A Fortune 500 energy company is applying for an "incidental take" permit that would allow it to kill endangered and threatened species that live on the largest swath of land ever covered by one permit. NiSource's application will cover about 15,500 miles of natural gas pipelines and associated facilities that span 17 states in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast (DE, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TN, VA, and WV; see NiSource map for counties affected).
The company anticipates that the vast majority of the proposed work would involve repair or replacement of existing pipelines or storage facilities, or installation of new pipes or storage facilities, in existing corridors that would have to be disturbed for the new work. The company currently submits about 400 applications each year for individual projects.
If the US Fish and Wildlife Service approves the blanket request, the company would have to address only permit compliance issues as it plans, builds, operates, and maintains each local segment of pipeline or related facilities.
As part of the process, NiSource is working with FWS to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan, a first for the company. HCPs set up parameters that allow killing of some endangered and threatened species in exchange for commitments to minimize damage to the species and their habitats, and provide mitigation to the extent feasible. Only a handful of the hundreds of approved HCPs, which often are controversial, have covered more than one million acres. NiSource's would cover about 10 million acres.
At least 76 species of plants and animals are likely to be affected, including a number of birds, bats, snakes, fish, mammals, and plants (Federal Register notice).
Thirteen meetings around the affected area that allowed the public to address the scope of the work wrapped up in November 2007, and the public comment period for this phase ends Dec. 8, 2007. NiSource anticipates submitting its full application to FWS in February 2008. A public comment period on a draft Environmental Impact Statement may occur by about August 2008, although the schedule is being revised. A 30-day comment period is typical, though it could be longer in this case. The company is trying to have its incidental take permit in hand by the spring of 2009.
During the process, FWS will be working with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Many state and local government agencies that deal with the environment, wildlife, or similar issues will also be involved, since they will be responsible for monitoring the approved HCP. Some of the usual suite of national conservation organizations may comment during the process, as could a host of local organizations. Comments received so far, and a Scoping Report, are expected to be available by request (not on the Internet) in early 2008 (FWS, Forest Clark, 812-334-4261 x206; NiSource Habitat Conservation Plan).
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