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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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S. 2229 - National Parks Bills




STATEMENT OF HERBERT FROST, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR NATURAL RESOURCE STEWARDSHIP AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 2229, TO AUTHORIZE THE ISSUANCE OF RIGHT-OF-WAY PERMITS FOR NATURAL GAS PIPELINES IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

June 27, 2012

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2229, a bill to authorize the issuance of right-of-way permits for natural gas pipelines in Glacier National Park, and for other purposes.

The Department supports S. 2229 with amendments.  The Department testified in support of H.R. 4606, an identical bill, before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on June 8, 2012.  S. 2229 would provide authority for the National Park Service to grant a right-of-way permit for any natural gas pipeline that is located within Glacier National Park as of March 1, 2012, subject to certain conditions.

Currently, there is only one natural gas pipeline that runs through Glacier National Park.  It was built in 1962 with the permission of the park superintendent, who may not have known that there was no authority to issue a permit for a gas pipeline.  The pipeline passes within the park boundary for approximately 3.5 miles in the right-of-way for U.S. Highway 2.  The line is near the southwestern boundary of the park, and in close proximity both to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which is designated as a Wild and Scenic River, and the Great Bear Wilderness, managed by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Flathead National Forest.  The pipeline provides natural gas to Kalispell, Montana, and the Flathead Valley, as well as to some park facilities.  In 1990, a renewal of the permit was requested.  The superintendent at the time recognized that he did not have the proper authority to permit this pipeline.  NorthWestern Energy, which owns and operates this pipeline, recently sought a legislative solution to provide the necessary authority.

In 2008, the Flathead National Forest received a request from NorthWestern Energy to place another gas line alongside the existing pipeline (a practice known as twinning).  That new line would also pass through Glacier National Park.  NorthWestern Energy recently advised the National Park Service that it does not plan to take action on this proposal.  However, if this proposal is revived at some point in the future, we would be concerned about potential impacts to park resources including the viewshed along US Highway 2, the Wild and Scenic River Corridor, recommended wilderness, and vegetation.  We are, therefore, supportive of limiting permitting authority to the existing natural gas pipeline, as provided for in the legislation.

We recommend amending the legislation in two ways.  First, S. 2229 would allow the permitting of a 100-foot right-of-way (50 feet on either side of centerline of the pipeline) through the park.  We recommend allowing the width of the proposed right-of-way to be determined cooperatively by the National Park Service and NorthWestern Energy, and described in a permit issued subsequent to the legislation, rather than codified in the legislation itself.  This approach would be consistent with legislation passed in 2002 for existing and new natural gas transmission lines in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in 2005 natural gas pipeline legislation for Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  And second, we recommend amending the bill to provide consistency with laws (including regulations) and policies applicable to rights-of-way for  natural gas pipelines within units of the National Park System by deleting the reference to 16 U.S.C. 5, because that law addresses utility rights-of-way for other types of utilities than natural gas pipelines.  We would be happy to provide the Committee with suggested language for these amendments.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.  I would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have.