Fair Energy Development and Recreation Economies | Appalachian Trail Conservancy
By Tom Derr

Fair Energy Development and Recreation Economies

October 29, 2019

The increased number of recently proposed pipelines with high potential for impacts to the Trail and surrounding communities have highlighted the pressing need for an improved pipeline approval process.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) and the surrounding lands through which it passes has a long history of energy and infrastructure development, not all of it positive. While it is always a goal to keep the Trail and its surrounding environments in as natural a state as possible, avoiding all development is impossible due to rapid population growth and technological advancements of the last century. Thus, a key role of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is working with developers to ensure that new energy development is compatible with the environmental well-being of the rugged Appalachian landscape surrounding the A.T.

However, the increased number of recently proposed pipelines with high potential for impacts to the Trail has highlighted the pressing need for an improved process for pipeline siting and construction oversight. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency responsible for approving energy infrastructure projects, is long overdue for a process overhaul.

Perhaps most importantly, it is necessary to improve the public siting and review process every pipeline company must complete before formally designating a new pipeline. When this process is just and fair, the people involved in non-energy related industries that support local economies (for example, outdoor recreation and tourism) have a voice. As the review process is currently handled, however, the voices of these individuals can go unheard. The siting and review process for recent pipeline projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) have shown that these companies and FERC have inadequately addressed public concerns, particularly for those whose livelihoods and homes could be forever altered by these projects.

Pipeline projects that degrade recreation assets can have severe consequences for recreation economies, an important reason to consider community input. A recent report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis found outdoor recreation accounted for 2.2% of total U.S. GDP in 2017 — $427.2 billion — and is increasing at a faster rate than the overall U.S. economy. The percentage of the local GDP varies by county, and some regions are experiencing even faster economic growth based on outdoor recreation.

Communities along the A.T. are prime examples of the effects of a strong outdoor recreation economy. Towns and localities that were once fading due to lost industry and changing technologies are now growing and rebuilding thanks to the dollars that outdoor recreation brings to, and keeps within, their boundaries. The Appalachian Regional Commission emphasizes the importance of Asset-Based Economic Development in the region, highlighting that capitalizing off existing natural, cultural and structural resources that don’t degrade the environment is a robust economic development strategy.

“Trail Towns,” or those communities that directly benefit economically as a result of the A.T. are not being sufficiently considered in the FERC review process. FERC should reform its pipeline review process to ensure that the public interest is protected in a way that recognizes and preserves the interests and livelihoods of non-energy related industries that support these local economies.

This post is in addition to ATC’s established pipeline policies. See ATC’s full comments recommending ways to improve FERC’s pipeline siting process by clicking here. To learn more about ATC’s support of Section 401, an important part of the Clean Water Act that requires local expertise and input in the federal permitting/licensing of energy infrastructure, click here.

Read more in our series exploring issues surrounding pipeline development in the A.T. landscape, and follow us on social media for the latest updates.