By Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocacy Director
Wherever you live, you live near a PG&E facility. PG&E’s gas pipelines and electrical lines go everywhere and across every kind of habitat, including wildlife refuges and nature preserves. That’s why we were concerned when we discovered this April that PG&E is seeking approval for a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that would cover all of their “operations and maintenance” activities for the entire nine-county Bay Area.
This HCP would allow PG&E to “take” (i.e., to harm) federally listed threatened or endangered species or their habitats without obtaining the normally required incidental take permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The draft HCP defines “operations and maintenance” to include pipeline installation and replacement, installation of new electrical transmission lines, and even “minor substation expansion”–activities that can cause significant habitat disturbance and that would normally require a permit that would mandate mitigation for the specific harm to any listed species. Under the HCP, however, PG&E would determine its mitigation in advance, typically by paying money into a mitigation bank to purchase other land considered critical habitat for that species. However, habitat destruction cannot always be adequately mitigated in this way, especially when it comes to extremely rare and unique species or habitats.
Threat to Edgewood Park
Edgewood Park in San Mateo County, a veritable island of threatened and endangered plant and animal species (some of which survive nowhere outside this nature preserve), is at particular risk. For several years, Committee for Green Foothills and other environmental groups have been in discussions with PG&E about their proposal to dig a mile-long trench through Edgewood’s fragile habitat in order to install a replacement pipeline.
Although PG&E has promised to restore the habitat afterwards, their track record in such restoration at Edgewood is woefully inadequate. In the summer of 2015, when PG&E tested a pipeline that runs through Edgewood Park, the Friends of Edgewood and California Native Plant Society, who have years of experience restoring native habitat and controlling invasive weeds at Edgewood, made detailed recommendations to PG&E about restoration techniques. However, nearly two years later, the sites where PG&E disturbed the soil are still full of invasive weeds crowding out the native plants.
We’re on the Job
We have submitted comments on the PG&E HCP describing this issue and requesting that Edgewood Park, at least, be excluded from the HCP. We want to ensure that PG&E’s maintenance work in Edgewood would have to go through its own permitting process, where specific mitigation measures tailored for Edgewood’s habitat could be implemented. It is clear that a one-size-fits-all HCP will drastically fail to protect threatened and endangered species at Edgewood.
PG&E’s draft HCP and the accompanying environmental review document garnered a variety of comments from Bay Area environmental groups, despite that fact that many people had to mobilize in a hurry when they learned about the draft HCP just three weeks before the comment deadline. Meanwhile, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is expected to publish its own environmental analysis of the HCP. We will continue to monitor this project and will work to protect sensitive habitat throughout our area.