During the federal approval process of natural gas infrastructure projects, a range of agencies have the opportunity to provide input and make recommendations regarding their planning. This should be a constructive process that leads to the outcome of a safer, more comprehensive plan for pipeline projects. However, in recent years regulators have seized upon the review process as an opportunity to further their own ends, often overreaching their own approved authority. Gary Mowad, a former Deputy Chief with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Office of Law Enforcement, illustrates one such example of regulatory overreach in a recent piece published in The Hill. Titled “Regulatory creep: when federal ‘voluntary payments’ become mandatory,” Mr. Mowad details requests made by the USFWS from the Rover Pipeline for “voluntary mitigation payments” for migratory bird habitat impacts. As he writes:
“Requests of this nature by the USFWS fall outside any congressionally approved authority. Further, they are not required by any statute, regulation, or executive order. USFWS’s recommendation that Rover make these payments is tantamount to coercion. This issue has been reviewed by no less than five of the most prominent environmental attorneys in the country, all of whom conclude that this federal agency is working outside of any regulatory jurisdiction. To be perfectly clear, migratory bird habitat is not protected and may be impacted or destroyed by private sector projects.”
As a former official with the USFWS, Mr. Mowad encourages a comprehensive review process. He goes on to call for the USFWS to follow the appropriate channels in order to request mitigation payments:
“I continue to believe that our country’s wildlife must be protected and their concerns properly balanced with the need for private development projects. When an agency requires mitigation payments for otherwise lawful actions before required clearances are given, these ‘voluntary payments’ are no longer voluntary. I worry that an inappropriate precedent of industry coercion could be set. If the USFWS wants mitigation payments for impacts to migratory bird habitat, it should go through the Federal Rule Making process to change the law accordingly. Simply coercing mitigation payments from the private sector represents the worst form of government abuse of authority.”
The Coalition for the Expansion of Pipeline Infrastructure wholeheartedly agrees with Mr. Mowad’s desire to protect our country’s wildlife as well as his support for a thorough review of infrastructure projects. Counterproductive input – whether it be on behalf of groups opposing pipeline projects or regulatory agencies – simply serves to impede this process. As such, CEPI echoes Mr. Mowad’s sentiments in calling for an end to this form of coercion from private companies like the Rover Pipeline that are otherwise adhering to all federal and state regulations.