Although the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced this week that it will require the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) to adhere to project-specific environmental standards for the pipeline projects, such requirements may still be far from enough to ensure the safety of water quality across Virginia during construction of the pipelines. According to the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC), “Rather than project-specific plans, the DEQ must require submittal of site-specific plans at each site where discharges may damage waterbodies and, most importantly, DEQ must review those plans before approving the projects.”
There is a profound difference between project-specific and site-specific erosion and sediment control plans: project-specific plans simply delineate general standards that must be followed across the length of the entire pipeline route and do not account for the difficulties that may be encountered in steep terrain or in karst areas. Furthermore, water bodies are not interchangeable, but are unique sites that demand individual consideration. Requiring only general project-specific plans is not only inadequate, but may also be an illegal case of the DEQ allowing the pipeline companies to self-regulate when it comes to construction and water quality. The DEQ should require site-specific plans that delineate individual erosion and sediment control practices for every piece of disturbed ground, hillside, stream crossing, access road, and staging area, etc., just as is required for other construction projects in the state of Virginia.
The general, project-specific approach to the regulation of erosion and sediment control standards also deprives the public the ability to participate in the protection of its natural resources. It does not provide opportunities for public review and oversight and does not provide any assurance that the details of erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans will be available in time for public review prior to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and state-level permitting decisions.
The DEQ also has not stated when erosion and sediment control plans for the ACP and MVP must be submitted. It is not clear whether they will be posted in time to inform the myriad regulatory agencies who should be reviewing this information–the FERC, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and state 401 decision making–which means that FERC and other regulatory agencies may grant approval for the project and issue permits contingent on later submission of such plans and without fully considering these issues. Such uninformed approval would essentially be a rubber-stamping of the project.
Site-specific environmental standards, provided and reviewed before any permits are issued, are imperative to ensure the protection of water quality along the routes of the ACP and MVP. The distinction between general project-specific standards and site-specific standards is one that matters.
For more information on these important issues of water quality, read the DPMC’s response to the DEQ’s call for project-specific standards and The Recorder’s excellent and thorough article, “DEQ, Corps Under Pressure from Pipeline Opponents.”