 2016 by the NFS because of harm it would have presented to certain protected plant and animal species (see ABRA Update #64). ABRA has argued in our conversations with the NFS that the current proposed route presents decided threats to the integrity of the affected forest lands due to the severe disturbance of delicate steep mountain topography and the consequential damage to water sources that form the headwaters of major rivers.
The document states that the “decision allows Atlantic to implement the ACP Project in a manner consistent with the selection action. However, approval to begin operations on NFS land will require incorporating changes into the COM Plan that are necessary to meet the requirements of regulations . . . and ensure consistency” with the Forest Land Resource Management Plans. The “COM Plan” refers to the Construction, Operation and Maintenance Plan for the ACP, a final version of which has not yet been made available.
There is an opportunity for the public to raise objections to the Draft Record of Decision. The NFS press release announcing the document’s release states:
Individuals who submitted comments to FERC during the public comment periods are eligible to object to this draft decision. Objections may be submitted to the Forest Service for 45 days ending at midnight, September 5, 2017. After objections are resolved, the Forest Service will issue a final decision on the project. For more information on the Forest Service’s objection process, please visit www.fs.usda.gov/gwj/.
Forthcoming issues of ABRA Update will provide further discussion of why the NFS draft document should be rejected and offer guidance to those who wish to submit comments.