Kuster, Neal, Malinowski, Raskin, McGovern Introduce Legislation to Protect National Scenic Trails from Pipeline Development
Today, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02), Congressman Richard E. Neal (MA-01), Congressman Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), and Congressman James P. McGovern (MA-02) introduced the Scenic Trail Viewshed Protection Act. This legislation will help protect our national scenic trails by requiring stricter evaluation of natural gas pipeline projects that seek to cross these trails or their surrounding viewsheds.
“The National Scenic Trails are one of our country’s greatest treasures and we have an obligation to protect them,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “I have long been concerned about natural gas pipeline development being prioritized over environmental protection and conservation. I’m pleased to introduce the Scenic Trail Viewshed Protection Act, which directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to more carefully scrutinize pipeline projects in order to protect the integrity of our scenic trails. As Americans are eager to socially distance in the great outdoors during the current pandemic, it is important to remember that every dollar invested in land conservation is amply returned in economic activity. We cannot afford to leave these trails vulnerable to poorly planned pipeline development, so I urge my colleagues to quickly act on this legislation.”
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy strongly supports Congresswoman Kuster’s bill to preserve the unique and unmatched experience provided by our National Scenic Trails,” said Sandra Marra, President and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “America’s National Scenic Trails are resources with many associated values, from breathtaking natural beauty to wildlife habitats for thousands of species. We are committed to working with Congresswoman Kuster to ensure this bill will protect these resources and address the permitting process for development alongside our irreplaceable trails.”
“Here in western Massachusetts, the Metacomet-Monadnock Scenic Trail begins at the Massachusetts/Connecticut line in Southwick and continues north through many towns including Agawam, Westfield, West Springfield, South Hadley, Easthampton and Holyoke,” said Congressman Neal. “It is truly a gem in our region and the entire 114-mile hike that continues into southern New Hampshire is travelled and enjoyed by countless hikers each and every year. The legislation that we introduce today will ensure that National Scenic Trails like this one are protected from pipeline development that could threaten the existence of this trail for explorers and ensures that it remains safeguarded for future generations to come. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this important legislation.”
“Our country’s National Scenic Trails, including the parts of the Appalachian Trail that run through New Jersey, should be preserved for the enjoyment of all,” said Congressman Malinowski. “I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation that will stop for-profit corporations from building poorly planned pipelines across our nation’s greatest treasures.”
“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to protect America’s National Scenic Trails, including our beloved Appalachian and Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trails,” said Congressman Raskin. “As Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, I have worked hard to reform and improve FERC’s natural gas pipeline construction approval process, which has traditionally favored pipeline companies over private landowners, and I’m equally committed to ensuring that our nation’s precious scenic trails will not be trampled by FERC’s lopsided review process. We are going to make sure that every consideration is given to the people’s enjoyment and use of our natural commonwealth over the desires of the utility companies.”
“Imagine walking the pristine New England Scenic Trail through the forests and fields of central Massachusetts – then imagine having the wild beauty of the trail ruined by running a natural gas pipeline directly across it. That’s what we’re trying to prevent,” said Congressman McGovern. “This is about protecting these trails so future generations can enjoy them the way we get to enjoy them today – untouched and unspoiled by civilization. I’m proud to join Representative Kuster in strong support of this important bill.”
“We strongly support Congresswoman Kuster’s bill to protect the integrity of the views along our National Scenic Trail System,” said John Judge, President and CEO of the Appalachian Mountain Club. “The experiences these trails provide are like no other, and ensuring that development, including gas pipelines, is sited to avoid negative impacts to trails and permanent degradation of the trail experience, is a much-needed fix to the permitting process. We look forward to working with the Congresswoman to move this bill through the legislative process.”
"The Partnership for the National Trails System thanks Congresswoman Kuster for introducing the Scenic Viewshed Act, which will help protect the integrity of the trail experience - including spectacular and expansive views along the length of our National Scenic Trails,” said Barney Mann, President of the Board of Directors of the Partnership for the National Trails System. "We should be doing all we can to permanently protect scenic trails for public use and enjoyment by ensuring that decisions on where to site gas pipelines and other energy facilities fully evaluate potential adverse impacts to the National Trails System. This bill ensures that scenic trail viewshed attributes are given due consideration."
Eleven National Scenic Trails cover approximately 24,600 miles across 29 states. First established by the National Trails System Act of 1968, these trails offer views of some of the most spectacular vistas in America. With increased production of fracked natural gas expanding infrastructure development to over 300,000 total miles of pipeline nationwide in the past twenty years, it is noteworthy that the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) has only denied permits to two applicants in that same period of time. It has become clear that the current processes at FERC relating to the evaluation of natural gas pipelines insufficiently consider the value of our natural and scenic resources or potential impacts to outdoor recreation.
The Scenic Trail Viewshed Protection Act addresses this issue by directing FERC to only approve a pipeline project that crosses or impacts the view from a national scenic trail under the following conditions:
1.) The pipeline is the only way to meet a public need for energy
2.) Alternatives were thoroughly considered
3.) Minimal road construction to build the pipeline will be required
4.) The project will use optimum technology solutions to prevent leakage
5.) The pipeline will intersect the trail at a point that already has a significant infrastructure crossing and only crosses the trail once
6.) The pipeline will not affect the viewshed of a trail in an area defined as wilderness, that is home to an old-growth forest or alpine area, nor the location of a shelter or campsite where the public will be congregating
7.) Construction techniques as well as ongoing maintenance and operational activities will produce no more than a minimal disturbance to the trail and surrounding conservation lands
8.) The owners of the pipeline acknowledge that they have a duty to protect the trail and ensure the health and safety of all Americans who use the trail and the surrounding land.
Rep. Kuster helped introduce the Public Engagement at FERC Act, which would establish an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy at the Commission. She also helped introduce legislation to protect the rights of property owners during the eminent domain process and prevent FERC from unfairly holding up rehearing requests related to pipeline projects. In 2019, she introduced the Protecting Our Conserved Lands Act, which would prevent natural gas pipeline projects from using eminent domain to seize lands that are conserved by local governments or nonprofit entities such as land trusts.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. A unit of the National Park System, the A.T. ranges from Maine to Georgia and is 2,193 miles in length. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. The mission of the ATC is to protect, manage, and advocate for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. As designated by the 1968 Trails Act, the ATC coordinates 31 Maintaining Clubs and other federal, state and local partners to fulfill this mission, ensuring the Trail and its surrounding landscape are protected forever for all to enjoy. For more information, please visit www.appalachiantrail.org.
For more information about the Partnership for the National Trails System, visit www.PNTS.org. The mission of the Partnership is to “empower, inspire, and strengthen public and private partners to develop, preserve, promote, and sustain the national scenic and historic trails.”