Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
By Jim Scheff, Director, Kentucky Heartwood
Our fight over the Greenwood project came to an underwhelming and, for the most part, disappointing conclusion at the end of October, 2017. Kentucky Heartwood worked for more than three years to see the project turn from a typical timber harvest toward a science-based plan that would support the restoration of relict, fire-adapted open forest communities as well as the recovery of large areas of old-growth. In July 2017, the Forest Service issued their Draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact – a preliminary approval of the project. Kentucky Heartwood then filed a detailed, 32 page predecisional objection (a formal administrative objection) detailing a wide range of issues, concerns, and failures in the Forest Service’s analysis. In October, we had a formal meeting with Forest Service officials to seek resolution to the concerns raised in our objection. The meeting was scheduled for two hours but stretched to four hours as we delved deep in to the issues. The meeting was somewhat constructive.
In the end, the Forest Service did agree to some small changes, and made overtures toward more careful planning in the future. While the Forest Service did not agree to go back and actually survey the project area for rare species and communities, they stated that they planned to receive increased training from the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (KSNPC) on how to identify rare communities, would look for rare communities during project implementation, and adjust management accordingly. They also committed to consulting with KSNPC and Kentucky Heartwood in taking a closer look at management opportunities in the 751 Roadsides/Curt Pond Ridge area – a hotspot for Cumberland barrens remnants that are in desperate need of careful, active management, as well as possible remnant barrens sites in the Blue John area.
Another point of resolution that was addressed was the Forest Service’s prior unwillingness to provide clear targets for native versus non-native plantings in 75 wildlife openings covering 222 acres. The Forest Service has now formally clarified that they will manage for 35% in cool season grasses and grains, 20% in native pollinator mixes, and 45% in native grasses. While we would rather see all of the area managed for native vegetation, this is a clear improvement over the current condition and the vague statements made throughout the analysis. With regard to the proposed broadcast spraying of herbicides in wildlife openings, the Forest Service has agreed to apply herbicides only after vegetation has been cut down or is otherwise out of flowering in order to avoid impacts to native pollinators and birds, and to spray no more than 33% of the total acreage in a given year. Again, this is not what we wanted, but it is a meaningful improvement.
These changes are in addition to those that came about between the original 2014 scoping document and publication of the Environmental Assessment in early 2017. Those changes included reducing the amount of logging by about 600 acres (including eliminating logging that was planned at the trailhead to the Three Forks of Beaver Creek overlook) and the elimination of 26 miles of bulldozed firelines.
What is most disappointing, however, is that the Forest Service misrepresented forest conditions in many areas in order to promote logging. Several sites covering hundreds of acres that are now largely open-canopied as a result of the 1999-2002 southern pine beetle outbreak, and which have good floristic indicators of barrens or woodland type communities, will not be managed with fire or
otherwise. Meanwhile, intact, closed-canopy hardwood forests will be cut to “restore” open-canopied and pine forests, with 139 log landings cleared and compacted to facilitate the removal of timber on over 2,000 acres.
Over the coming years we will closely monitor implementation of the project. Some species and forest communities will likely benefit – particularly if the proposed fire management is implemented carefully for appropriate, site-specific ecological responses. However, there will certainly be negative impacts, disruptions, and trade-offs for years to come.
To learn more about the ecology of the Greenwood area and our efforts to affect change on this project, please see our Summer 2016 and Summer 2017 newsletters, as well as our comments and predecisional objection, all of which are available on our website here.
This article was published in the Winter 2018 edition of our Newsletter. Here is a link to our Newsletter archives.
Kentucky Heartwood files in U.S. Court of Appeals to block Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline conversion project
For Immediate Release, February 6, 2018
Contact: Ryan Talbott, Allegheny Defense Project, (503) 329-9162
Tom Fitzgerald, Kentucky Resources Council, (502) 875 2428
Jim Scheff, Kentucky Heartwood, (859) 334-0602, firstname.lastname@example.org
Groups petition U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. for review of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order Approving “Abandonment” and “Repurposing” of Tennessee Gas Pipeline
Federal agency failed to consider unique safety and environmental hazards posed by conversion of aging natural gas pipeline to transporting hazardous liquids
BEREA, KY – Three environmental groups filed a Petition for Review with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on January 31st asking the Court to review a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approving the abandonment and repurposing of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP), owned by energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan. The petitioning organizations, Kentucky Resources Council, Allegheny Defense Project, and Kentucky Heartwood, argue that the FERC failed to give adequate consideration to the unique safety and environmental risks posed by approving the repurposing of a 24” diameter, 70+ year-old natural gas pipeline for transporting heavier, more volatile natural gas liquids (NGLs).
Natural gas liquids are hydrocarbon byproducts of oil and gas extraction. The “fracking boom” in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia has created a glut of these materials, which are used in the plastics and other industries. FERC approved the “abandonment in place” of one of Tennessee Gas’ natural gas pipelines; the first step in Kinder Morgan’s plan to reverse the flow in order to transport NGLs to processing and export facilities on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline traverses 6 states and 18 Kentucky counties.
Particular concerns have been raised in Kentucky, with the pipeline passing through populated areas of Richmond in Madison County and Danville and Herrington Lake in Boyle County. Both counties have passed zoning requirements relating to hazardous liquids pipelines in order to have some say in whether or not hazardous liquids pipelines are compatible with existing land uses.
The pipeline also poses risks to the exceptional biodiversity of the Green River upstream and through Mammoth Cave National Park. The river provides habitat for 151 species of fish, with 29 mussel and fish species that are considered imperiled or vulnerable, and 7 listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Unlike natural gas, a portion of the NGLs can leak or spill into surface and groundwater and soil, causing serious and lasting environmental impacts.
The petitioners filed a Request for Rehearing with FERC last October. FERC failed to issue a decision on the Petition for Rehearing, instead issuing a “tolling order,” stating that the request was being reviewed but not decided upon. FERC-issued tolling orders allow pipeline projects to move forward while delaying citizens timely access to judicial review. The Petitioners believe that the failure of FERC to act within the time allowed for a decision on rehearing, set by Congress, made the underlying decision to approve the pipeline abandonment immediately subject to judicial review.
Over the course of FERCs environmental analysis, more than 900 comments were submitted, almost entirely opposed to the project. Among those expressing concern were the Madison County Fiscal Court, the Clark County Fiscal Court, the Boyle County Fiscal Court, the Marion County Fiscal Court, the Barren County Fiscal Court, Kentucky State Senate Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon, the Bluegrass Areas Development District, the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Danville, the Danville Independent School District and Danville Schools Board of Education, and the Rowan County Board of Education.
“The reversal and conversion of this pipeline to transport NGLs will further induce fracking in Pennsylvania, fragmenting our forested watersheds with more roads and well pads,” said Ryan Talbott, executive director of the Allegheny Defense Project. “FERC, however, refused to even consider those impacts before approving Kinder Morgan’s proposal. Such a short-sighted, industry-friendly review may benefit Kinder Morgan’s bottom line but it comes at the expense of Pennsylvanians’ right to clean water and intact forests.”
More information on the fight against the pipeline can be found on our Forest Blog here.