Monday, June 11, 2018

UPDATED: PA Environmental Defense Foundation Urges DCNR To Manage Drilling In State Forests Consistent With The Environmental Rights Amendment Court Decision

The PA Environmental Defense Foundation Monday sent a letter urging the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to amend its 2016 State Forest Plan to manage oil and gas drilling in state forests according to the recent Environmental Rights Amendment trustee decision of the PA Supreme Court before it proceeds with updating each of the separate District Forest Plans.
PEDF said if the agency does not amend the Plan based on DCNR’s role as public trustee for state forests and its resources, then it will file an action in Commonwealth Court to ensure it complies with the Court decision.
DCNR announced in May it will be holding public meetings in each State Forest District to gather comments to be used in updating in State Forest Plans in each of the Districts.
The letter states in part, “PEDF hereby requests that you amend the 2016 State Forest Plan consistent with Article I § 27 before you proceed with updates to the separate district forest management plans.
“In addition, PEDF believes it is necessary for DCNR to publish an updated Shale-Gas Monitoring Report that includes the current impacts from shale gas extraction on our State forests and to incorporate those impacts into the amended State Forest Plan.
[Note: DCNR said it will release its next shale gas monitoring report in early summer during budget hearings in February.}
“The DCNR Environmental Reviews prepared for the oil and gas lease sales conducted in 2009 and 2010 approved leasing and extracting oil and gas on over 60,000 acres of State forest land in northcentral Pennsylvania even though DCNR had decided not to lease any more State forest land after leasing over 70,000 acres in 2008.
“Nothing in the State Forest Plan in existence at that time established appropriate criteria to evaluate whether such leasing would be consistent with the principles of ecosystem management essential to conserve and maintain the public natural resources of our State forests consistent with Article I § 27.
“The shale gas extraction conducted to date under the leases executed in 2009 and 2010 have already caused significant degradation, depletion and diminishment our public natural resources, both by industrial development in our state forests and by removing and selling our oil and gas reserves.
“Over 617,000 acres of State forest land in northcentral Pennsylvania are subject to oil and gas development. This acreage comprises the core public natural resources of the entire Pennsylvania Wilds. The 2016 State Forest Plan needs to recognize these existing and future impacts and how they will be addressed.
“The 2016 State Forest Plan proposes for the first time that the extraction and sale of oil and gas is one of the basis values and uses of our State forest.
“The plan states that “State forest lands are working forests, belonging to the citizens of the commonwealth, and are managed for multiple resources and values consistent with the principles of ecosystem management. The economic use and sound extraction and utilization of geologic resources is part of the bureau’s mission in managing these lands. Managing geologic resources requires thorough analysis, strategic planning, and attentive oversight to ensure that the value of geologic resources is balanced with other forest uses and values. Development of geologic resources should occur when it is compatible with landscape goals and functions, avoids sensitive ecological and socially important areas, and minimizes adverse impacts” (page 156 (emphasis added)).
“None of the highlighted proposals are in conformance with Article I Section 27 or ecosystem management.
“Nothing in the plain language of Article I § 27 allows the sale of our public natural resources for economic use or benefit; or for use of proceeds from the sale of our natural resources for operational expenses of DCNR. If a conflict exists between DCNR’s constitutional trustee duties and its statutory authority, the statutory authority must give way to the constitutional duties.
“The recent Supreme Court decision issued in PEDF v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017) defines your duties as trustees of our State forests and parks, including our oil and natural gas. Your constitutional obligation under Article I § 27 is to conserve and maintain the corpus of the trust, our public natural resources, for the benefit of the people, who are the beneficiaries of the trust.
“To conserve and maintain means that you cannot deplete, diminish or degrade those resources. You have the duty to both prevent and remedy any degradation of those resources. It means that you must ensure that the resources are conserved for future generations. The 2016 State Forest Plan does not reflect that you have complied with those duties.
“As trustees, you must comply with the fiduciary trust laws of Pennsylvania. One of your primary fiduciary duties is to provide the beneficiaries with a complete inventory of the public natural resources, including an inventory of the existing degradation of those resources.
“In addition, you have the duty to inform the beneficiaries of the management plans to prevent and remedy the degradation, and to ensure the sustainability of the corpus of the trust for future generations.”
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn released this statement Tuesday in response to the PEDF letter--
“DCNR fully embraces its public trustee role, and has expanded public input opportunities to the forest district level.
“Both the district and statewide plans are designed to provide a framework for management decisions; and to communicate to citizens how their forest is being managed for different uses and values.
“This gives all Pennsylvanians an opportunity to participate, especially on the new sections in this plan such as climate change and protecting core forests.
“DCNR vehemently disagrees with PEDF’s positon, and encourages all to read the plan and take advantage of these public meetings as an opportunity to help set management priorities, and meet the men and women who serve as trustees for the public forests.”
For more information on this and other initiatives, visit the PA Environmental Defense Foundation website.
For information on State Forest planning and drilling, visit DRBC’s State Forest Resource Management Plan, Natural Gas Management and Natural Gas Management webpages.
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