Nisource distributes electricity, natural gas and water in the Midwest and Northeast United States. As part of planning for modifications to their gas pipeline in 14 states Nisource wants an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow them to “take” threatened and endangered species in a mile-wide swath much of it through national forest land. In exchange they will try to avoid rare wildlife or mitigate for their loss. This huge plan is the biggest one ever done by Fish and Wildlife. We think this experiment is too big and leaves out important species.
-The NiSource Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is simply too big to be done right. Currently, it covers 9.8 million acres, in 14 states, over 15,000 miles of pipeline in a mile-wide corridor, and may affect approximately 100 federally listed endangered, threatened, and candidate species. The plan needs to be partitioned into several, more geographically and ecologically cohesive units.
--The HCP does not address dozens of affected endangered species. The HCP includes discussion of only 43 of some 100 or so species in the project area that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) believes could be affected by the pipeline operation and expansion. Of those 46 species not dealt with in the plan at all, more than two dozen are likely to be harmed in some way without additional precautions, according to the FWS.
--50 years is far too long for permits to “take” endangered species. It is impossible for either NiSource or the FWS to know what the impacts of the pipeline, or other threats to species, may be decades from now. It is inappropriate to grant a permit to a company to harm or kill endangered species years into the future, when no one knows what the status of those species may be in terms of climate change, disease, further habitat loss, or a whole host of other factors. The time frame for the HCP should be reduced to 10 or 15 years.
--The public is not being given a fair chance to review the complete plan. The NiSource proposal is missing a crucial element: the agreement, called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among all the federal agencies that will need to be involved with NiSource operations and expansion. This MOU is the plan for how agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and others, will assure that the pieces of the project they approve will adequately protect endangered species. The MOU is still not complete, and thus citizens can’t really know whether the HCP will actually be implemented with proper accountability and provisions for conserving species.
--The NiSource plan is something new, and it needs to be done right. This HCP will set a precedent for other large-scale energy infrastructure projects around the country, both in terms of geographic and temporal scope. If this one gets approved without adequate analysis and protective measures for species, then other corporations will follow suit. There is too much at stake to let this one slide by without close scrutiny.
--Multiple federal agencies will be involved in implementing the extremely complex HCP, but there is still no agreed-upon plan for how this will work. FWS officials say an Implementation Agreement will be issued at the time of the final EIS, but this offers no opportunity for the public to review and comment.
--The “no surprises” rule locks the FWS into certain actions that cannot be changed or changed in only minor ways, regardless of unforeseen, new conditions for affected species. This holds for the duration of the HCP, or in this case, 50 years. Again, a more appropriate time frame for the HCP would be 10 years.
Send comments to: Regional Director, Midwest Region, Attn: Lisa Mandell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN 55437-1458, or by electronic mail to permitsR3ES@fws.gov