The League submitted the following comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on October 9, 2012. The comments contain guidance on proposed revision of environmental guidance documents governing interstate natural gas lines.

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The League of Women Voters of the United States

Comments on the Proposed Revision of

 Environmental Guidance Documents Governing Interstate Natural Gas Lines for

Upland Erosion Control, Revegetation, and Maintenance Plan and

Wetland and Waterbody Construction and Mitigation Procedures

OMB Control No: 1902-0060

Docket No. AD12-2-000

The League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS), with its long tradition of advocacy for natural resources, is grateful for the opportunity to provide input to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the proposed revision of environmental guidance documents governing interstate natural gas lines – specifically regarding upland erosion control, revegetation, and maintenance plan and wetland and waterbody construction and mitigation.

Introduction

As part of our national position, derived through study and consensus by Leagues across the nation, we believe that natural resources should be managed as interrelated parts of life-supporting ecosystems. Resources should be conserved and protected to assure their future availability. Pollution of these resources should be controlled in order to preserve the physical, chemical and biological integrity of ecosystems and to protect public health" (Statement on Natural Resources, as Affirmed by the 1986 Convention). Further, the LWVUS supports:

• identification and regulation of areas of critical concern... including ...rare or valuable ecosystems; significant wildlife habitats; unique scenic or historic areas; wetlands..." and "renewable resource lands, where development could result in the loss of productivity (such as watersheds, aquifers, and aquifer-recharge areas, significant agricultural and grazing lands, forest lands); and

policies to ensure safe treatment, transportation, storage and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes in order to protect public health and air, water and land resources.

In specific regard to water, the League supports:

  • water resource programs and policies that reflect the interrelationships of water quality, water quantity, ground-water and surface water and that address the potential depletion or pollution of water supplies;
  • measures to reduce water pollution from direct point-source discharges and from indirect nonpoint sources;
  • policies to achieve water quality essential for maintaining species populations and diversity, including measures to protect lakes, estuaries, wetlands and in-stream flows; and
  • stringent controls to protect the quality of current and potential drinking-water supplies, including protection of watersheds for surface supplies and of recharge areas for groundwater.

The LWVUS is encouraged by the timely proposed revisions in the pre-construction, installation and repairs to the essential pipeline infrastructure.  We, like you, are growing increasingly aware that our lines are concurrently experiencing the degradation ailments resulting from old age and the growing pains of multiple expansions to meet increasing demands. Our comments are subdivided to facilitate your consideration.

Needed Prerequisite to Guidance Documents

As we look at our expanding pipeline infrastructure, it is important to take note of the number and area that our waterbodies, tributaries and wetlands encompass. For example, the state of Pennsylvania alone has 86,000 miles of tallied streams and rivers, 3956 lakes, ponds and reservoirs, 17 square miles of estuaries and bays, 403,924 acres of freshwater wetlands, and 512 acres of tidal wetlands. Even these numbers are guesses, at best, based on airphoto maps of freshwater wetlands done by the National Wetlands Inventory.   The actual extent of Pennsylvania wetlands is probably more than double.[1]  Pennsylvania is probably not the only state where such discrepancies exist. Thus, it is imperative that all stakeholders know what regulated features exist as the first step in the guidance process. The accurate delineation of waters and wetlands is best accomplished by requiring all areas of disturbance to secure Jurisdictional Determinations from the Army Corps of Engineers. Additional consideration should be included for seasonal and rainfall variations to insure that all wetlands are recognized.

Upland Erosion Control, Revegetation, and Maintenance Plan

Applicability

The League recognizes the importance of having as much baseline mitigation data available as early as possible in the application. The review of changes and the approval of measures as “unnecessary” by FERC are essential in safeguarding the environment. The League urges that FERC consider site-specific conditions including the cumulative impact of other developments in the project area.  Explanations by project sponsors and remote satellite monitoring can fail to do justice to what exists on the ground.

Supervision and Inspection

Given multiple contracts involved in sponsored projects. Supervision and inspection are critical in thwarting degradation of water resources. The League supports such on-going monitoring throughout the project and trusts that adequate staffs exist among agencies. The beneficial reuse of construction materials, in concert with oversight through inspection, is noteworthy.  The LWVUS would hope that liability issues are clearly delineated, and efforts are extended to prevent the appearance of any conflict of interest among inspectors, regulators, and industry employees.

Preconstruction Planning

The League applauds proactive efforts to prevent pollution through such efforts as the pre-planning for disposal throughout the construction process.  This is particularly important in remote areas where hazards may not be immediately apparent.  The inclusion of coordination among agencies is most desirable in all areas as is the reference to the prevention of the invasion of non-native species. The latter is an increasing area of concern in clearing right-of-ways in forestlands.

The reason for the deletion of Section G, Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, is not clear.

The use of general permits and their requirements may need to be examined regarding pipeline construction. Lengthy routes are often segmented and built over time.  This may be done to avoid more stringent oversight and/or regulation consistent with the actual land area impacted by the total line that is eventually completed. Such a piecemeal approach to pipeline permitting is not in the public interest.

New sections G, H, and I, that relate to residential construction, blasting plans, and winter construction plans, are valuable additions to the revised guidelines. The control of stormwater is becoming increasingly more difficult because of the increasing incidence of severe storms and land development.  It is essential that pre-construction plans be revised based on on-going monitoring.

Installation

Language included in this section is appropriate for both protecting landowners and topsoil. The inclusion of lease agreements is important in setting the parameters for installation. FERC is to be commended for additions regarding the minimal use of tracked equipment and the responsibility to repair roads used in the installation.  In many cases, bonding fees are inadequate. Local taxpayers should not be expected to pay for damages of infrastructure development, maintenance, and expansion. 

Modifications in temporary erosion controls, including the addition of temporary trench plugs, appear to be in keeping with accepted practice. However, provisions should be made for review and revision, as needed, to reflect evolving procedures designed to maximize environmental protection.

Restoration

Site clean-up is important. Creating permanent erosion controls without disrupting sensitive water/wetland ecosystems is a challenge.  Given that severe storms and flooding can wash away pipeline cover, increased precautions and on-going monitoring are needed. The recent oil spill from a pipeline damaged by flood debris in the Yellowstone River is a case in point. [2]

Revegetation is critical and should be done in a way to replicate pre-construction status as closely as possible.  Seedlings are not replacements for mature trees.  Many of the areas currently experiencing pipeline construction are the same ones that have painstakingly restored through the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. Consideration should be given to avoid undoing with one hand what has been done by the other.

Off-Road Vehicle Control

Right-of-ways in remote areas are becoming increasingly more attractive for the use of recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and sport utilities.  These create additional hazards that may require additional precautions beyond those listed – particularly in areas prone to erosion.

Post- Construction Activities

Monitoring and reporting of revegetation should be extended beyond the two growing seasons with on-going reporting to insure sustainability of efforts.

Wetland and Waterbody Construction and Mitigation Procedures

Applicability

Definitions regarding “at time of construction” can be manipulated due to on-going water withdrawals associated with natural gas development through “fracking.”  This language requires clarification to prevent unwanted degradation.

Preconstruction Filing

The inclusion of notice regarding threatened and endangered species is a valuable addition to the guidelines. 

Preconstruction Planning

Efforts should be extended to discourage the use of one-size-fits-all spill prevention and response procedure through requiring references to site specifics.  The inclusion of proposed language to provide additional safeguards is noteworthy.  Given inherent risks to the public and environment, consideration should be given not only to the proper training of workers but also to the potential need for drug and alcohol testing of those involved in pipeline construction per se.

Waterbody Crossings

Revisions to this section, while useful, do not take into account the need for project sponsors to compare and contrast various methods to minimize environmental issues.  Further, additional methods are evolving that should be included and evaluated among best practices on an on-going basis.

Wetland Crossing

To  avoid misinterpretation, the words “routine repair” regarding existing  roads in the “installation” section should be clarified.  Given the sensitive nature of wetlands, the deletion of sections involving cutting trees outside the work area for timber mats and removing limits of two layers of “riprap” to support equipment may be problematic.

Revisions in the section entitled Post Construction Maintenance and Reporting list specific criteria that are most helpful in sustaining wetlands over time. Consideration should be given to extending the time period for monitoring and reporting to promote long-term success.

Conclusion

The revised guidelines are an important step in protecting our vital water resources.  The periodic notations regarding exemption from these guidelines due to “automatic authorization” resulting from routine repairs and blanket permits may become issues of increasing concern. Alternatives may be needed if companies appear to be consistently operating under such broad permits or become “negligent” in maintaining pipeline integrity as a way to avoid compliance with appropriate procedures.

The League of Women Voters appreciates your consideration of public comments as you fulfill your important role of regulating the interstate transmission of natural gas with oversight of environmental matters.

 

For questions or comments regarding this submission please contact us at:

League of Women Voters of the United States

1730 M Street NW, Suite 1000

Washington, DC 20036

202.263.1300

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