CANCELLED!


We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” In a joint statement on Sunday July 5, 2020, Thomas F. Farrell, II, Dominion Energy chairman, president, and chief executive officer, along with Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy chair, president, and chief executive officer, issued the words we have all hoped to hear since May of 2014.

Although the ACP had won a narrowly-focused victory last month at the US Supreme Court over a critical permit, eight other vacated or withdrawn permits still blocked construction. The comment period for the ACP request to FERC to extend its construction permit, set to expire in October 2020, closed on July 2.

However, Dominion and Duke apparently finally saw the handwriting on the wall, and said, “recent developments have created an unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays.” They noted that “This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States.” Farrell and Good did not mention the massive environmental damage the ACP would have caused, the extra costs it would have brought to ratepayers saddled with paying for it, nor the fact that the ACP was never needed in the first place.

Farrell tried to put a positive spin on the major defeat for Dominion by saying the decision represented a “narrowing of focus,” and “another significant step in our evolution as a company, allowing us to focus even more on fulfilling utility customer needs and positioning us for a bright and increasingly sustainable future.”

The fight against the pipeline began just days after shocked landowners along the route received the first letters, dated May 23, 2014, announcing the project. The odds were definitely stacked against us then – the laws, the policies, the agency rules, and many legislators were all pro-pipeline. We had to swim against a tremendous tide.  But enough of us decided then and there that the ACP was fundamentally wrong, and we not only had to oppose it, but to actively fight it to the bitter end.   Thousands of people from West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, along with multiple pipeline opponents regionally and from across the country, joined the 318 week fight against the ACP. Friends of Nelson is grateful beyond words for each and every person, group, and organization that participated as we all worked together to bring about the demise of the ACP.

Together we are stronger!

Statement from Southern Environmental Law Center:

In a surprise move, Dominion and Duke Energy announced today that they are abandoning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project following growing opposition, spiraling costs, and a series of legal defeats.

This is a tremendous victory for the people of Union Hill and the other communities that were in the path of this risky and unnecessary project, for public lands, for landowners, and for all North Carolinians and Virginians, who are no longer on the hook to pay for an $8 billion pipeline.

This win has been a long time coming, and SELC has worked tirelessly over the past six years with a dedicated coalition to get to this moment. We are very thankful to all those who have supported this campaign, especially the clients we have been honored to represent: Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of Buckingham, Friends of Nelson, Jackson River Preservation Association, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Piedmont Environmental Council, Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc., Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Sierra Club, Sound Rivers, Inc., Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Winyah Rivers Foundation.

We wanted you to be among the first to know that Virginia, North Carolina, the Southeast, and beyond will be cleaner tomorrow thanks to all the hard work leading up to today.

For more background on how we got here, visit stoptheacp.org.

In celebration,
Senior Attorney Greg Buppert


Statement from Wild Virginia

Today, Dominion Energy and Duke Power announced plans to scrap its destructive and ill-conceived plan for the ACP. The pipeline would have damaged hundreds of waterbodies and ravaged communities all along its path.

Citizens told Dominion and all of the government agencies who were tasked with protecting us that this pipeline was a horrible idea – finally, after causing so much pain and worry for so many, these companies have made a decision that is actually in the interest of their customers and the people their actions affect.

This is a win for all of the thousands of people who have banded together in the most amazing uprising for environmental protection and environmental justice in Virginia’s history. Now, we will be pushing to make sure our state officials never let this kind of travesty happen again.

Our water and air protection laws were more than strong enough to have empowered the DEQ and the air and water boards to stop this project and the MVP years ago. This time they failed but we don’t intend to allow that to happen again.

This was a huge effort over many years. We want to thank all of the many partner groups we’ve worked so closely with for so long and thank you for keeping up this fight with your support! Today, we see that when we work together we can protect our air and our water from corporate interests. Let’s keep it up!

David Sligh


The breaking story was covered in virtually all news media:

7-5-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dominion cancels Atlantic Coast Pipeline, sells natural gas transmission business. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is dead, abandoned by Dominion Energy and its partner, Duke Energy, after the $8 billion project reached a regulatory dead end. The decision, announced Sunday, ends a six-year effort to build the 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline through the heart of Virginia to connect gas shale fields in West Virginia with markets in southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina. Thwarted by environmental groups repeatedly in the federal courts, the project was more than three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget, with no clear path to completion after federal courts in Montana threw out a nationwide federal water quality permit that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline relied upon to cross hundreds of bodies of water in its path.”

7-5-20 Wall St. Journal. Companies Cancel Atlantic Coast Pipeline After Years of Delays. “The builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are pulling the plug on the project as companies continue to meet mounting environmental opposition to new fossil-fuel conduits. Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc. said Sunday they were abandoning the proposed $8 billion pipeline—which aimed to carry natural gas 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina and underneath the Appalachian Trail—citing continued regulatory delays and uncertainty, even after a favorable Supreme Court ruling last month.

7-5-20 Virginian-Pilot. Dominion canceling controversial natural gas pipeline across Virginia. “Dominion Energy is pulling the plug on its controversial plan to build a natural gas pipeline crossing Virginia. The decision comes in tandem with a major strategic shift out of the energy giant’s multi-billion-dollar investment in a gas transmission business with operations as far away as Wyoming.”

7-5-20 Virginian-Pilot online. Pipeline canceled. “Restoring rights of way where Dominion has been clearing trees and resolving pending disputes with some landowners along the route will be the work of the next several months. Dominion officials do not expect to ask landowners to return compensation payments already made for use of their property. Opponents of the project said its abandonment was a major victory.”

7-5-20 Charleston Gazette-Mail. Energy companies abandon long-delayed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

7-5-20 CNN Business. Berkshire Hathaway will buy natural gas assets from Dominion Energy in $10 billion deal.

7-6-20 Virginia Mercury.  Delays, legal challenges allowed the curtain to be pulled back on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.   “[W]hen I first started covering the pipeline project four years ago, more or less by newsroom accident at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I was actually skeptical of many of the arguments against the project. I knew next to nothing about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, utility regulation or the handsome rate of return such pipeline projects were guaranteed to deliver to investors. I assumed it would be difficult for a consortium of energy companies to use the extraordinary power of eminent domain to grab land from people absent a compelling public need argument. Or, as I may have actually said at one point back then: ‘They wouldn’t be building a pipeline if no one actually needed the gas, right?’ I had a lot to learn.

7-6-20 Bloomberg. Grim Day for Pipelines Shows They’re Almost Impossible to Build. “To be an energy superpower, U.S. oil and natural gas requires a suitably gargantuan pipeline network that stretches for millions of miles. The country’s ability to expand that infrastructure is being tested like never before. In the span of less than 24 hours, a court ordered the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline to shut down and the developers of the Atlantic Coast gas conduit said they were canceling the project. It was a deluge of bad news for an industry that’s increasingly finding that the mega-projects of the past are no longer feasible in the face of unprecedented opposition to fossil fuels and the infrastructure that supports them. …. ‘I would expect this to be a turning point for new investment,’ said Katie Bays, co-founder of Washington-based Sandhill Strategy LLC. ‘There is real investor fatigue around this parade of legal and regulatory headwinds to energy projects.'”

And in another pipeline fight

7-6-20 NPR.org. Court Rules Dakota Access Pipeline Must Be Emptied For Now. “A federal judge has ruled that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline must be emptied for now while the Army Corps of Engineers produces an environmental review. In a decision posted Monday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said that it was clear shutting down the pipeline will cause disruption. But he said that ‘the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow’ during the estimated 13 months it will take to complete the environmental impact statement. The court vacated the Corps’ decision to grant federal approval for the project, and will require the pipeline to be emptied within 30 days.” [“The Court ORDERS that: 1) The Mineral Leasing Act easement authorizing the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe is hereby VACATED; and 2) Dakota Access shall shut down the pipeline and empty it of oil by August 5, 2020. Signed by Judge James E. Boasberg on 7/6/2020.”]

 

Many Comments Filed with FERC Opposing Extra Time for Dominion

Dominion asked FERC for a two year extension on its expiring certificate to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Without the extension, no ACP construction could happen after October 13, 2020. The comment period opened on June 17, 2020, and the deadline for comments was 5 pm on Thursday, July 2, 2020. We are pleased to report that many people submitted comments opposing a construction extension for this unnecessary pipeline.

Here are links to a few of the powerful submissions opposing the extension:

  • Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Johns & Counsel PLLC filed a Motion to Intervene and Comments in Opposition to Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s request for extension of its Certificate in FERC Docket Nos. CP15-554-000 et seq. & CP15-555-000 et seq. The filing was made on behalf of Conservation Groups and Landowners.
  • Comments on behalf of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) submitted to FERC in opposition to the extension of the certificate for the ACP.  Note that the comments themselves are only 3 pages.  The rest are referenced attachments (Tom Hadwin’s paper released in January on need and the recently released landslide paper).
  • Comments from members of the Virginia General Assembly:  “As members of the Virginia General Assembly each representing tens of thousands of Virginians, we respectfully request that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deny an extension of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Further, we also request that the Commission deny any requests from Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC, for permission to cut trees, clear land, or install pipe in the Commonwealth.”  [Signed by Senators Creigh Deeds, John Bell, Jennifer Boysko, John Edwards, Ghazala Hashmi; Delegates Betsy Carr, Patrick Hope, Elizabeth Guzman, Chris Hurst, Mark Keam, Ken Plum, Sam Rasoul, Danica Roem, Kathy Tran]
  • Comments from members of the North Carolina General Assembly, explaining why “The ACP is unnecessary to meet our energy demands in North Carolina, and we are concerned that harmful impacts on communities, the environment, and ratepayers outweigh any potential benefits to North Carolina’s citizens. We urge FERC to deny ACP’s request for a two-year extension to construct the pipeline and place it into service.”  [Signed by 8 Senators and fifteen Representatives]

There were many, many other eloquent and detailed comments in opposition from both individuals and organizations filed during the 15-day comment period.  To see all the comments, go to https://elibrary.ferc.gov/, set the date range to 06/17/202 through 07/02/2020, un-click “Issuance” (so the only checked category is “Submittal”), for Library click “Natural Gas,” enter CP15-554 in the Docket Number box, and then click Submit at the bottom of the page.  The results pages give a variety of options for viewing the individual submissions.

DC Circuit Rules Against FERC’s “Kafkaesque” Tolling Order Use


On Tuesday June 30, 2020, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could not use “tolling orders” to avoid facing a legal challenge in court for approval of projects like natural gas pipelines. The decision came in the case involving the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Allegheny Defense Project, et. al. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Several ABRA members (including Friends of Nelson) filed a brief in the case.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Patricia Millett on behalf of all the active judges on the DC Circuit, said: “…we hold that, after thirty days elapsed from the filing of a rehearing application without Commission action, the Tolling Order could neither prevent a deemed denial nor alter the jurisdictional consequences of agency inaction. To the extent our prior decisions upheld the use of tolling orders in that manner, they are overruled in relevant part.”

Tolling orders allow FERC to put off responding to requests for a rehearing, thus blocking challengers from bringing their concerns to court, while still allowing construction on pipeline projects to move forward. The ruling means that although FERC is not required by the decision to decide a rehearing request within the 30 days it must stick to the mandated 30-day time frame to decide on whether to accept a request for rehearing.  If FERC does not act on a rehearing application within thirty days, it means the request for a rehearing can be deemed denied and the applicant may then go straight to court to obtain judicial review of FERC’s action.

Read the court’s decision here.

Podcast: Fighting Eminent Domain for Pipelines

Listen to the June 28, 2020, podcast from Forward Radio’s Truth to Power program, Fighting Eminent Domain for Pipelines. Forward Radio’s description: “On this week’s Truth To Power, we gather folks into the virtual studio to continue the community conversation about LG&E’s proposed methane gas pipeline in Bullitt County [KY]. You may be familiar with this issue through the ‘Save Bernheim’ campaign, as the proposed pipeline would run through Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest. Forward Radio’s Justin Mog (Sustainability Now!) and Hart Hagan (The Climate Report / Let’s Talk) discuss the issue with one of the neighbors owning property near the pipeline, Christy Collins, as well as Elaine Tanner, Program Director for the Friends For Environmental Justice.”

Virginia Withholds Key Permit for “Header Injustice Project”

Press release from Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 26, 2020
CONTACT:
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-1889
Anne Havemann, General Counsel, anne@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-2146
Lauren Landis, Grassroots Coordinator, lauren@chesapeakeclimate.org, 757-634-9567

Richmond, VA — Today, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued a preliminary ruling against a controversial fracked-gas expansion project referred to as the “Header Injustice Project” by affected communities. Under the terms of the decision, the utility may re-apply for a permit but must comply with certain conditions that could prove extremely difficult to meet. If the utility, Virginia Natural Gas (VNG), can show by December 31, 2020, that its main customer — the 1050-megawatt C4GT gas plant — has the financing it needs to build, VNG must also submit information about needed environmental justice analyses and confirm that it will protect VNG’s customers from unnecessary rate increases.

The second condition related to cost protections might prove especially challenging for VNG to meet. To shield VNG’s customers from “holding the bag” for the costs of the project should the gas plant cease operation, the Commission is requiring that the capital cost of the project must be recovered over 20 years instead of the 70 years proposed. VNG’s own rebuttal testimony recognized that “[t]here is a very real risk that if the entire cost of the Project is required to be amortized over 20 years that the Project will be cost prohibitive and not be completed.”

The Commission found that there was a “very real risk” that C4GT might shut down before VNG fully recovered the costs of the Project. In its 2020 session, the Virginia General Assembly voted to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will raise the cost of all carbon-emitting facilities in Virginia, making it more difficult for merchant facilities like C4GT, which sell energy and capacity into the regional power grid, to make a profit.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, intervened in the proceeding and consistently raised concerns about the potential impacts to ratepayers from the proposed 70-year cost-recovery period, among other issues. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also intervened as did the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Appalachian Voices and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.

Anne Havemann, CCAN General Counsel, stated:

“This was a needed win in these trying times. The Header Injustice Project is so named because it is an absolute travesty in terms of environmental justice. Major components would go through majority-minority communities, and virtual hearings were held about an issue that would impact areas that have limited internet access. As a result, these communities, with little knowledge or say in the project, would have been the worst impacted by its harms: toxic air pollution, noise, threats of explosion. This is the textbook definition of environmental racism.

“But, at the end of the day, it was the arguments around need and cost that moved the needle. This decision recognizes that there is great risk in continuing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and affirms that ratepayers should not be forced to subsidize these projects. Virginia is on the pathway to 100% clean electricity. Fracked gas should no longer enter the equation.

“We thank the SCC Commissioners who did the right thing today. The tide is turning in Virginia toward clean energy and toward justice. We hope that Governor Northam is paying attention and will use his authority to reject the other terrible fracked-gas projects proposed in the Commonwealth, including Dominion’s Buckingham Compressor Station.”

Additional information:

Virginia Natural Gas is calling the proposal the “Header Improvement Project.” But the organizations fighting it call it the “Header Injustice Project” because it would harm countless communities.

The proposal is for three new gas pipelines, totaling 24 miles, and three new or expanded gas compressor stations from Northern Virginia, through the middle of the state, and to the shore in Hampton Roads. The primary purpose of HIP is to supply gas to the C4GT merchant gas plant proposed for Charles County City. This merchant plant would be located about a mile from the proposed Chickahominy Power Station, a separate gas-fired merchant power plant that would be the largest in the state of Virginia. VNG wants this network of fracked-gas infrastructure to be up and running by the end of 2022.

The project has been tangled in justice concerns from the beginning. The massive gas plant the project is intended to serve is one of two such plants proposed to be built in a community with higher minority populations than the Virginia average. And one key component of the HIP project itself — the Gidley Compressor Station — is also proposed for a predominantly Black community. Yet there has been no environmental justice review carried out.

Furthermore, holding regulatory hearings for the project during the COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns in itself because internet coverage in the area surrounding the Gidley Compressor falls below the state average, leaving residents unable to access information and participate in the process. The first hearing on the HIP proposal was held up by technical issues.

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A coalition called the Stop the Abuse of Virginian Energy (SAVE) Coalition has formed to stop this project. Learn more here: www.stophip.org.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more, visit www.chesapeakeclimate.org