If you forgot to sign up for our newsletter but would like to hear more about all of the work that VWC has been up to in 2020, please click here.
Eric fell in love with nature growing up in the farmlands, woods, and waters of Iowa. Following his love of nature, he became interested in conservation and pursued a degree in Animal Ecology at Iowa State University. After graduating in 2006, Eric worked for the Illinois Natural History Survey in a fisheries management lab. Longing for topography, biodiversity, and adventure, he moved to Southern Appalachia in 2013 and began working for Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS). There, he fell in love with the idea of protected public lands and federally designated Wilderness and found a passion for public lands stewardship. He spent several seasons as a wilderness ranger and trail crew leader, before moving permanently to Roanoke, Virginia in 2017 in a program management role for SAWS.
In Roanoke, as a Regional Director for SAWS, Eric leads a team of field crews, wilderness rangers and specialists, and volunteers, and partners with the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, the Monongahela National Forest, the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Ozark National Forest to help improve capacity for wilderness stewardship, increase relevancy of wilderness through education, and help the US Forest Service measure and preserve wilderness character.
Eric brings an extensive knowledge of wilderness history, wilderness law and policy, and public lands stewardship to the Virginia Wilderness Committee. He hopes to engage in land protection efforts, education and stewardship at VWC.
In his free time, Eric enjoys running, hiking, biking, canoeing and exploring new, wild places. He also loves cooking, homebrewing, and reading.
Welcome to VWC, Eric!
Learn more about Wilderness in this Virtual Training Course offered by the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, September 14-17. Register today.
Join us SAFELY ONLINE for the
2020 VWC VIRTUAL Annual Meeting
Saturday, September 19 at 11am
While we wish we could all be together in person, this year, we are excited to see
our members' faces on our computers at home to talk about all things Wilderness.
Meeting will include the election of officers, by-law amendment vote (see below), annual report, and updates on our Wilderness efforts.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your Zoom invitation
Proposed By-law Amendment
The Board proposes to amend VWC's by-laws by increasing the upper limit for Board members from 15 to 16.
ARTICLE V: Board of Directors
Section 1: COMPOSITION:
The Board of Directors shall consist of the officers of the VWC, past Presidents, and other members who may be elected from time to time. The Board may number from five (5) to fifteen (15) members.
[change to sixteen (16) members].
2018 Annual Meeting at the Dickerman Farm
The Saint Marys Trail is open to the public. However, due to the crowds that have been using the trail, the Forest Service would like to take some pressure off the trailhead. An alternate route is the Mine Bank Trail.
To get to the Mine Bank Trail, head to milepost 23 near the Fork Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a small parking area on the west side of the Parkway. Follow the Mine Bank Trail to the St. Marys Trail and turn left. There is some camping throughout this area. At the junction with the Falls Trail turn right and cross the creek. The falls is about 0.6 miles. The total out and back is just over 9 miles and it makes for a good overnight backpack.
Also, as always group size is limited to ten in any Wilderness area and there is no camping with 500 feet of the stream and there is no camping at the falls. A violation can result in a ticket.
The map of the Saint Marys Wilderness has a list of numbered trails. They are as follows:
1) Saint Marys Trail, 7.0 miles (one way)
2) Saint Marys Falls Trail, 0.5 miles (one way)
3) Cellar Mountain Trail, 2.9 miles (one way)
4) Cold Springs Trail, 1.3 miles (one way
5) Mine Bank Trail, 2.0 miles (one way)
6) Bald Mountain Overlook Trail, 2.5 miles (one way)
7) Mine Bank Mountain Trail, 0.5 miles (one way)
Many of these trails, although one way, can be combined with FDR 162 and 162-A to create loop opportunities.
Contact the Glenwood-Pedlar Ranger District Office for more information:
Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center
For Immediate Release: July 29, 2020
Contact: Mike Mather, SELC Communications; (434) 977-4090 or cell/text (434) 333-9464; email@example.com
The White House rewrite will mask pollution’s full harm to communities, environment
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — A group of 17 environmental organizations in a lawsuit today accused the government of racing through an industry-friendly rewrite of the National Environmental Policy Act by “cutting corners” and discarding decades of rule-making policies that ensure major legal changes are done fairly and transparently.
If allowed to stand, the changes to NEPA – often called the “Magna Carta of environmental laws” – will reduce the public input that has guided major projects for decades, further diminish the voices of communities that have long suffered environmental injustices, and mask the full extent of polluting projects.
The groups are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The lawsuit comes two weeks after President Trump announced the damaging downgrade to NEPA at a press event in Atlanta. In doing so, the Trump administration sidestepped the longstanding legal process that guides law changes.
The Council on Environmental Quality, the agency in charge of the rewrite, “simply jettisoned the rules to give industry executives what they want at the expense of the public,” said Kym Hunter, an SELC senior attorney. “But the Trump administration isn’t allowed to change a law by breaking the law. And we won’t let this administration get away with it.”
The lawsuit’s first paragraph outlines the groups’ main challenge to CEQ’s process:
In its most recent opinion on the strictures of the Administrative Procedure Act, the Supreme Court affirmed that “the Government should turn square corners in dealing with the people” … In other words, while the federal government has the ability to change policies, rules and regulations, it must follow the law, not cut corners, when it does so.
To rewrite NEPA, CEQ held just two public hearings, one in Washington D.C. and the other in Denver. Despite the limited in-person engagement, the agency received more than 1.1 million comments and, under CEQ policy, has a duty to review them. However, the agency moved forward with the rewritten rule four months later.
Meanwhile, responding to much smaller tasks like providing public records took CEQ more than a year and a half, hastened only when a judge ordered CEQ to quicken its pace.
In addition to skirting the law, the rewrite also damages NEPA by removing from consideration “cumulative impacts” and “indirect effects” when assessing large projects.
“Cumulative impacts” take into account how pollution from a new project – for example increased car emissions spurred by a new interstate – are added to pollution already in place from the existing road network. “Indirect effects” are foreseeable changes that happen later, like increased sprawl and development from that new interstate.
Removing those considerations means communities will not be fully informed about the potential harmful consequences of proposed projects like pipelines, highways and intensive development.
“NEPA has given a voice to communities of lesser means that often bear the brunt of polluting projects,” Hunter said. “It is a tool of democracy, a tool for the people. We’re not going to stand idly by while the Trump administration eviscerates it.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to boost investment in and protection of American parks and public lands. Coming a month after the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act by a large, bipartisan margin, the House action sends the bill to President Donald Trump, who has voiced support for the legislation, for his signature.
The bill will make permanent $900 million per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and direct up to $9.5 billion over five years to the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund to help address huge backlogs in maintenance needs.
Southern Environmental Law Center's Federal Legislative Director Anders Reynolds said, “The Great American Outdoors Act is a huge step in the right direction. But with a $20 billion maintenance backlog for our national parks, it is only a first step. Properly maintaining our parks and preserving public lands is vital both for our environment and for the economic health of local communities that depend on outdoor tourism.”
Outdoor recreation in the Southeastern United States supports 1.1 million direct jobs that bring $37.9 billion in wages to the region, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. National forests also provide clean drinking water sources to millions.
Photo of Shenandoah National Park by Steven Johnson
Companies Cancel Atlantic Coast Pipeline After Years of Delays
Duke Energy and Dominion Energy said the prospects of a natural gas conduit under the Appalachian Trail remained too uncertain
The Wall Street Journal
Updated July 5, 2020 3:05 pm ET
The builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are pulling the plug on the project as companies continue to meet mounting environmental opposition to new fossil fuel conduits in the U.S.
Duke Energy Corp. DUK -0.11% and Dominion Energy Inc. D 0.41% said Sunday that they were abandoning the proposed $8 billion pipeline—which aimed to carry natural gas 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina and underneath the Appalachian Trail—citing continued regulatory delays and uncertainty, even after a favorable Supreme Court ruling last month.
Dominion meanwhile said it was selling the rest of its natural gas transmission and storage network to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRK.B 0.47% for $9.7 billion including debt. The deal includes a 25% stake in the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility in Maryland, which will remain majority owned by Dominion.
“This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.”
Utilities and pipeline companies have been trying to expand U.S. pipeline networks for more than a decade to take advantage of the bounty of oil and gas unlocked by the fracking boom. But many of the projects have encountered intense opposition from landowners, Native American groups and environmental activists concerned about climate change who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The Keystone XL pipeline expansion to carry oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast remains unbuilt more than a decade after it was first proposed by TC Energy Corp. The operator of the Dakota Access pipeline, Energy Transfer LP, completed the conduit to carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to Illinois in 2017 after years of protests and delays.
The Trump administration has sought to make it easier for companies to build pipelines and other energy infrastructure, but their efforts thus far have failed to fast-track projects amid continued legal and regulatory challenges by opponents.
Dominion and Duke had first proposed building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2014. It repeatedly faced legal challenges from environmentalists, Native American groups and others. Its costs had swelled to $8 billion before the companies decided to abort the plan.
The companies had scored a significant victory last month when the Supreme Court ruled that it could cut under the historic Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. The court overturned a lower-court ruling that found the U.S. Forest Service didn’t have the authority to grant a special-use permit that allowed for the development of that segment.
However, Duke and Dominion said Sunday that the ruling wasn’t enough to mitigate an “unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays” for the project. They cited a Montana court ruling last month that threw another roadblock in the path of the Keystone XL Pipeline as an example of the continued challenges such projects face.
That ruling, which related to a federal permitting program for oil and gas pipelines, had the potential to also further delay the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the companies said. The companies involved had together invested about $3.4 billion in the pipeline to date.
Duke, based in Charlotte, N.C., provides electric and gas service to more than nine million customers in the Carolinas, the Midwest, Florida and Tennessee.
Dominion, based in Richmond, Va., provides electricity or natural gas to about 7 million customers in 20 states. It will almost entirely exit its gas transmission business with the sale of its pipeline and storage assets to Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
As part of the deal, Berkshire Hathaway Energy will acquire Dominion Energy Transmission, Questar Pipeline and Carolina Gas Transmission, as well as a 50% stake in Iroquois Gas Transmission System.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy will also acquire 25% of Cove Point LNG, one of six liquefied natural gas export facilities in the U.S. Dominion will retain a 50% stake in the project, with Brookfield Asset Management owning the remaining 25%.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy operates a $100 billion portfolio of utility, transmission and generation businesses providing natural gas and electricity to more than 12 million customers. The Dominion acquisition will add 7,700 miles of natural gas storage and transmission pipelines and about 900 billion cubic feet of gas storage to its holdings.
“Acquiring this portfolio of natural gas assets considerably expands our company’s footprint in several Eastern and Western states as well as globally,” Bill Fehrman, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
The $9.7 billion transaction includes $5.7 billion in debt. It is expected to close in the fourth quarter.
Dominion said the sale will allow it to focus on its state-regulated gas and electric utilities. It expects those businesses, primarily those serving Virginia, Ohio, Utah and the Carolinas, will account for as much as 90 percent of future operating earnings.
Dominion and Duke have each been pushing to slash their carbon emissions in response to state mandates and customer concerns about climate change. Both companies are aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by developing more wind and solar power and investing in other clean technologies.
Duke said that it plans to invest in renewable energy, battery storage and energy efficiency programs as it works to find cleaner ways to generate power.
“While we’re disappointed that we’re not able to move forward with ACP, we will continue exploring ways to help our customers and communities, particularly in eastern North Carolina where the need is great,” Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a statement.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline problems persist despite Supreme Court decision. Pipeline future uncertain as Dominion Energy says gas expansion ‘not viable’
Press release from our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center
June 15, 2020
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that limited the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to issue a permit to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The original ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stated the Forest Service lacked authority to grant approval for Dominion and Duke Energy’s pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail on federal land. The Fourth Circuit also vacated the Forest Service permit on other grounds not addressed by today’s decision, and the pipeline still lacks that permit in addition to multiple other approvals required for construction.
“While today’s decision was not what we hoped for, it addresses only one of the many problems faced by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This is not a viable project. It is still missing many required authorizations, including the Forest Service permit at issue in today’s case, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon consider the mounting evidence that we never needed this pipeline to supply power. It’s time for these developers to move on and reinvest the billions of dollars planned for this boondoggle into the renewable energy that Virginia and North Carolina customers want and deserve,” said DJ Gerken, SELC Program Director.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes at the same time that the purported need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, proposed in 2014, is receiving renewed scrutiny, as states are steering their energy economies away from fossil fuels. In March, Dominion Energy told Virginia regulators that the build out of new gas-fired power plants is no longer “viable” in the state, and the Virginia Clean Economy Act signed into law in April requires that the utility shut down all of its existing gas plants by 2045. North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants of 70% over 2005 levels by 2030 and total carbon neutrality by 2050.
“It’s been six years since this pipeline was proposed, we didn’t need it then and we certainly don’t need it now,” said Dick Brooks of the Cowpasture River Preservation. “Today’s decision doesn’t change the fact that Dominion chose a risky route through protected federal lands, steep mountains, and vulnerable communities.”
“This pipeline is putting our farmlands, our water and the livelihood of Virginians in jeopardy,” said Nancy Sorrells with Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley. “And all for a pipeline that isn’t even in the public interest of Virginians."
Meanwhile, the exorbitant price tag for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to climb because of Dominion’s insistence on a harmful and risky route. Under these circumstances and at a time when the region is moving rapidly to 100% renewable energy, it’s unreasonable to expect customers to pay for this obsolete $8 billion fracked gas pipeline.
“With the ACP still lacking 8 permits, this decision is just plugging just one hole on a sinking ship,” said Kelly Martin, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign. “Nothing in today’s ruling changes the fact that the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a dirty, dangerous threat to our health, climate and communities, and nothing about the ruling changes our intention to fight it. From the day the ACP was proposed, the smart investment for Dominion and Duke would have been clean, renewable energy sources, and with the project billions of dollars over budget, that’s even more true today. Despite this ruling on one narrow question, economics, common sense, and public opinion are still squarely against the ACP.”
Among the permits in question for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are:
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) (S. 3422) will come to the Senate floor for a vote this Monday, June 8th at 5:30 PM. If successful, it will benefit generations to come because it dedicates funds toward deferred maintenance on public lands and permanently and fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The GAOA is a combination of the Restore Our Parks Act and the LWCF Permanent Funding Act.
While the GAOA benefits from strong bi-partisan support, 61 yes votes are needed on Monday night for the legislation to advance (as of this writing there are 58 co-sponsors). In Virginia, both Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Mark Warner are co-sponsors of this bill. We are writing to ask you to thank them for protecting and preserving nature and ensuring that it is available to all Americans in these challenging times and for future generations to come. Please find links to their contact webpages below.
The Great American Outdoors Act:
Senator Tim Kaine
Senator Mark Warner