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Dept of Interior to shift away from ‘project-by-project’ management

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has unveiled the outlines of a new landscape-level mitigation strategy across millions of acres of federal land that she said is designed to take the department’s agencies away from narrowly focused project-by-project assessments. The mitigation strategy includes four key objectives the department will work to implement in the coming months in an effort to take a broader approach to managing public lands – landscape-level planning, banking, in-lieu fee arrangements and other mitigation tools.
READ MORE AT  http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/2014/04/10/stories/1059997717

Conservation Groups Challenge Limited Protections for Lesser Prairie Chicken

Three conservation groups – Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians – have filed a legal challenge to force full protection of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to protect the highly imperiled bird only as “threatened” while providing special exemptions that would allow ongoing destruction of their dwindling grassland habitat.
READ MORE AT  http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/lesser-prairie-chicken-04-10-2014.html

Even in Armenia, Environmentalists take on Hydroelectric Schemes

Environmentalists in Armenia say a strategy of building multiple hydroelectric stations to harness the country’s rivers is storing up problems for the future. Armenia lacks oil and gas reserves and is trying to develop hydroelectric power as a way of reducing its reliance on fuel imports. Ecologists, however, say that damming up rivers destroys waterways and the unique ecosystems they support. “Rivers are being turned into pipelines,” said Levon Galstyan of the All-Armenian Ecological Front. “No public consultations were organised, and people’s interests have been ignored.” Armenia has gone from having just 11 small hydroelectric power plants in 1997 to 137 small hydro power plants today, with another 77 being built. It also has bigger plants arranged in  series of two, or “cascades,” Sevan-Hrazdan and Vorotan. The construction drive is underpinned by a 2004 law which assumes that dams on mountain rivers could meet around 30 percent of Armenia’s electricity needs. That is still some distance away. As Aram Gabrielyan, head of electricity supplies at the energy ministry, points out, nuclear power provided 28 percent of the country’s power last year, 42 percent was generated by gas-fired stations, and most of the rest by hydroelectric plants. Robert Galstyan, head of the village of Marts adjacent to one of the dams, said the government’s strategy is all wrong. “Construction of hydroelectric power stations has reached such a level that in 20 or 30 years’ time, this state will be facing a social and ecological catastrophe,” he said. “There will be power stations on 90 percent of rivers, and in the dry season they will all dry up.”
READ MORE AT  http://tinyurl.com/mhe2hjh
 

NC Governor Calls for Removing Coal Ash Ponds from Waterways

As national attention remains focused on North Carolina in wake of Duke Energy’s coal ash spill into the Dan River, North Carolina’s Governor has now called on Duke Energy and North Carolina officials to address the long-term problem of coal ash storage throughout the state in the only way that will stop ongoing pollution and remove the risk of more spills: move the ash. “We’re pleased to see that Governor McCrory has recognized that removing toxic coal ash from the banks of our rivers and drinking reservoirs – the long-term solution that is working today in South Carolina – is the also right solution for North Carolina and our region,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

READ MORE AT http://bit.ly/1jOb5jv

Pennsylvania legislature takes aim at the outdoors; Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission fight proposed merger

The Pennsylvania Legislature is threatening to merge the Pennsylvania Game Commission with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and take away their power to list or de-list threatened and endangered species. Sportsmen don’t like it when hunting and fishing turns political, and these hot-button topics are as political as it gets. Heck, hunters and anglers don’t even like the PGC and PFBC getting overly restrictive with their favorite pastimes. But now, sportsmen across the commonwealth need to be aware of a few dates in March and make their voices heard by the appropriate state representatives and senators in their areas. At stake are the future of Pennsylvania’s wildlife and habitat.
House Bill 1576, the Endangered Species Coordination Act, which would remove the ability of both the game commission and fish and boat to add or subtract wildlife from the state’s threatened and endangered species lists, could come up for a vote on the House floor as early as March 10. On March 19, game commission officials will go in front of the House Game and Fisheries Committee to discuss a number of pieces of legislation on deer management.And, on March 19, the legislative Budget and Finance Committee will hold a 10 a.m. meeting on the potential merger of PGC and PFBC into one agency, a move that would strip autonomy from each agency and seriously affect how funds will be allocated for certain programs.
Read more of this article: http://tinyurl.com/nwmkyjn
Read the bill’s text: http://tinyurl.com/oqk3fb9

Southern Environmental Law Center – North Carolina Activity Update

The Southern Environmental Law Center is using the power of the law to champion North Carolina’s environment — from clean energy and healthy air, to rivers and wetlands, to the protection of special places from the Smokies to the Outer Banks. SELC has offices in Chapel Hill and Asheville. SELC is focusing on several transportation projects, including the Monroe Bypass and the replacement Bonner Bridge as well as overall transportation financing reform, Cape Hatteras National Seashore wildlife protection, and the Titan American cement plant in the Cape Fear River basin.

For the latest information on SELC’s current efforts in North Carolina, go to http://www.southernenvironment.org/north_carolina/

2014 National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking Conference, Session 1 – Aligning Agency Programs

Kicking off the educational track at this May’s National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking conference, this session is classified as “advanced” but the presenters’ topics could not be of more importance in today’s changing world.

Moderator: Erik J. Meyers, The Conservation Fund
As a Vice President at The Conservation Fund, Erik Meyers works to advance business strategy for mitigation opportunities, mainly for projects that impact energy, water and transportation infrastructure. He also chairs the Board of Directors of the Natural Capital Investment Fund, advises companies on sustainability initiatives, manages relationships with water-related agencies, and oversees climate adaptation projects. Working with the Fund since 2004, Erik has led an array of efforts, including a pioneering climate adaptation project to help vital coastal ecosystems persist despite sea level rise. He holds a B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law.

Travis Hemmen, Westervelt Ecological Services, “Habitat Conservation Plans – A New Market or Challenge?”
Mr. Hemmen directs the Business and Market Development for WES. Mr. Hemmen coordinates with private and public clients on project specific mitigation and manages sales of existing bank credits. Mr. Hemmen identifies potential site acquisitions, analyzes market information to ensure the finished mitigation banks are a viable product. He has a background in environmental consulting and regulatory compliance planning for a national home builder. As a consultant, he has managed small- and large-scale projects, including state and federal permitting of projects by local water agencies, port redevelopment and dredging programs, and development of master planned communities. He has a B.A. degree in Biology with an emphasis in Ethics from the University of Northern Iowa, and a M.S. degree in Environmental Law and Policy with an emphasis in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Vermont Law School.

Roselle Henn, USACE North Atlantic Division, “Potential for Sage Mitigation Banking”
Ms. Hemm is Environmental Team Leader for the North Atlantic Division (NAD) of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with primary responsibility for ecosystem restoration throughout the region and the Environmental Lead in the Hurricane Sandy North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study (NACCS), National Planning Center of Expertise for Coastal Storm Risk Management (PCX-CSRM). While compiling the study, scientists and engineers will consider future sea-level rise scenarios and integrate economic, climatological, engineering, environmental and societal data from Virginia to Maine to develop a comprehensive framework to reduce coastal flood risk and promote resiliency. The study will be collaborative, comprehensive and integrated, and conducted in partnership with federal, tribal, state and local government representatives as well as non-government organizations, academia, technical experts and interested parties.

Steve Glomb, US Department of the Interior, “National Resource Damage Assessment & Restoration and Other Opportunities”
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (NRDA Restoration Program) manages the confluence of the technical, ecological, biological, legal, and economic disciplines and coordinates the efforts of six bureaus and four other offices within DOI to accomplish the mission.  The NRDA Restoration Program has a nationwide presence encompassing nearly the full span of natural and cultural resources for which the Secretary of the Interior has trust responsibility and authority.  Each bureau has its unique natural resource trusteeship and brings its expertise to bear on relevant sites. The NRDA Restoration Program is a truly integrated Department-wide program, drawing upon the interdisciplinary strengths of its five bureaus (Indian Affairs, Land Management, Reclamation, Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Parks Service.)

I look forward to seeing you in Denver in May!

Raleigh News and Observer: Plan for Little River dam sets up a fight

Raleigh News & Observer: Plan for Little River dam sets up a Fight

UNC School of Government Study of EEP: Solid as Banana Cream Pie

UNC School of Government Study of EEP: Solid as Banana Cream Pie

This past Friday the UNC School of Government released its “Phase 1 Report” on evaluating the Ecosystem Enhancement Program’s method for procuring its mitigation.

As all long suffering followers of the inner workings of the ‘black box’ known simply as EEP understand, there are two separate processes for this: 1) a competitive bid system known as Full Delivery in which the provider assumes all liability for delivering the contracted amount of mitigation without an any change order provisions and is fully bonded, and 2) an arbitrarily awarded design contract (not competitive bid) for projects from a list of ‘on-call’ design firms which is then subsequently farmed out to bid for only the construction component known as Design Bid Build.

One would have assumed that UNC would have actually looked into the mechanics of these two methods and drawn some conclusions or at least made some salient observations. Oh wait, if that’s what was done then there would actually be something useful coming from this process. Instead, all that UNC did is establish a set of criteria for how to evaluate the two methods and with apologies to my friends at UNC—a third grader could have come up with the two main ones: effectiveness and transparency. The SOG work so far has been analogous to a round table discussion of the shade of black on the side of the box, with little discussion of what’s inside and why nobody gets to see it.

Was it really necessary to engage dozens of stakeholders in the process to come up with those revelations? Can you say ‘pass the butter knife so I can cut the banana cream pie’?

As one of those stakeholders who falls under the category in the study of “Mitigation Provider” i.e. one who actually does this work and has been well acquainted with both EEP and its DENR management since before the 2003 start of the program, let me add one point of clarification to the second sentence of the second paragraph on page 1 of the study which reads “DENR’s new leadership identified a need to have an objective third party review EEP’s procurement process.” WHOA!

There is an elephant in the room here and it needs to be acknowledged. The Assistant Secretary of DENR ever since the EEP has existed, Robin Smith, is married to Mike Smith the head of UNC’s School of Government. Now, both

and Smith are well regarded in their respective capacities and I am not trying to imply any cronyism was at play in the decision for DENR to give UNC the $25,000 contract for this study. After all, if DENR had wanted to bring in Bain Consulting to perform a thorough top to bottom review of the EEP, as UNC did when it had Bain study its layers of overlapping university bureaucracy, it would have cost a heck of a lot more than $25k.

However, I am disappointed that the study offered no disclaimer to this obvious reality which was discussed by several stakeholders outside of the series of meetings. It does neither institution any favors when even the appearance of a potential conflict of interest is involved, especially so when it is not duly acknowledged in an allegedly “transparent” process.

The one clear take away result from the study is that what is likely to come next—you guessed it, is another study! One can only hope that the Phase 2 Report actually comes up with real analysis and recommendations.

If not then we ‘stakeholders’ better be prepared for more banana cream pie. One can only wonder what the budget is for another serving of the same mush?

BrassGrill

Environmental groups tell it like it is

We were a bit shocked — and terribly pleased — to see two respected environmental advocacy groups call out North Carolina’s mitigation fee program. In the public comment letter below concerning the application of the NC Ecosystem Enhancement Program’s (NCEEP) to operate under the new federal mitigation regulations, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation made it pretty clear they prefer wetland mitigation banks over fee programs.

RS has long maintained that Fee Programs weaken rather than strengthen wetland protection and mitigation — as well as present a significant barrier to private mitigation banking. It is a tremendous relief to see groups like the Southern Environmental Law and the Tar-Pam Foundation reach similar conclusions.

For the reasons outlined below, we recommend either abolishing the EEP in-lieu-fee mitigation program and moving more quickly toward a mitigation program utilizing mitigation banks as preferred by the federal rule or continuing the EEP program with DOT as the signatory and responsible entity under the instrument and the only entity that can utilize EEP to meet mitigation obligations. — Southern Environmental Law Center and Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, March 23, 2010

Southern Environmental Law Center regarding the NC Ecosystem Enhancement Program