A coalition of environmental groups headed by former and current U.S. Forest Service employees has filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming the Forest Service has failed to follow national environmental policy in dealing with oil and gas drilling on the Allegheny National Forest.
Specifically mentioned in the suit are proposed drilling projects in the Rimrock Recreation Area and Longhouse National Scenic Byway areas of the Allegheny National Forest.
The suit was filed in federal court in Erie on Thursday, according to Ryan Talbott, forest watch coordinator for the Allegheny Defense Project.
Talbott said the lead plaintiff in the suit against the Forest Service is the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
Talbott described the FSEEE as a "whistle blowers" group of former and current Forest Service employees based in Eugene, Ore.
The "whistle blowers" group, said Talbott, may or may not include former or current Forest Service employees based on the Allegheny National Forest.
Joining the Allegheny Defense Project and Forest Service employees group in the federal suit is the Sierra Club.
The suit calls on the court to compel the Forest Service to follow the National Environmental Policy Act guidelines and allow the public to offer input before issuance of permits for oil and gas drilling projects on the national forest.
The suit states that the Forest Service recognizes that oil and gas drilling poses a serious threat to the area's wildlife, including the northern flying squirrel, eastern box turtle, wood turtle, timber rattlesnake, and several bird populations such as the northern goshawk, great blue heron and cerulean warbler.
"Despite this," the suit states, "the agency refuses to conduct the legally required environmental reviews that allow the public to weigh in on the drilling projects."
David Sublette of the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter, said, "Drilling and new roads that accompany it are fragmenting wildlife habitat and destroying the wild character of our national forest. The Forest Service is blazing ahead with new oil and gas projects without even subjecting them to required environmental review or allowing citizens to comment on them."
Sublette said the Forest Service's actions are symptomatic of "the Bush administration's greasing the wheels for Big Oil without any regard for the impacts on America's remaining wildlife and scenic forests."
Bill Belitskus, president of the Allegheny Defense Project board, said the agency has a mandatory duty to protect the surface and water resources of the Allegheny National Forest.
"Over twelve thousand oil and gas wells have been drilled in the Allegheny without proper environmental analysis and public comment," said Belitskus. "Not one more well, pipeline, road, stone pit or tank farm should be constructed by private oil and gas companies until the Forest Service enforces all federal laws."
Forest Service personnel in Warren were not immediately available on Thursday for comment on the legal action.