Commonwealth LNG accused of mowing over threatened bird habitat

Published 2:59 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

No violations have been found after Commonwealth LNG “mowed” an area thought to be Eastern Black Rail habitat during nesting season. A Louisiana Department of Energy Natural Resources investigation into the matter is ongoing, according to a representative from the Sierra Club.

“We get involved when a company changes the land,” said Patrick Courreges, a spokesperson for DNR who added that Commonwealth was maintaining an area by mowing it, and that’s not earth moving.

Sierra Club member Lisa Diaz said coastal use guidelines for private landowners that allow them to mow, put up a fence, etc., are different from guidelines that govern facilities. Moreover, LDENR communicated to Commonwealth that it drafted special permit conditions that state vegetative clearing shall not take place between March 1 and Sept. 1.

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Lori Cooke, Southwest Louisiana program coordinator for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said the Bucket Brigade, Audubon, Sierra Club and John Allaire, who lives nearby the site, have alerted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, The Army Corp of Engineers and the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Federation about the matter.

Audobon describes the black rail as a “critically imperiled” bird on the Tier 1 species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Louisiana Wildlife Action Plan. In 2020, the bird was listed under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Allaire lives next to where Commonwealth LNG plans construction of an LNG export facility when the U.S. Department of Energy’s temporary pause is lifted on not-yet permitted LNG plants that plan to ship to non-free trade agreement countries. The Biden administration is using the period to study domestic natural gas prices, market demand and potential environmental effects. He lives a mile from Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass 1 (CP1) loading dock, an LNG export facility that in 2022 had 2,000 air violations and was never fined. That company is hoping to add CP2 once the LNG pause is lifted.

Allaire photographed a service company under contract by Commonwealth “purposefully destroying native vegetation in a 10-plus acre tract and shared the information with Audubon and Sierra Club. Commonwealth said it was maintenance mowing. Allaire said the company used a marsh master with a tiller.

“You don’t mow the marsh. How do you conduct maintenance mowing in an area which in recorded history of this area has never been mowed,” Allaire asked. “Who or what was the vegetation undesirable for, Commonwealth LNG?”