What does a natural gas transmission and distribution company with a multi-state pipeline network have to do to minimize impacts on an endangered species? Typically, the Endangered Species Act requires species-by-species permitting at regular intervals over several years, including review of habitat conservation plans for each species, on a state-by-state basis. If a company is trying to protect multiple species’ habitats over an extended time period through several states, the existing regime can be too punctuated, burdensome and ad hoc for streamlined, holisitc habitat protection.
A recent and unprecedented partnership between AGA Member NiSource and federal agencies with environmental duties offers a great solution. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has received NiSource’s application for a 50-year habitat conservation plan and permit to plan for habitat management for 43 federally listed species and over 40 currently unlisted species across 14 states. This program requires cooperation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, and NiSource is working to involve the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other stakeholders in its long-term compliance program. AGA filed comments supporting NiSource’s application and encouraged the Service to allow other long-term, collaborative environmental plans to bolster comprehensive habitat conservation and prepare for anticipated pipeline safety compliance.
Following in NiSource’s footsteps, AGA member National Grid has also applied for a 50-year HCP for one listed and one unlisted species under the Act. Similar to NiSource’s proposal, the HCP would reduce compliance costs for pipeline development and maintenance and also takes a holistic approach to habitat preservation across state lines as opposed to on an ad hoc basis within each state where National Grid operates.
Thanks to Samantha Arens, AGA’s intern from U.C. Davis Law, for assistance with this piece.