FOREST SOCIETY APPLAUDS CONGRESSWOMAN ANN KUSTER’S PROTECTING OUR CONSERVED LANDS ACT
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests applauds Congresswoman Ann Kuster for her introduction of Legislation to Protect Conserved Lands Act. Cong. Ann Kuster introduced the Protecting Our Conserved Lands Act, along with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Congressman Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05), and Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02). The legislation will prevent the use of eminent domain to seize conservation land protected by local governments and nonprofits, like land trusts, for the purpose of constructing natural gas pipelines.
“We want to thank the Congresswoman for the commitment she has made to strengthening the public trust obligations we have to ensure the long-term protection of these special natural areas,” states Jack Savage, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
Given the broad benefits conserved lands provide, the land trust community has long argued that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is charged with approving the construction of natural gas pipelines, must change the criteria it uses to decide whether to issue permits for those kinds of projects. Instead of viewing conserved lands as the path of least resistance for the siting of pipelines, FERC should institute a policy which aims for the avoidance and minimization of impacts to protected conservation lands and other sensitive natural areas. The Forest Society made the case for such a change in our letter to FERC last summer.
“Fortunately, Cong. Kuster shares our views,” adds Savage. “Her legislation represents a major step forward to change a federal policy which continually threatens conserved lands. It will help land trusts assure the public that when we say lands are permanently protected, they actually are permanently conserved. In short, it demonstrates a commitment to helping us uphold our public trust obligations.”
The Natural Gas Act of 1937 currently stipulates any natural gas pipeline project that obtains approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may exercise eminent domain to secure the purchase of land along the permitted route. Unlike lands conserved by the federal and state governments, as well as tribal lands, there is a lack of explicit provisions in current law designed to help protect lands conserved by local governments and nonprofit entities like land trusts. With over 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines already covering the United States, and FERC having only denied permits to two pipeline projects in the last 20 years, local governments and land trusts are left in an increasingly tenuous position.
The Protecting Our Conserved Lands Act addresses this issue by removing the ability of pipeline projects to use eminent domain to seize land owned or held in easement for the purpose of conservation by nonprofits or local governments. This bill will enable these nonprofit and local government stakeholders to protect the lands for which they serve as stewards. It will compel pipeline companies to either negotiate a mutually agreeable solution or redirect their routes to less environmentally sensitive paths, such as existing rights of way identified for pipeline projects