Success Stories Transportation and Infrastructure Blog

Dominion’s James River Transmission Project

More than 400 years of American history, including the first permanent English settlement in North America, were placed at critical risk in 2017 after the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on a nearly 7-mile-long stretch of massive 295-foot transmission towers within sight of Historic Jamestown and Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia.

Dominion Virginia Power, a for-profit energy company sponsoring the project, maintained that the state needed the energy from the power lines without which the regions could face rolling blackouts. However, the transmission project was met with considerable skepticism from local officials as well as other federal agencies who criticized the project on the basis that transmission construction would have adverse impacts on historically significant land and endangered species within the area.

Moreover, research from a 2015 report from the National Parks Conservation Association and Princeton Energy Research International suggested that Dominion’s underlying case for building massive transmission towers was based on faulty analysis – Dominion’s transmission line would provide more than four times the needed grid capacity.

The Army Corps of Engineers nonetheless pushed forward with the project, carrying out analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Passed into law with bipartisan support in 1969, NEPA requires federal agencies to complete an environmental review identifying and publicly disclosing any potential environmental, public health, or cultural impacts a project may have before a decision is made and the relevant permits are issued.

There was only one problem – the Army Corps of Engineers decided to carry out an Environmental Assessment (EA) instead of a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Whereas EAs are prepared for smaller projects and in cases where the impacts are uncertain, agencies are required to carry out an EIS for major projects like power plants and interstate highways.

Choosing to ignore tens of thousands of comments from concerned citizens as well as sharp criticism from other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the project would have no major impacts and that a detailed EIS was unnecessary. The Corps approved the project in 2017.

However, in a landmark court decision in March 2019, a federal appeals court found that the Army Corps of Engineers approval of Dominion’s transmission project to be in violation of NEPA on the basis that the permit was based on private research, lacked transparency and public engagement, and that the Corps  should have conducted an EIS.

Judge David Tatel described the significance of the area in detail, recounting Capt. John Smith’s voyage into the Chesapeake Bay and up the James River. “These journeys came to symbolize our nation’s founding and to serve as an equally important reminder of one of the darkest episodes in our history — the settlers’ devastation of Native American populations,” he wrote.
[1] “Appellate Court Says Corps Should Have Prepared EIS On James River Transmission Line.” National Parks Traveler. March 1, 2019. Available at:
[2] Natl. Parks Cons. Assoc. v. Todd Semonite, et al. No. 18-5179 (D.C. Circ. 2019). Available at:
https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/87FABC162438AE4B852583B000549984/$file/18-5179.pdf
[3] “Court decision could doom already built Va. power line.” E&E News. March 1, 2019. Available at:
https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060122819
[4] “5 Myths and 5 Facts About Dominion’s Ill-Conceived Transmission Line Plan at Historic Jamestown.” National Parks Conservation Association. October 21, 2016. Available at:
https://www.npca.org/articles/1346-5-myths-and-5-facts-about-dominion-s-ill-conceived-transmission-line-plan

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Tribes Challenge Final Permit For Toxic Open‐Pit Copper Mine On Sacred Land

TUSCON, AZ (April 10, 2019)  — The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe filed a complaint in U.S. District Court today challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue Rosemont Copper Company a permit to commence construction of a massive open-pit copper mine on the eastern flank of the Santa Rita Mountains in the Cienega Creek watershed. The Tribes are represented by Earthjustice, an environmental legal organization.

The creek and its tributaries have supported the tribes and their ancestors since time immemorial. Cienega Creek and its upstream tributaries, including Davidson Canyon, Barrel Canyon and Empire Gulch, contain some of the highest quality streams and wetland ecosystems in Arizona.

Rosemont plans to excavate a mile-wide by half-mile deep open pit mine in Barrel Canyon, discharging an estimated 1.9 billion tons of waste rock onto adjacent public lands. These activities would destroy 18 miles of streams that are protected by the Clean Water Act. None of these activities can occur without a permit from the Corps.

Male jaguar photographed by motion-detection wildlife cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains on August 31, 2015 as part of a Citizen Science jaguar monitoring project conducted by the University of Arizona, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the same jaguar that has been repeatedly photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains.

“One of the primary reasons that the Pascua Yaqui Tribe opposes this mine is its impacts upon our water.” said Chairman Robert Valencia of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. “The Pascua Yaqui Tribe knows that water is precious in the desert and precious to all the plants and animals that depend upon it. The few short-term jobs that this mine will create are not worth the destruction that we will have to live with forever.”

For over eight years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pima County, and an overwhelming majority of the public joined the Tribes in opposing the permit for the mine, citing unacceptable adverse impacts on the ecosystems and severe and irreparable harm to tribal cultural resources.

“As a result of the Hopi people’s long history in the Southwest, we understand the importance of water,” said Vice Chairman Clark W. Tenakhongva of the Hopi Tribe. “Culturally any body of water is something precious and sacred and it would be culturally irresponsible for us to support any activity that would jeopardize a resource so essential to all living beings and something on which we all depend.”

Due to the unacceptable adverse impacts of the mine on aquatic and cultural resources, the Corps’ Los Angeles District Office refused to grant a permit for the mine in 2016. The Corps’ South Pacific Division, however, reversed course and granted Rosemont the permit earlier last month.

“The Corps’ South Pacific Division has provided no reasoned basis for reversing course and abruptly granting Rosemont a 404 permit,” said Earthjustice attorney Stu Gillespie. “EPA and the Corps’ District Office concluded that the proposed permit would violate the Clean Water Act and cause unacceptable harm to the public interest. The Corps cannot sweep these concerns under the rug in its rush to permit this devastating project.”

Rosemont plans to begin excavating and removing ancestral villages and burial sites in the near future. Its plans include the use of backhoe trenches, mechanical stripping, and shovel stripping to remove all cultural artifacts from the mine site, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred items, and objects of cultural patrimony.

“The proposed mine would forever destroy our ancestor’s burial sites, and structures they inhabited in the Santa Rita Mountains,” said Austin Nunez, chairman of the St. Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “The mine would also erode evidence of our ancestors’ prior occupation in that area and destroy the plant life and watershed in the area. The long term environmental consequences that will come from the Rosemont Mine project development far outweigh the short-term financial gains sought by the company and its shareholders.”

The complaint states that in issuing the permit, the Corps violated the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Tribes are represented by Stuart C. Gillespie and Caitlin Miller, attorneys for Earthjustice.

Read the legal document.

About the Pascua Yaqui Tribe: The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is a federally recognized tribe of approximately 22,000 enrolled members with a reservation southwest of Tucson, Arizona.

About the Hopi Tribe: The Hopi Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe located in northeastern Arizona with approximately 14,475 members. The Hopi reservation occupies part of Coconino and Navajo counties, encompasses more than 1.5 million acres, and comprises twelve villages situated on three mesas.

About the Tohono O’odham Nation: The Tohono O’odham Nation is a federally recognized tribe of approximately 35,000 enrolled members, with more than 2.8 million acres of reservation lands in Southern and Central Arizona.

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Bastrop Senior Housing Project

Built in 1927, Bastrop High School was a sprawling, two-story, brick Tudor Revival structure located just outside downtown Bastrop, Louisiana.

After serving as an education center for six decades, the building fell into disrepair. Wind and rains from Hurricane Katrina caused further deterioration of the historic structure.

In 2009, a number of partners including the Department of Housing and Urban Development raised funds to convert the building into 76 affordable-housing units for elderly individuals.

Using the NEPA process, HUD identified numerous issues with the historic building that, if left unaddressed, could have endangered the lives of the building’s future occupants; these included structural instability, lead-based paint, asbestos, and lead-contaminated water pipes.

The final project design incorporated solutions to these problems, ensuring the safety of the senior citizens who would soon call the building home while preserving and restoring the building’s historic features such as its original redbrick exterior.

The project also benefited the community by converting a public nuisance into a facility that locals believe will contribute greatly to the town’s downtown redevelopment plan and attract investors to the area, which lost its major employer, International Paper, in 2009.
[1] “Bastrop County could benefit from HUD boost to flood recovery fund.” Austin American Statesman. August 24, 2017. Available at:

[2] “Developer plans senior affordable housing project for Hutto.” WCLife, February 26, 2016. Available at:
https://www.wclife.org/blog/view/developer-plans-senior-affordable-housing-project-for-hutto

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Paris Pike

A scenic road connecting Lexington and Paris, the beauty of Kentucky’s Paris Pike was historically overshadowed by safety hazards and congestion. The original two-lane rural highway extended over 13.5 miles of rolling hills dotted with 29 of the states’ oldest farms, but suffered from a lack of a hard shoulder and passing or turning lanes, a deadly combination that gave the road a significantly higher accident fatality rate than the average two-lane road.

Since the 1960s, numerous efforts to improve the stretch of road were met with staunch resistance from local groups. In the early 1990s a proposal from the Kentucky Transportation Center (KTC) to build a standard four-lane highway was once again met with opposition from local communities concerned about irreparable harm to the corridor’s history and natural landscape.

After KTC released its final design plans for the expanded highway, local opponents sued, taking the state transportation agency to court for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Opponents successfully argued for an injunction on the grounds that the agency did not properly solicit public input on the project – a key component of the review process under NEPA. The judge ordered KTC to return to the planning process and seek a workable alternative to the highway that would meet demands of both parties.

This time, KTC performed extensive historic research and robust public outreach, holding hearings for community members to cooperatively design a road that fit the aesthetics and contours of the land while minimizing environmental impacts.

The $70 million project, completed in 2003, has received nationally recognized design award, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation cited Paris Pike as a project that “celebrates the spirit of place instead of obliterating it.”

The new design consists of two independent two-lane highways, one northbound and the other southbound, and an added shoulder to increase safety. Existing trees, fences, and stonewalls were either preserved or moved and restored to their original condition.

Environmental improvements include the relocation of more than 3,000 new trees and shrubs, designation of wetland areas, natural wooden guardrails, grass instead of grave shoulders, three miles of stone fence, and the preservation of the natural environment within the median. Additionally, a historic farmhouse was turned into a visitors’ center, generating tourism dollars for a town that would have lost money if Paris Pike were merely expanded. “

“It has been an immensely successful project. It preserved aesthetic integrity while doing what it was supposed to do: increase safety and capacity. It has significantly improved the corridor,” said Cumberland Sierra Club Chapter Chair, Lane Boldman.

Local resident Hank Graddy said going through the NEPA process was essential, noting, “It brought people and ideas to the table that otherwise would not have been there.” Paris Pike represents a true compromise facilitated by the NEPA process—road expansion without accompanying aesthetic and natural destruction.
[1] “Public Partnership – Kentucky’s Paris Pike Reconstruction Project.” AASHTO Quarterly Magazine, Vol. 78, No 2. 1999. Available at:
[2] “The Paris to Lexington Road Reconstruction Project.” University of Kentucky, KTC. September 2001. Available at:
http://www.e-archives.ky.gov/pubs/transportation/tc_rpt/ktc_02_02_fr79_96_1f.pdf
[3] “ASLA Announces Its 2002 Professional Awards.” AASLA. April 2, 2002. Available at:
https://www.asla.org/meetings/awards/awds02/parislexroad.html
[4] “The Road to Better Transportation Projects.” Sierra Club and NRDC. 2002. Available at:
https://vault.sierraclub.org/sprawl/nepa/sprawl_report.pdf

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John Redmond Dam and Reservoir

Built by the US Army Corps of Engineers after the Great Flood of 1951 inundated parts of downtown Burlington and Strawn with as much as 30 feet of water, the John Redmond Dam and Reservoir in eastern Kansas was completed in 1964 to provide flood control, water conservation, recreation, and water supply.

After a severe drought hit the region in 2012 and 2013 and lake levels dropped alarmingly low, however, it became clear that 50 years of sediment build up was beginning to to seriously impact the dam’s operations – according to the Kansas Water Office, sediment was accumulating 80% faster than anticipated. In total, the lake had lost nearly 40% of its storage capacity due to sedimentation.

In order to meet local water supply requirements, the Corps of Engineers began examining the feasibility of a dredging and restoration project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

At its most basic level, NEPA requires federal agencies to carry out a review process designed to identify any major environmental, socio-economic, or public health impacts a federal project may have before construction can begin. It also required the Corps of Engineers to conduct public outreach to communities that stood to be impacted by the project as well as consult with the Kansas Water Office and other relevant state agencies.

When completing the (EIS), the Corps discovered that the agency’s proposed action – raising the conservation pool – would have the indirect result of flooding hundreds of acres of nearby wildlife refuge areas, posing a risk to both protected wildlife and deer and turkey hunting, and destroy one of the only local boat ramps to the lake.

Using the NEPA process, the Corps was able to work with the state to replace both the ramp and wildlife areas and minimize environmental impacts, while still successfully dredging more than 3 million cubic feet of sediment from the reservoir.

That sediment was in turn placed in five containment ponds on nearby land, two on federally owned land and three on land owned by local farmers – the environmental impact study had already determined that the environmental impacts of the five containment ponds would be negligible and would not contain concentrated levels of ant contaminants.

Completed in 2016, the dredging project is the first of a multi-phase project that the Corps plans to carry out in the next decade. Unfortunately, additional work reducing sediment in the watershed above John Redmond will be necessary to ensure future water supply demand is met through the year 2045 in the Neosho River basin.

John Redmond continues to serve as the municipal water source for 19 downstream municipalities and six industrial users, including Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant.

[1] “Characterization and Mapping of Sediment Thickness and Pattern in John Redmond Reservoir, Coffey County, Kansas.” Kansas Biological Survey. December 2014. Available at:
[2] “2013 Final Supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement: John Redmond Dam and Reservoir Dredging Initiative.” S. Army Corps of Engineers. February 2013. Available at: https://kwo.ks.gov/docs/default-source/project-pages/rpt_final_sfes_final_reallocation_johnredmond.pdf?sfvrsn=c0c98614_6
[3] “John Redmond Reservoir Dredging Project.” Presentation by Matt Unruh and Bryan Taylor, Kansas Water Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Available at: https://kwo.ks.gov/docs/default-source/2016-governor’s-water-conference-presentations/taylor-ekren-unruh_john-redmond-reservoir-dredging-project.pdf?sfvrsn=2
[4] “John Redmond Dredging.” Kansas Water Office. Accessed 12/9/2017. Available at: https://kwo.ks.gov/projects/john-redmond-dredging
[5] “2016 John Redmond Reservoir Dredging Project in Kansas.” Kansas Water Office. May 2, 2017. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLPjHCrtPWs
[6] “John Redmond Reservoir Phase 1 dredging complete.” Kansas Farmer, November 23, 2016. Available at: https://www.farmprogress.com/story-john-redmond-reservoir-phase-1-dredging-complete-9-149743

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US-65 Southeast Connector (MLK Extension)

Map of the US-65 Southeast Connector // Credit: City of Des Moines In the early 2000s, traffic studies warned that existing roads would be unable to serve projected 2030 travel demand in the southeast Des Moines metropolitan area – without investment in the corridor, future travelers would likely have to divert to a longer and less efficient route around the city The city, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration and Iowa Department of Transportation, used the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to solicit community input and identify a range of proposals that would accommodate the projected increases in traffic in Southeast Des Moines. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) identified a multi-lane arterial road connecting Martin Luther King Parkway with U.S. Route 65 across the Des Moines river as the least disruptive project alternative. Largely as a result of the public input process, the EIS also noted several previously-unidentified hazardous material sites in the construction areas as well as concern that the original design could have led to damage to a nearby levee. Other improvements implemented as a result of the NEPA process included improved wetlands mitigation and better efforts to engage Spanish-speaking communities affected by the project. Construction on the Southeast Connector, which consists of multiple project phases, began in 2012 and is expected to be completed in 2012-2023. [1] “Record of Decision: Southeast Connector Polk County, Iowa.” US Department of Transportation, FHWA. May 21, 2010. Available at: http://www.seconnector.com/PDFs/SEConnectorRecordofDecisionMay2010.pdf [2] “Environmental Impact Statement: Southeast Connector Polk County, Iowa.” US Department of Transportation, FHWA. January 2010. Available at:http://www.seconnector.com/PDFs/CondensedSEConnectorFEIS-January2010.pdf [3] About the Southeast Connector. City of Des Moines. Accessed February 10. 2019. Available at: http://www.seconnector.com/faq.stm [4] “Des Moines SE Connector Bridge Grand Opening.” RGD Planning and Design. December 22, 2010. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFnxPVLGcME
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Relocation of Agricultural Irradiator from Pa’ina to Kunia

Schematic of Kunia’s irradiator, used to treat fruits and vegetables. The facility is located in central Oahu where it is safe from earthquakes. When Kīlauea volcano erupted in Hawaii last spring, Oahu native Darryn Ng couldn’t help but think about potential repercussions in his own neighborhood a few islands away. The volcano was closely followed by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake, one of hundreds to jolt the Hawaiian archipelago in the months to come. Darryn lives near the Honolulu International Airport in Oahu. A flat area where land meets sea, his home turf is prone to tsunami, storm surge, and earthquakes, among other natural disasters. Such environment in jeopardy changes the way Darryn lives.“People check the news everyday. Oh, five point something, that’s okay…when it’s six point something, then I think we really might have a tsunami warning. That’s what we’re all thinking of right now.” The risk-prone area made Darryn and others like him concerned when in 2005, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)  approved plans for a fruit company to construct an irradiation site — without environmental review or local input. Paʻina Hawaii, LLC elected to build the plant, which would have used a Cobalt-60 irradiator to kill plant pests on produce, directly next to the airport and around three miles from Darryn’s home. The proposed site, just eight feet above sea level and in a tsunami evacuation zone, was susceptible to airplane strikes, earthquakes, and storm surge, as well as potential terrorist targets. These factors, combined with the dangerous radioactive materials used, posed serious and unnecessary hazards to public health and safety. Much was at stake, especially given that the area is bustling with public transport, incoming container ships, residential and commercial buildings, and recreational activity, Darryn explained. In response, a local environmental group Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, to which Darryn is member, challenged the NRC. They demanded comprehensive environmental review required by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of a number of federal laws that work to both protect the public and enable development projects to go forward without causing undue harm. This included the consideration of alternate locations and technologies that the company could use to kill fruit flies without the threat of nuclear catastrophe. Earthjustice lawyer David Henkin at the time argued that through complying with NEPA, the NRC would “realize the folly of placing up to a million curies of radioactive material at a site that is vulnerable to so many potential disasters, both natural and human-caused.” The NRC in 2010 determined that its swift approval of the irradiation site violated NEPA, moved to prepare an environmental assessment for public review, and required Pa’ina Hawaii to disclose more information about the facility to the public. Eventually, a revised assessment clearly showed that an alternative site could serve the same purpose for the company with substantially less risk to the public. The irradiation facility was constructed instead in at an agricultural research center in Kunia, an area considered safe from earthquakes, aircraft strikes, and other environmental risks. Pa’ina Hawaii was soon able to export irradiated Hawaiian produce while minimizing danger to local citizens. Eight years after the environmental review launched, Darryn says he and his family have been better off without construction of the irradiation facility. “Things would definitely have been different,” Darryn said. “Through Sand Island and Ala Moana, there’s a lot of surfing contests and canoe contests…the radiation center is not [on the shoreline] and it’s a good thing.” “The majority of us go to the beach. The ocean is part of our heritage and culture,” he said, explaining that the location of the facility would have blocked off an area well-traversed by him and his family. “We go out from a channel from Kalihi stream, and go down along the Reef Runway to go fishing,” Darryn said, referring to waterways adjacent to the proposed irradiator site. “If the site was there, we probably wouldn’t be going fishing there.” Darryn said that the close proximity of the irradiation site to both the airport and the ocean put locals on edge at back in 2005 — and would have even more so if it was there today. A sense a relieve pervaded the Oahu native when asked how he felt today about the success of the legal challenge through NEPA. “The neighborhood didn’t want it, because of the radiation. Even before [the volcano] there were a lot of earthquakes and the possibility of tsunamis. So it’s good that it’s not there, especially by the shoreline.” [1] “Final Supplement to the Environmental Assessment Related to the Proposed Pa’ina Hawaii, LLC Underwater Irradiator in Honolulu, Hawaii.” US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs. March 2011. Available at:https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1103/ML110390325.pdf [2] “Irradiator helps keep patients home.” The Garden Island. May 6, 2018. Available at:https://www.thegardenisland.com/2018/05/06/hawaii-news/irradiator-helps-keep-patients-home/ [3] Under New Management, ‘Aina Le‘a Is Given Yet Another Chance by LUC.” Environmental Hawai’i. Vol 20, No 4. October 2009. Available at:http://www.environment-hawaii.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/October-2009.pdf
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Statewide Mine Closures and Reclamation

Like many other territories across the American West during the mid-to-late-19th century, Arizona was subject to heavy prospecting in search of gold, silver, copper and other valuable minerals and ores. Years later in the 20th century, deposits of both asbestos and uranium were also identified and mined around the Grand Canyon from the 1950s through the mid-1980s.

Unfortunately, many of these abandoned mines ended presented significant hazards to public health including loose rock falls, unsecured vertical mine shafts with high radon concentrations, and leaching of toxic metals and asbestos. Still worse, many of these Arizona mines were located in National Parks and ecologically important wilderness areas, and thus they proposed environmental damages in addition to human health and safety impacts.

In 2010, the National Parks Service (NPS) selected 139 high priority Arizona mines located in Coronado National Memorial, Grand Canyon National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Saguaro National Park for permanent closure and reclamation.

During the planning phase, NPS was required to carry out an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This review process is designed to ensure federal agencies identify and publicly disclose any potential environmental, public health, or economic impacts a proposed action may have.

Using the NEPA process, NPS solicited input from surrounding communities and tailored specific mine closure activities for each feature in the four parks. The Environmental Assessment also identified specific mitigation measures that would be taken to protect several endangered species, most notably the long-nosed bat.
[1] “Abandoned Mine Lands Closure Plan and Environmental Assessment available for public review and comment.” Grand Canyon News. February 16, 2010.
[2] “Proposal to Close Abandoned Mine Lands (AMLs) within Coronado National Memorial, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Saguaro National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park.” U.S. Department of the Interior. April 12, 2010. https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/arizona/Documents/Biol_Opin/090452_NPSMineClosure.pdf
[3] “Proposal to Close Abandoned Mine Lands Environmental Assessment.” National Park Service. https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=24740 

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Timpanogos Cave National Monument Visitor Center

Conceptual design for the new Timpanogos Cave Visitor Center // Credit: NPS In 1991, Utah’s Timpanogos Cave National Monument visitor center was destroyed in a fire, leaving staff working out of a cramped double-wide trailer located in a dangerous rock-fall zone for more than a decade. When the National Park Service (NPS) finally proposed the construction of a new visitor center in 2009, it was required to carry out an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This review process is designed to ensure that federal agencies adequately analyze and disclose a potential project’s impacts on the environment, public health, and livelihood of surrounding communities. In the case of Utah’s Timpanogos Cave National Monument, much of that analysis was centered on predicting the size, frequency, and velocity of rockfalls in the vicinity of the proposed visitor center. Completion of the Environmental Assessment subsequently revealed that rock falls in the proposed area were far more hazardous than previously thought, leading NPS to relocate the site of the proposed visitor center a different area to maximize visitor and staff safety. Construction of the new visitor center began in 2018, 27 years following the destruction of the original visitor center and administrative offices. [1] “Public Comment Sought On Proposed New Facilities At Timpanogos Cave.” National Park Service, Department of the Interior. June 16, 2012. Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/tica/learn/news/environmental-assessment.htm [2] Timpanogos Cave National Monument Revisits Alternatives for Environmental Assessment.” National Park Service, Department of the Interior. January 31, 2012. Available at: https://www.nps.gov/tica/learn/news/2012-ea-revisit.htm [3] “Timpanogos Cave finally getting new visitor center”. The Daily Herald. August 1, 2018. Available at: https://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/north/american-fork/timpanogos-cave-finally-getting-new-visitor-center/article_0f40a189-52bc-5176-968a-8ab79a8580ed.html [4] “Timpanogos Cave National Monument Visitor Center Conceptual Design”. The University of Arizona. Drachman Institute. September 2010. Available at: http://capla.arizona.edu/project/timpanogos-cave-national-monument-visitor-center
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Taking the “Public” Out of Public Lands

It’s not enough that 90 percent of public lands are open to oil and gas exploitation. The fossil fuel industry wants more from the Trump administration. They just got it.

In the latest insult to America’s public lands, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently issued a directive that guts environmental review and public scrutiny to speed oil and gas development. This effort, part of President Trump’s push to ramp up fracking and drilling across America, is intended to remove any “burdens” to the fossil fuel industry.

In the process, Trump and Zinke are taking the public out of public lands, ceding control of millions of acres to industry while keeping the title in the hands of Americans, who have less and less say over how these lands are managed.

Here’s what the latest directive will do:

Eliminate public input, environmental review and disclosure of harms from oil and gas projects before lands are leased,
Slash the time the public has to raise objections and concerns to just 10 days, reduced from 30 days,
End designation of “master leasing plans,” which aim to steer fracking and drilling away from communities, cultural artifacts, endangered species, recreational and other sensitive lands,
And discourage public land managers from taking any land off the auction block, even if those lands contain sensitive resources and wildlife habitat.

Trump and Zinke are essentially privatizing America’s public lands ― ensuring energy extraction is the top priority and letting the fossil fuel industry call the shots.

Private oil and gas companies already control more than 27 million acres of public land. They also tell the Bureau of Land Management (usually anonymously) which public lands they want put up for auction. This new directive makes clear that, under Trump, the BLM’s job is to give these wealthy private interests what they want.

An analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity shows there’s been no meaningful environmental review, disclosure of harms or public engagement regarding nearly 200,000 acres of public lands in six Western states scheduled to be auctioned off during the first half of 2018.

From Utah’s petroglyph-dotted canyons to Colorado mountain meadows to Wyoming’s sagebrush country, there appears to be no limit to the fossil fuel industry’s appetite for extraction and the Trump administration’s willingness to bend over backwards for these polluting companies.

To Trump and Zinke, this is eliminating “burdens” for industry. To the owners of America’s public lands ― all Americans and generations to come ― it’s about harming wildlife, clean air and water, natural wonders and the places they love. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, westerners say protecting public lands and preserving access to the outdoors should be the Trump administration’s priority.

But under this latest directive, the public will be largely shut out. People will learn about a fracking pad at their favorite campsite when they see the trucks roll in.

Zinke dismisses the need to determine the environmental, economic and social impacts of fracking and drilling, saying that’s already considered in broader agency land and resource management plans.

But that’s not true.

Management plans can cover millions of acres and are completed before companies decide where they want to lease. BLM defends these plans by promising that analyses of specific areas to be leased will come later and will publicly disclose environmental harms from development. Now, that later will never come.

That means no review showing how drilling and fracking will worsen air quality, including increases in smog that leads to asthma attacks in children.

It means no information about how much fresh water will be polluted or depleted from drinking water supplies, including rivers, lakes, reservoirs and underground aquifers.

And it means no disclosure about what will happen to the polluted water created by fracking. Fracking operations often re-inject this chemical-laden water back underground, which can contaminate aquifers.

There won’t even be an analysis of possible alternatives to reduce harms from drilling or fracking.

The public will be left in the dark and silenced while their public lands continue to be plundered.

Trump and Zinke may want to brush aside these “burdens,” but the law says otherwise. This is another hasty, illegal Trump administration decision to benefit corporations, at the expense of the public, that should be overturned in court.

Randi Spivak is the public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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