VA NAACP Troubled by Lack of Regulatory Protection

Press advisory, Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kevin Chandler, President, PastorChandler@gmail.com; Karen Campblin, Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, ECJVA2018NAACP@gmail.com

Virginia State Conference NAACP Troubled by State Regulator’s Refusal to Protect Our Land, Water and Communities

The Virginia State Conference NAACP (VSC NAACP) opposes the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and the proposed ACP Compressor Station in Union Hill, Buckingham County, VA. We are also gravely concerned over the lack of fair and appropriate response to environmental injustices perpetuated by the approval and construction of these projects and ask that a more thorough and comprehensive analysis of potential negative and cumulative impacts to the natural and social environments be conducted. Careful consideration must be made to properly identify residents located within the study area to ensure Title VI compliance and that there are no disproportionate impacts on burdened communities.

According to “Fumes Across the Fence-Line“, a report jointly written by NAACP and CleanAIR Task Force, “the racial disparities among communities impacted by environmental pollution in the United States is stark. African-Americans are exposed to 38% more polluted air than Caucasian Americans, and they are 75% more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American.” The report defines fence line communities as “communities that are next to a company, industrial, or service facility and are directly affected in the facility’s operation (e.g. noise, odor, traffic, and chemical emissions”.

The VSC NAACP has submitted comments against the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 (May 2018) and the Buckingham Compressor Station- Air Permit (September 2018). We have not received a response. Furthermore, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ), which is tasked with providing advice and recommendations to the Executive Branch on Environmental Justice issues throughout the Commonwealth, submitted its first set of environmental concerns, “Environmental Justice Review of Virginia’s Gas Infrastructure”, on August 16, 2018. The ACEJ’s August 16 report included detailed, thorough and heavily footnoted review of the pipeline projects, associated infrastructure and Compressor Station, and identified cases of environmental justice issues. The report includes 7 areas of concern and recommendations to mitigate or eliminate the negative impacts. In particular, the ACEJ recommended “that the 401 Clean Water Act certifications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) be rescinded immediately” and that “the Governor direct [the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] to suspend the permitting decision for the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station pending further review of the station’s impact on the health and the lives of those living in close proximity.”

The ACEJ recommendations were in line with recommendations presented to the Department of Environmental Quality by the VSC NAACP, and other environmental and legal organizations requesting an immediate halt in all construction activities until a thorough review of the permitting policies and procedures and analysis of associated impacts are conducted and all pending legal cases are completed. It is well documented that the permitting processes are flawed, and yet the projects are being allowed to move forward with reckless abandon to our natural environment and communities.

On October 16, 2018, Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler, on behalf of himself and the Governor, provided what is, in our view, an inadequate one-page response to the ACEJ report and recommendations. Secretary Strickler refused to take any action to stop either the MVP or the ACP or to suspend the permitting process for the proposed compressor station in Buckingham County, claiming that decisions from federal agencies preclude Virginia from doing so. Secretary Strickler did not respond in any detail to the environmental justice concerns documented by the ACEJ.

VSC NAACP is troubled by Secretary Strickler’s summary dismissal of the serious, pressing and legitimate issues raised by the Governor’s own Advisory Council. Thousands of people who live along the route of the MVP and ACP are being negatively impacted daily by construction issues that already have done damage to Virginia’s precious water and natural resources. Federal court decisions have resulted in multiple permits having been vacated, exposing a rushed and slipshod regulatory process. More is required of our state leadership and we believe that state and federal law allow Virginia to both revoke the previous certifications granted for these pipelines under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act and to deny an air permit for the Buckingham compressor station.

On Thursday and Friday, November 8th and 9th, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board will be conducting a Public Hearing on the Draft Air Permit for the Compressor Station at Union Hill, Buckingham County, VA. Union Hill is a predominately African-American community established by Freeman after the Civil War. The Compressor Station would be located within close proximity to existing homes. We ask that the Governor direct DEQ to not recommend approval of the permit and that the Air Pollution Control Board deny the permit and request the applicant to conduct a more comprehensive socio-economic analysis of the surrounding community, as well as completing a qualitative risk assessment and comprehensive Health Impact Assessment. Furthermore, we ask that a more meaningful public engagement plan be implemented with residents directly impacted by the projects. An effective public engagement program, particularly for a project of this magnitude, scale and potential impact, should consist of more than just a listening tour. The public engagement process should be based on mutual respect, understanding, collaboration, two-way conversations, and most importantly, opportunities to be an active participant of the decision-making process.

Air Pollution Control Board Public Hearing on the Draft Air Permit for the proposed ACP Compressor Station in Union Hill, Buckingham, November 8th and 9th (Thursday and Friday) beginning at 9:30 am at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Building Level 2, Room E21-AB, 301 North 3rd Street, Richmond VA, 23219

DEQ Approves “Protection” Plans for ACP

Shortly after 5 pm on Friday October 19, 2018, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality issued its approval of erosion and sediment, stormwater, and karst protection plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

DEQ’s statement says:

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has approved the Erosion and Sediment Control, Stormwater, Management, and Karst Protection plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). These detailed protection plans specify engineering designs that will protect water quality during and after pipeline construction along the 300-mile project that stretches from Highland County to Greensville County.

With the approval of these plans, Virginia’s upland Section 401 Clean Water Act Certification becomes effective. The ACP project now has authorization from the Commonwealth of Virginia to begin construction. Final approval to begin construction is subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil.

The ACP project is being developed by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas. Dominion Energy will be responsible for constructing and operating the pipeline.

“Protecting Virginia’s environmental resources is one of our greatest priorities,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s comprehensive review allows us to remain confident that these final construction plans will protect natural resources. After more than a year of detailed analysis, all aspects of these plans have been carefully reviewed, modified, and intensified before being approved by DEQ. We understand the pipeline projects have raised concerns. We remain dedicated to holding them to the highest environmental standards possible pursuant to state authorities.”

The basis for the design specification of the protection plans is contained in Virginia’s erosion and sediment control and stormwater management regulations. DEQ has sent its report to the State Water Control Board (Board) detailing the plans, which are required by regulation to protect waters in the Commonwealth of Water. DEQ also enlisted an independent review by EEE, an environmental and engineering services consulting firm based in Blacksburg and Richmond. Last December, Board conditionally approved the certification based on the completion of the plans.

“DEQ’s erosion and sediment and stormwater regulations, and our extensive 401 certification gives the agency several enforcement tools to protect water quality and ensure compliance with Virginia’s rigorous requirements,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “Our engineers and staff spent 15 months reviewing ACP’s plans to further ensure water quality protections were accurately incorporated.”

Draft plans were posted for public input last September. The final plans will soon be available to view on the ACP project website at www.atlanticcoastpipeline.com.
Regulatory information and the full report to the Board is available on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov/acp

Response from pipeline opponents was swift and emphatic. As reported in the Virginia Mercury, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters stated, “there’s little reason to think the failure to contain mud and stormwater that have plagued the separate Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is being built in Virginia now, won’t befall the ACP, though on a much wider scale because of its bigger footprint here. ‘The certification comes even as evidence mounts in Southwest Virginia that state regulations did little to keep communities safe from the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has clogged some of our state’s cleanest waters with mud and sediment as crews trenched across steep, rugged, flashflood-prone terrain,’ the group said. LCV Deputy Director Lee Francis said Laylor’s DEQ has seen fit ‘to allow an even larger, more complicated and environmentally destructive pipeline project to move forward, despite clear evidence that these pipelines can’t be built safely.'”

The Virginia Mercury article also points out that two sitting FERC commissioners have said the massive ACP project is not in the public interest.

Noting that the longstanding and ongoing warnings of environmental groups about the difficulties of building pipelines in steep terrain without sending massive quantities of sediment into waterways have been proved accurate by the “debacle that’s played out with MVP construction,” the Mercury concludes that there will be lots of people watching the ACP construction. “And with the pipeline footprint so much larger, it will be harder to shunt their concerns off into a corner as has unfortunately happened with southwest Virginia landowners and pipeline monitors.”

Read the Virginia Mercury article here.

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage here.

Psychological Warfare

In his excellent October 18, 2018, Virginia Mercury article, Virginia’s pipeline projects and the aura of inevitability, Reporter Robert Zullo nails the Dominion methodology: “Indeed, plunging ahead with as much work as it can get away with before all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed seems a deliberate strategy to deflate opposition and stay ahead of a slew of court decisions that have found major flaws in the federal approval process. If trees are coming down here and pipe is going in the ground elsewhere, the thing must be getting built, right?”

FERC has given Dominion permission to begin non-mechanized tree cutting on the proposed Union Hill compressor station site (see FERC Authorizes Tree Felling at Union Hill) despite the fact that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline still lacks an air permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for the compressor station, and despite the fact that construction in Virginia is under a stay order from the 4th Circuit Court pending outcome of hearings on both Forest Service permits and Fish and Wildlife permits.

Zullo points out that Virginia’s DEQ has enhanced the “aura of inevitability surrounding the ACP and a separate project planned to cross through southwest Virginia: the Mountain Valley Pipeline” by its ongoing abdication of responsibilities. Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler continues to dodge the issues by sticking to his policy of maintaining Virginia can’t do anything. He refuses to acknowledge that Virginia DOES have a great deal of authority (e.g., under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act) over these pipeline projects. Instead, Virginia’s regulatory authorities have gone in the other direction, with DEQ for instance “conduct[ing] an all-out push to convince the State Water Control Board to issue water quality certifications for the projects.”

It is psychological warfare. Dominion wants to promote the “aura of inevitability” and make it seem as if the pipelines are a done deal in order to demoralize opponents and make them give up their fight. Well, the pipelines are not done deals, and the fight isn’t over, and we are still here fighting!

FERC Commissioner LaFleur Speaks on Natural Gas

Natural Gas Intelligence reported on October 16, 2018, that FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’s, in her speech to North American Gas Forum hosted by Energy Dialogues, discussed the natural gas industry’s “complicated relationship” with climate change. LaFleur has dissented on several recent pipeline decisions and “has critiqued FERC’s approach to assessing climate change impacts from gas projects.”

She spoke of the need for “more in-depth climate assessments as part of a broader desire to see FERC incorporate more information into the record when it analyzes project need, including the anticipated end-uses of the gas.”

She also “called for FERC to go beyond precedent agreements in evaluating the need for a pipeline project. She said basing FERC’s certificate decisions solely on precedent agreements could lead to pipeline overbuild.”

Read the full article here.

News You May Have Missed


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