Washington, DC- A growing coalition of environmental groups has successfully challenged the placement of telecommunications facilities in environmentally sensitive areas. Besides a number of site-specific victories, a more general review of environmental compliance by “telecom” companies is pending the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Council on Environmental Quality in response to a petition filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Over the past year, PEER, Cry of the Water, Wilderness Watch, the Forest Conservation Council, and others have coordinated attacks against unregulated technology build-outs. Last year, for example, legal challenges prompted the National Park Service (NPS) to cancel the construction of cellular towers along the wilderness stretch of the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Highway in Wyoming. More recent victories include:
- In Death Valley National Park, NPS bowed to environmental challenges and did not reissue a right-of-way permit to SBA Towers, Inc., which erected and improved a tower on a Native American archaeological site adjacent to Mormon Peak – a designated wilderness area.
- SBA Communications, Inc., one of the nation’s largest telecom companies, agreed to reduce the size of its cell phone tower and eliminate the aviation safety light near the Pecos National Historic Park in Glorieta, New Mexico. NPS administers the 6,600-acre park, which is listed, in its entirety, on the National Register of Historic Places and contains sites sacred to Jemez Pueblo. The Tower is 1.2 miles from the central feature of the park – the ruins of the 17th century Pecos Mission Church.
- Along the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park in Maryland, PEER has forced federal environmental review of a controversial power plant proposal near Point of Rocks.
Despite the results in applying environmental restrictions against communications towers, PEER and other groups have suffered set backs in their fight against laying fiber optic cables (FOC’s) across endangered coral reefs off the coast of Florida. Moreover, thus far, FCC has allowed telecom companies to self-certify environmental compliance.
“None of the new telecommunications technologies are consequence free,” stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer. “The state of regulation is only now just beginning to catch up with changes on the ground.”