September/October 2013 Newsletter:

First Energy’s Destructive Vegetation Policy

By Cynthia Tripp

This summer, while First Energy implemented its vegetation policy in Northeastern Ohio, local residents experienced firsthand the destruction of habitats of birds and wildlife, including those in wetlands and neighboring residential properties along the corridors of First Energy’s transmission lines. All vegetation was stubble cut and sprayed with Arsenal, a long-acting herbicide which contains the active ingredient imazapyr. These applications were blanket applied and in some cases, applied multiple times during the high nesting season.

First Energy’s vegetation policy is both a local and national issue. First Energy’s high voltage transmission lines stretch over 20,000 miles in six states. The lack of regard for the environment under the wires has gathered little notice since there has been little advance warning, and no legal recourse.

Under the National American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) FAC-003-2, national utility companies are required to have a “vegetation policy” for ensuring that vegetation does not interrupt the flow of power under wires carrying 200kV to prevent cascading failures.

Unfortunately, the utility companies can use any means to achieve their ends unless local laws limit or restrict their use of herbicides. In Ohio, there are no laws to restrict individual utility vegetation policy practices. As stated in the rule, “Transmission owners have the option of adopting the procedures and practices contained in an industry-recognized ANSI Standard known as A300 for use as a central component of its vegetation management program.” Hence, blanket applications of imazapyr are not regulated, nor is stubble cutting of vegetation. First Energy’s approach is a cheaper method than selective cutting or selective application of pesticides to woody shrubs that pose the greatest danger to transmission wires.

How do we deal with this destruction? This past summer in South Russell, Ohio, the First Energy forest representative met with the mayor and interested parties and agreed to leave the wetlands vegetation intact and not to spray herbicide until after May 31, 2014.

This issue is a backyard, grassroots (no pun intended) issue. Here in Northeastern Ohio, I suggest interested individuals contact their local utility forestry person by calling First Energy’s main number and finding out where their locale stands in the implementation plan. Then raise community awareness and support by getting on the local town council agenda and speaking at a council meeting; alert local press; and present the information about what First Energy is intending to do. Perhaps it will be possible to get a stay to prevent cutting in wetlands as we have here in South Russell, Ohio, and to delay the spraying until a more suitable time than spring and summer. It’s a beginning.

To strategize, please email me.