The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance has launched its new Conservation Hub, a program designed to enhance the capabilities of environmental, conservation and citizen groups to better assess the impacts of projects in the greater Allegheny-Blue Ridge region and to help assure that the overall environmental integrity of the region is maintained. The program will employ some of the same technological tools that formed the basis of the ABRA Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program that was developed to monitor construction activities of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).
Among the expected outcomes of the Conservation Hub program are:
Empowering stakeholders to make more informed decisions about proposed projects that impact the environment of their communities and the region.
Improving the quality and comprehensiveness of information presented to government regulatory bodies in helping their evaluation of proposed projects and, if such projects are approved, providing ongoing monitoring information to those agencies to assist their regulatory role.
Encouraging regulatory agencies, when evaluating whether to permit a project, to consider the cumulative impacts that the project would have on the affected region. It has been our collective experience from fighting the ACP project that state and federal permitting agencies are ill-equipped to evaluate the cumulative environmental impacts that projects can have.
Details on the Conservation Hub and its projects are available here on the ABRA website.
On October 27, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asked Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc. (DETI), managing partner for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Supply Header Project (SHP), to provide to FERC “a plan for disposition of ACP and SHP, including restoration activities.” Dominion was given 60 days from the date of the FERC letter to respond, which would be December 26, 2020.
On June 16, 2020, Dominion had filed with FERC a request for a two-year extension of its FERC certificate in order to complete the SHP, and in a separate filing on July 10 requested a one-year extension of its ACP certificate to implement abandonment of the ACP project areas that had been disturbed.
Discussion of the status of Atlantic’s/DETI’s consultation with landowners on matters pertaining to project disposition and restoration activities on their property, as applicable, including: a. preferences regarding treatment of pipeline segments that have already been installed (i.e., pipeline to be left in place or removed); b. preferences for removal of felled trees that have not been cleared; and c. preferences on how disturbed areas would be restored, depending on their land use type (e.g., forest, agricultural, etc.).
FERC has not yet granted the extension, but is asking Dominion to submit plans for the ACP restoration they intend to do.
However, FERC’s response does not address the question of easements at all. The Southern Environmental Law Center, along with many others who submitted comments to FERC on Dominion’s July 10 request, urged that the issue of landowner easements be included in the restoration plan. Further, FERC has not granted requests to solicit comments from landowners themselves regarding what restoration is needed on their lands. FERC Commissioner Richard Glick wrote recently: “When it comes to protecting landowner interests, we should look at what the Commission does, not what it says. With that in mind, today’s order tells you everything need to know about how much the Commission cares about landowners.”
An October 29 Virginia Mercury article, Federal regulators order Atlantic Coast Pipeline to provide a plan for project wind-down, restoration, says, “Asked about how Dominion intends to approach easements that remain in force and whether it plans to relinquish those easements, Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said in an email the company ‘will work with each landowner whose property has been disturbed to develop a plan for the right of way on their property’ and will ‘evaluate each easement agreement on a case-by-case basis in consultation with each landowner. Our goal is to close out the project as efficiently as possible and with minimal environmental disturbance.'”
On October 9, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a request from the Mountain Valley Pipeline for a two-year extension of the project’s certificate to complete construction of the pipeline. The existing certificate was to expire October 13, 2020. Many organizations and individuals had opposed MVP’s request.
The vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Glick dissenting. Read the FERC decision here. Note especially the last two pages where Commissioner Glick registers his partial dissent, and delivers a scathing criticism of FERC for their decision to deny intervenor status to a number of landowners who had not been formal intervenors in the original Certificate process, but who had attempted to intervene in the time extension request proceeding.
Glick writes, “Time and time again, landowners do their very best to navigate the complexity of FERC proceedings. And, time and time again, the Commission relies on technicalities to prevent them from even having the opportunity to vindicate their interests. When it comes to protecting landowner interests, we should look at what the Commission does, not what it says. With that in mind, today’s order tells you everything need to know about how much the Commission cares about landowners.”
Glick’s dissent indicates the “care” landowners may expect in upcoming ACP extension decision. ACP’s original Certificate of Public Convenience and Need expires on Oct. 13, 2020. That means they can do nothing after that date – including cleaning up the mess they made on many people’s properties. So, ACP asked for a one-year extension to complete necessary “stand down” activities, remove pipe that has been staged but not buried, stabilize and restore the abandoned construction sites, etc.
Many organizations (including Friends of Nelson), the lawyers from SELC, and many individuals submitted comments to FERC this summer requesting that certain conditions be met as part of the process of such an extension being granted. A couple of notable conditions were 1) that all landowners be released from the easement agreements they signed and 2) that there be a formal opportunity for landowners and other stakeholders to submit further comments to FERC delineating exactly what kind of restoration or other things are needed to restore impacted lands and make impacted property owners “whole” so that those needs could be taken into account in whatever orders FERC gives to ACP as the “stand down” process begins.
We expect to hear FERC’s decision about the extension — and thus on whether they will require conditions that would help landowners — any day now.
Southerly’s Lyndsey Gilpin speaks with organizers from West Virginia and North Carolina and a lawyer from the Southern Environmental Law Center about their successful efforts to stop the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. After years of fighting new oil and gas pipelines in rural areas, activists have scored major victories that cloud the future or eliminate several big projects. Three people who helped lead anti-pipeline campaigns talk about their work and what lies ahead.
The article, Pipeline opponents discuss lessons learned (in Southerly magazine), and video were produced in collaboration with Southerly and the Rural Assembly. The Rural Assembly is a project of the Center for Rural Strategies, which also publishes the Daily Yonder.
We are delighted to share the video of the Friends of Nelson online celebration of the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. We couldn’t celebrate in person, but on September 5, 2020, two months after Dominion’s announcement, we had a wonderful online party – with speakers, music, and slide shows – and we now offer the video of the party for your enjoyment. Many thanks to our party’s planning team, Mary Eiserman, Jill Averitt, and Joyce Burton, to Irene Leech for her video editing, and to Charlie Hickox for help with the video upload to YouTube.
And – hold the date! – we hope to have an in-person celebration on July 5, 2021, the first anniversary of the ACP cancellation.