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Scoping Report for the Nisource Habitat Conservation Plan, Incidental Take Permit and Environmental Impact Statement
Below is the Introduction and Background sections of the Scoping Report. Go here for the complete 35-page PDF version of the Report.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (hereafter referred to as the “Service”) is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) to evaluate the environmental impacts associated with a multi-species/multi-state Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and the issuance of an associated Incidental Take Permit (ITP). The applicant, NiSource, is developing the HCP and ITP application to comply with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) (87 Stat. 884, as amended;16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The HCP will likely address impacts associated with construction, operation, and maintenance activities along its approximate 15,000-mile network of natural gas pipelines, storage fields, appurtenant facility sites, and associated access roads in 17 states throughout the eastern United States.
As part of the NEPA EIS process, the Service conducted public scoping meetings, and consulted with various Federal and state agencies, including active participants at the time of this scoping effort - the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The purpose of these meetings and consultations was to solicit input from the general public, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to assist the Service in identifying issues to be addressed in the EIS, as well as to develop a reasonable range of alternatives to be analyzed in the EIS. This report has been prepared to document the scoping process and to report on any feedback obtained from the scoping process. As such, this report includes the following information related to the scoping process and development of the draft EIS:
NiSource’s interstate natural gas transmission system is currently maintained and operated by Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation, Columbia Gulf Transmission Corporation, Granite State Gas Transmission Corporation, and Crossroads Pipeline Corporation. These four subsidiaries currently maintain and operate approximately 15,000 miles of onshore and offshore interstate natural gas transmission pipelines and appurtenant facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts. In addition, they operate and maintain 36 underground natural gas storage fields in conjunction with its pipeline system comprised of approximately 3,600 individual storage wells in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Currently, as part of its annual natural gas pipeline operations, NiSource regularly undertakes construction and maintenance projects on its natural gas transmission system. Many such projects are located in habitats occupied by Federally-listed or proposed species and/or critical habitat that trigger ESA review. Many of these projects involve Federal agency (e.g., USACE, or FERC) authorizations and thereby require consultation pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
However, some actions do not involve any Federal agency involvement. Under Section 9 of the ESA, NiSource is obligated to ensure that no unauthorized “take” of Federally-listed species occurs regardless of whether any Federal agencies are involved with the action. “Take” is defined in the ESA as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Harm may include significant habitat modification where it actually kills or injures a listed species through impairment of essential behavior (e.g., nesting or reproduction) (16 U.S.C. 1538). Section 10(a)(1)(B)of the ESA establishes a program, whereby persons seeking to pursue activities that otherwise could give rise to liability for unlawful “take” of federally protected species, may receive an ITP that protects them from such liability.
NISource is seeking a 50-year ITP from the Service to more efficiently address their ESA requirements for construction, operation, and maintenance activities in the future (whether Federal agencies are involved or not). An application for an ITP must be accompanied by a habitat conservation plan (HCP) that specifies: the impact which will likely result from the taking of a listed species; the steps they take to minimize and mitigate the impacts; the funding that will be available to implement such steps; alternative actions to such taking they considered; and reasons why such alternatives were not utilized. The Service has elected to prepare an EIS to disclose and review its decision regarding NiSource’s ITP request based on its long-term and far-reaching intent, and the potential precedence set by such a decision. As part of the requirements of the EIS, input is solicited from the public on the potential environmental impacts associated with issuance of the permit.
Above is the Introduction and Background sections of the Scoping Report. Go here for the complete 35-page PDF version of the Report.
Last updated: April 14, 2015