Now we realize the importance of phasing out Natural Gas, not expanding it

Lehigh Valley portion of the PennEast pipeline draws three hours of testimony during PA-DEP hearing

From an Article by Christina Tatu, Lehigh Valley Morning Call, January 14, 2021

[Associated Press] Nearly 70 people spoke during a virtual forum on Wednesday night hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on the first phase of the PennEast pipeline, which if constructed would cut through nearly a dozen municipalities in Northampton County.

The forum focused on permits PennEast needs for erosion and sediment control and water obstruction and encroachment during the first phase of the project.

Held up by legal challenges in New Jersey, PennEast announced plans last year to construct the nearly 120-mile pipeline in two phases, with the first calling for 68 miles of pipe starting in the Marcellus Shale region of Luzerne County and stopping in Bethlehem Township.

The second phase would include the remaining route, which cuts through Bucks County on its way to the endpoint in Mercer County, New Jersey.

It isn’t clear how long it might take DEP to issue the permits. DEP spokesperson Colleen Connolly said there is no timetable. Even if they are approved, PennEast still needs permits for the second phase of the project. The company is also waiting on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sign off on the plan to split the project into two phases.

Speakers on Wednesday evening included supporters from organizations like the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. “Infrastructure is the core to recovering from this pandemic,” said Kevin Sunday, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

He and other proponents who spoke during the three-hour call said PennEast will dramatically lower costs for manufacturers, potentially allowing them to expand business in the state. The pipeline would also increase state tax revenue and lower residents’ electric bills, he said.

PennEast officials have said the project would create more than 12,000 new jobs and generate $740 million in worker wages, but dozens of opponents on the call disputed the economic benefits.

“How can there be a phase one without a phase two?” asked resident Richard Kaiser. The New Jersey portion of the project has been on hold since a federal appeals court granted a stay last year, halting construction while the court tries to resolve issues surrounding PennEast’s attempt to take property in which the state has an interest.

“They say this project is to the benefit of the people, but it’s not,” said resident Christine Shelly. “We didn’t want this project in Pennsylvania and New Jersey didn’t want it either. Isn’t that why this project is split into two parts?”

In Northampton County, the pipeline would cut through dozens of natural riparian buffers, or areas of vegetation that prevent sediment from polluting streams and rivers, said state Sen. Katie J. Muth, a Democrat from Montgomery County. She said the permits under review Wednesday evening were unnecessary for a project that may never be completed.

PennEast, a consortium of natural gas companies, first proposed the pipeline in 2014. The company hopes to have the first phase of the project in service by November, said PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick. PennEast is projecting 2023 will be when the second phase of the project goes into operation.

The first phase will have three delivery points: UGI Utilities Inc., which will serve Blue Mountain Ski Resort, and new interconnections with Columbia Gas and Adelphia Gateway. The new interconnections will be south of Route 22 and west of Route 33 and will be constructed on property already owned by PennEast.

In Northampton County, the pipeline will cross Lehigh, Moore, East Allen, Upper Nazareth, Lower Nazareth, Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Williams townships. A mile of pipeline is also slated to cross through Eldred Township in Monroe County.

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See also: EXPLAINER — PennEast Pipeline, StateImpact Pennsylvania (24 stories)

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South Fork of Shenandoah River in Geo. Washington National Forest

Virginia groups sue U.S. Forest Service over new environmental review standards

From an Article by Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury, January 11, 2021

Four Virginia organizations have joined a coalition of Southern Appalachian environmental groups that are suing the U.S. Forest Service over changes to federal environmental rules that determine how much scrutiny regulators must give activities like logging and utility projects in national forests.

The rule, which was finalized by President Donald Trump’s administration Nov. 19, aims “to bypass the fundamental requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act” and “will cause significant harm to publicly owned national forests across the country and to members of the public who use those lands,” the lawsuit contends.

Virginia groups participating in the challenge include the Clinch Coalition, the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia Wilderness Committee and Wild Virginia. The South Carolina-based Chattooga Conservancy, Tennessee-based Cherokee Forest Voices, Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife, Georgia Forestwatch and North Carolina-based Mountaintrue are the other plaintiffs.

All of the groups are being represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia’s courthouse in Big Stone Gap.

At the heart of the suit lies controversial changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark environmental protection law passed in 1969 that is sometimes called the Magna Carta of federal environmental laws.

Under NEPA, federal agencies are required to assess the environmental impacts of activities on federal lands, examine alternative ways those activities could be carried out and determine any mitigation that ought to take place to offset impacts.

Key among its provisions is the requirement for agencies to prepare either an “environmental assessment” or, for more significant and far-reaching projects, the longer and more detailed “environmental impact statement.” Projects that typically don’t have significant impacts can be granted a “categorical exclusion” that exempts them from either of these processes and their associated public input requirements.

In a 2010 guidance document for federal agencies, the Council on Environmental Quality, which administers NEPA, described a categorical exclusion as “a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment” and noted that the tool “can reduce paperwork and delay.” However, the memo warned, “if used inappropriately, categorical exclusions can thwart NEPA’s environmental stewardship goals, by compromising the quality and transparency of agency environmental review and decisionmaking, as well as compromising the opportunity for meaningful public participation and review.”

In July 2019, citing a backlog of more than 5,000 special use permit applications, the U.S. Forest Service proposed revisions to its NEPA regulations to increase “the efficiency of environmental analysis.”

“The Forest Service is not fully meeting agency expectations, nor the expectations of the public, partners and stakeholders, to improve the health and resilience of forests and grasslands, create jobs and provide economic and recreational benefits,” the agency wrote in the proposal published in the Federal Register. “The agency spends considerable financial and personnel resources on NEPA analyses and documentation. The agency is proposing these revisions to make more efficient use of those resources.”

Among the most important changes was an expansion of the categorical exclusions the Forest Service can now grant. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture this November said in a statement this November that the new and revised exclusions “will ultimately improve our ability to maintain and repair the infrastructure people depend on to use and enjoy their national forests.”

But a host of environmental organizations, including those involved in the suit against the Forest Service, say the changes remove key environmental safeguards and opportunities for public input, and in particular could allow virtually all logging operations in the national forests of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia to go ahead without site-specific analysis.

Three new or revised categorical exclusions are being challenged. One would apply to activities including logging that disturb up to 2,800 acres and have “a primary purpose of meeting restoration objectives or increasing resilience.” Another would apply to the construction and realignment of up to two miles of permanent road for any purpose. A third would expand authorizations for the “special use” of up to 20 acres of land for activities including utility rights of way.

The first new exclusion has provoked particular concern among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs because of the implications they say it could have for logging in Southern Appalachian national forests, where logging projects tend to be smaller than 2,800 acres. One study of logging in national forests in the region between 2009 and 2019 conducted by the conservation groups found that 70 of the 71 projects that were completed fell below that threshold, with a median size of 535 acres.

Consequently, the plaintiffs contend that the new rule “would effectively allow the Forest Service to implement its entire logging program on these forests without site-specific analysis to inform public comment or consideration of alternatives.”

The environmental groups also argue that the Forest Service has been able to avoid detrimental impacts from projects in the past because of the environmental review process prescribed by NEPA that the new categorical exclusions would bypass.

“For example, Virginia Wilderness Committee’s comments on the draft EA for one recent project prompted the Forest Service to drop logging units that would have resulted in impermissible sediment loading into a creek that is home to the endangered candy darter, because Virginia Wilderness Committee showed that the agency’s initial sediment modeling was flawed,” the lawsuit claims.

The conservation groups’ study of national forest logging between 2009 and 2019 found that such environmental reviews led to the removal of almost 6,000 acres of Southern Appalachian forest from proposals. More than 1,500 of those acres were in Virginia’s George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

“On average, members of the public pointed out at least two potentially significant impacts during the NEPA process per project,” states the lawsuit. “The large majority of these potentially significant impacts were avoided or mitigated by project changes.”

In August, more than 20 states also sued the Council on Environmental Quality over the NEPA changes, claiming that they “violat(e) NEPA’s text and purpose … and abandon() informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protection.”

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Mom’s Clean Air Force is Working on CLIMATE CHANGE in West Virginia

January 17, 2021

New West Virginia environmental coalition publishes ‘A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Change’ From an Article in MY BUCKHANNON, December 26, 2020 BUCKHANNON – A West Virginia field organizer for the Mom’s Clean Air Force recently shared information about a new alliance that has formed around climate action in West Virginia. Leah Barbor said the West [...]

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Experienced Environmental Experts Selected by President-elect Biden

January 16, 2021

Biden swells the ranks of his White House climate team — New hires reflect a sweeping approach, include former top Democratic officials and environmental justice advocates From an Article by Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, January 15, 2021 President-elect Joe Biden added more than a half-dozen climate staffers to his White House team [...]

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Energy Justice is Overdue Along With Climate Change Reponses

January 15, 2021

Justice First: How to Make the Clean Energy Transition Equitable From an Article by Tara Lohan, The Revelator, January 11, 2021 Shalanda Baker is currently a professor of law, public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University and cofounder of the Initiative for Energy Justice, where she works on making the clean energy transition more [...]

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Protection of Delaware River Watershed Contested in Pennsylvania

January 14, 2021

Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers sue over Delaware River drilling ban From an Article by Michael Rubinkam / Associated Press, StateImpact Penna., January 12, 2021 (Harrisburg) — Two Republicans claim the Delaware River Basin Commission overstepped its authority and usurped the Legislature with its moratorium on natural gas development. Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania are seeking to [...]

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Coal Mining Continues to Pollute the Water in Appalachia

January 13, 2021

A toxic water crisis in America’s coal country From a News Report by Gareth Evans, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), February 11, 2019 [Wyoming County, WV] In the shadow of some of America’s most controversial coal mines, where companies use huge amounts of explosives to blow the tops off mountains, isolated communities say their water has [...]

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Standing Up for Appalachia — Holding Water in West Virginia

January 12, 2021

Holding Water in WV: A Community Discussion on January 13, 2021 Announcement from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) This is the first session of a five-part discussion series, “Standing Up for Appalachia: Dialogue for a Positive Change,” hosted by West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light. It is funded with grant support from the West [...]

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WV New River Gorge Now Protected as a National Park

January 11, 2021

America’s Newest National Park Is Also the First in West Virginia From an Article by Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch.com, January 7, 2021 The U.S. is beginning the new year with a new national park. The nation’s 63rd national park is also the first to be designated as such in the state of West Virginia. New River [...]

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Opposition Continues to LNG Transport thru Philadelphia and on the Delaware River & Bay

January 10, 2021

The fight against the Gibbstown, New Jersey, LNG export terminal Update from the FracTracker Alliance, January 4, 2021 After the Delaware Riverkeeper Network again appealed the controversial construction of a second dock for liquified natural gas (LNG) export in Gibbstown, New Jersey, its construction was re-approved in a Delaware River Basin Commission meeting on December [...]

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