Four Senators Tell FERC to Hurry Up

U.S. Senators Capito (WV), Burr (NC), Tills (NC) and Strange (AL) wrote the FERC Commissioners on September 20, 2017, urging FERC to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in time for tree clearing to occur in November. Their letter ignores the fact that the NC Department of Environmental Quality has delayed any decision on 401 water permits and the WV Department of Environmental Protection has rescinded their previous decision on permits, with both departments saying they need further study. The state environmental agencies recognize the potential problems even if their senators are pushing a “hurry up” agenda.

The Senators’ letter echoes a similar request made to FERC on September 7 by the CEOs of the three partner companies of the ACP. One of the September 20 signatories, Sen. Luther Strange of Alabama, was appointed to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions; he represents a state that is not along the path of the ACP. He is, however, a candidate in a September 26 Alabama Republican primary to elect someone to the seat to which he was appointed. It is not clear if or how his endorsement of an expedited ACP approval will impact his chances in the primary. However, Sen. Strange is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over FERC. Senators Capito, Burr and Tillis are not committee members.

Read the Senators’ letter here.

DPMC to Governor McAuliffe: Are Virginians Equal to Our Fellow Citizens?

An announcement from Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) about their September 21, 2017, letter to Governor McAuliffe asking him to treat Virginians fairly and put our interests on the same plane with those of the people of New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia:

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has sent a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe restating questions we asked him in a previous letter dated July 25, 2017. The lack of a response from the Governor forces citizens to guess at his attitudes, based on the actions of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on the two huge natural gas pipelines proposed to cross the state. Unfortunately, DEQ’s continued mishandling of regulatory reviews for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) proposals provides a disheartening hint to the Governor’s position. The questions DPMC continues to ask:

Do Virginian’s deserve less protection than our fellow citizens? Will you accept DEQ’s proposals to forego its responsibilities where others have fully exercised their authorities to protect their citizens and environments?

These questions become more relevant by the day. Since that July 25 letter was sent, a federal appeals court has upheld New York’s action to strictly regulate a natural gas pipeline and deny certification under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Our neighboring states have judged the information and analyses supposed to justify CWA section 401 water quality certification (WQC) of each major pipeline to be inadequate. These judicial and state actions further illustrate that Virginia has all necessary authority to reject pipeline projects unless it is proven that water protection standards will be met and that the evidence now before the State fails to meet that requirement for either ACP or MVP.

In DPMC’s letter, David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory Systems Investigator, noted that the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New York State’s denial of a WQC for the Constitution Pipeline, rejecting pipeline company claims that New York had exceeded its authority. In stark contrast to New York’s defense of its citizens and environment, now justified in court, “[r]ecords show that [Virginia] environmental officials have so far refused to even seriously consider recommending denial of WQCs in these cases, apparently willing to cede the powers reserved to states in the CWA,” as noted in the letter.

Other recent decisions, by West Virginia and North Carolina officials, have revealed serious gaps in the information and analyses presented, respectively, for MVP and ACP. Faced with a lawsuit by citizens over its issuance of a WQC for MVP, the West Virginia DEP was compelled to admit it did not have sufficient evidence to uphold its decision and remanded that decision for further analysis. The North Carolina DEQ recently determined it needed a significant amount of new information to properly assess waterbody impacts from ACP.

The flaws in Virginia’s evidence to support draft WQCs for the two damaging pipelines are even more serious than those identified by North Carolina and Virginia must follow the wise path North Carolina has chosen – not continue to continue in flawed processes, such as that West Virginia was forced to abandon for MVP. Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, stated: “Governor McAuliffe must recognize that Virginia’s reviews of these pipelines are fatally flawed. We can only hope he’ll insist DEQ abandon its rush to judgement and restore integrity to these processes; that he not burden Virginia taxpayers with the expense of defending the indefensible in court.”

DPMC Letter to Governor McAuliffe, 9/21/17
DPMC Letter to DEQ Director, David Paylor, 8/28/17
DCR Letter to FERC, 8/21/17

Update on FERC

In August 2017, the Senate confirmed FERC Commissioners Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson, thus giving FERC a quorum for the first time since February. Recent FERC-related news:

  • The Commission held its first meeting on September 20, 2017, but took no action on either the proposed ACP or MVP.
  • Washington Examiner story on 9-20-17:  Anti-pipeline protestors sing ‘We shall overcome’ at FERC meeting. “More than 100 organizations planned and endorsed the protest on Wednesday, mostly local and national environmental groups. There are more than 40 pipelines set to be considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Anti-pipeline protesters on Wednesday interrupted the first meeting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has held since January. The FERC’s agenda was light at it faces a backlog of pipeline cases, but that did not stop demonstrators singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ and shouting ‘you should be ashamed’ as the commission returned to business after being shut down for six months due to a lack of members.”
  • S&P Global Platts story on 9-20-17:  FERC picks up where it left off, tackles backlog. “The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission renewed its monthly meetings Wednesday, with commissioners applauding efforts that kept the agency moving through its workload during the unprecedented six-month lapse of a quorum and acknowledging the still-hefty backlog of draft orders awaiting their decisions.”
  • DeSmog story on 9-19-17:  Exclusive: Here are the Energy Companies Represented by Trump’s Nominee to Head FERC. “President Trump’s nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has, as a corporate attorney, personally represented a host of energy and utility companies, many of which do business that is directly impacted by FERC’s decision making. According to Kevin McIntyre’s financial disclosure — obtained by DeSmog and published here for the first time — these include major utilities, fracking companies, pipeline builders, and international energy corporations.”

Art of the Self-Deal

Oil Change International, in collaboration with Public Citizen and the Sierra Club, have released a September 2017 report, Art of the Self-Deal: How Regulatory Failure Lets Gas Pipeline Companies Fabricate Need and Fleece Ratepayers.

The report examines how a new wave of gas pipeline construction threatens to shunt serious risks and costs on to utility ratepayers. Utilities and gas companies are increasingly engaged in self-dealing practices to support a dangerous gas pipeline buildout in the Appalachian Basin. Lax oversight from regulators – particularly the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – is enabling companies to manufacture ‘need’ for projects while shifting financial risks from shareholders to ratepayers. Absent effective oversight, ratepayers could end up shouldering long-term costs for pipeline capacity they don’t need, while losing out on opportunities to take advantage of increasingly cheaper, cleaner choices.

Case studies of four pipelines illustrate this dynamic: the Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley, PennEast, and NEXUS projects.

As regulators snooze, ratepayers are getting ripped off so pipeline companies can rake in profits – and the climate is getting wrecked.

Virginia DEQ Presses Ahead

The Richmond Times-Dispatch for September 19, 2017, published a story, “Virginia’s environmental agency to press ahead on pipeline permits as other states hit the brakes.

West Virginia rescinded their permit to allow further review. North Carolina delayed their decision to allow further review. “Yet in Virginia, the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of the water-quality risks posed by the two pending natural gas pipelines, says it has no plans to slow down the process for either project. The pipelines face major resistance from environmental groups and some landowners and state lawmakers of both parties have asked the DEQ to slow the process.”

The article quotes Greg Buppert, lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who says, “‘Virginia is an outlier. Those two states have said this project has serious potential implications for water quality in our state and we’re going to take our process seriously. … Virginia appears stuck on Dominion’s time frame. And unless the agency backs off its timetable and gets more information from Dominion, gets more information from the public, they’re racing ahead with a defective permit.'”

Read the full article here.