Author Archives: Ellen Bouton

Story Map on ACP Route in Nelson and Buckingham


Friends of Nelson is very pleased to share the Esri Story Map created by Karen Kasmauski of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

This International League of Conservation Photographers is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography and filmmaking. They had a small grant from BamaWorks to document the impacts that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have have on people and places, specifically in Nelson and Buckingham County.

Karen Kasmauski was the ILCP conservation fellow who came to Nelson and Buckingham for an initial reconnaissance/background tour in early September and then returned for more extensive photographing of multiple sites in early October. Friends of Nelson arranged for her to meet with some impacted landowners and see their lands and how the route would affect them. We also took her to visit local breweries and agribusinesses, explore wetlands that would be impacted, tour some of the steepest slope locations on the proposed route as well as some non-route areas that were devastated in Camille, accompany Friends of Nelson’s Doug Wellman for stream testing, observe how we/CSI use drones to monitor the route, and to come aboard and take a flight in the CSI/Pipeline Airforce plane to view the proposed impacts from the air.

In her essay accompanying the photos, Karen speaks of the people she met, saying, “Their stories also made me think about the larger picture of energy and why we continue building infrastructure like the ACP. Natural gas was supposed to be a bridge — a transitional energy source between coal and the increasingly affordable and popular renewables like solar and wind. Renewable success stories abound. Entire towns in Texas, one of the main fossil fuel states, are switching to more cost-effective wind power. While cleaner than coal, production and consumption of natural gas releases large quantities of methane, one of the main contributors to the warming of our planet. Why prolong our dependence on this energy source at the cost of alternatives that will serve us better in the long term? Is it appropriate to link these global concerns to this focused look at one portion of a regional pipeline project? Absolutely. The vast global picture of energy and environment are really comprised of thousands of local issues like those presented by the ACP. The concerns playing out in Nelson and Buckingham counties show us what could be lost should the ACP be allowed to go forward. A close look at the stories here mirror what is repeated in many ways and in many places on similar energy and environmental concerns.”

Karen Kasmauski’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Story Map is here.

Click here to view the full set of photos Karen took in Nelson and Buckingham Counties.

New Report Highlights Threat of Pipeline Construction to Water Quality

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #269, March 26, 2020:

A new report on turbidity in streams and rivers underscores how increased sediment loads will adversely affect aquatic life as well as drinking water quality.

Numeric Turbidity Water Quality Standards: A Tool to Protect Aquatic Life was released this week by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited. It points out the impacts that pipeline construction has on nearby streams and rivers, either in the path of a pipeline or in the proximity of construction.

“Excavation adjacent to, and within, streams and rivers has the potential to cause significant sediment pollution if erosion control best management practices (BMPs) are ineffective in keeping sediment from leaving the worksite and/or right of way. Increased erosion and sedimentation in streams harm aquatic life. Sediment pollution can smother spawning beds and fish eggs, reducing juvenile fish survival. Increased sedimentation also degrades habitat for benthic macroinvertebrates, aquatic insects that provide food for larger fish species, causing impacts to benthic community health and diversity, in addition to the species who feed on them.”

The report includes the results of water quality monitoring associated with construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. It notes that in June 2018 a heavy rainfall led to turbidity levels in the Roanoke River several times what should be acceptable.

Two principal recommendations are made:

  • Numeric turbidity standards should be adopted in Virginia. (The Virginia Water Pollution Control Board has direction the Department of Environmental Quality to adopt such standards, but to date the agency has not taken action.)
  • Already established numeric turbidity standards in West Virginia should be enforced.

SELC Comments on FWS Proposal to Eliminate Bird Protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed to largely eliminate protections against incidental take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”). The proposed rule would limit the reach of the MBTA’s take prohibitions to activities with the purpose of taking birds. For example, if a power washer cleaning a bridge destroyed bird nests or otherwise harmed migratory birds, that would be permissible so long as the power washer’s purpose was cleaning the bridge rather than harming the birds.

On March 19, 2020, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of over 50 organizations (inluding Friends of Nelson), submitted comments with a focus on the proposal’s implications for our Southeastern region. Their comments highlight examples in our region where the MBTA’s incidental take prohibitions have played an important role in conserving migratory birds, while also noting some key Southeastern species.

The letter argues that:

  1. The Proposed Regulation Governing Take of Migratory Birds Is Arbitrary and Capricious and Contrary to Law
    • The Interpretation in the Proposed Rule Is Not Supported by the Statute
    • The Interpretation in the Proposed Rule Is Not Supported by Treaties Relating to the MBTA
    • Proximate Cause Limits the Reach of Strict Liability Under the MBTA
  2. FWS’s Scoping Notice Previews an Environmental Analysis That Shortcuts the Agency’s Obligations Under NEPA
    • The Notice Fails to Forthrightly Disclose the Major Federal Action Properly Subject to Analysis Under NEPA and Forecasts a Predetermined Outcome
    • The Agency Should Reset the Analysis of Alternatives
  3. Excluding Incidental Takes Will Have Significant Effects on Protected Migratory Birds That Must Be Analyzed Under NEPA
    • Specific Projects That Compel Protections for Migratory Birds Due to Foreseeable Impacts (Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline, Hampton Roads, Wind Energy Development, Atlantic Pelagic Longline Fisheries, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Off-Road Vehicles)
    • FWS Must Assess Impacts to Species Particularly Vulnerable to Incidental Takes
    • FWS Must Analyze the Loss of Ecosystem Services and Economic Benefits of Birds in the Southeast
    • FWS Must Consider the Consequences of its Rulemaking in the Context of Climate Change

The SELC letter concludes, “Reversing course on decades of protections under the MBTA has already caused, and will continue to cause, impacts of significant consequence to migratory birds across the Southeast and the United States. Migratory birds are in steep decline from multiple stressors; many are already at risk of extirpation and face an uphill road to recovery, even with protections against incidental take in place under the MBTA. FWS’s proposed rulemaking will hasten the decline of migratory birds and cannot be squared with the broad protections afforded by the MBTA. Rather than continue with this rulemaking, we urge Interior to withdraw the proposed rule, rescind Opinion M-37050, and work instead on developing an appropriate regulatory program addressing the foreseeable incidental killing and taking of migratory birds.”

Read the full letter here.

News You May Have Missed


There’s been a lot going on – here are some news items from our In the News page you may have missed (many additional interesting news articles on that page).

Pandemic Impacts Agencies and Courts Dealing with Pipeline Issue

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #268, March 19, 2020:

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a decisive impact on the activities of regulatory agencies and courts who have jurisdiction over pipeline issues. Within the last few days, the following has occurred:

  • The DC Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely suspended in-person oral arguments. The Court was scheduled to hear on March 31 for a major case challenging the tolling order policy of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC’s policy of delaying the consideration of appeals of its decisions). The Court will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to hear cases by teleconference, postpone arguments or decide cases based on briefs alone.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has cancelled its scheduled March 19 meeting and FERC staff began working from home, effective March 16. FERC offices are closed to outside visitors. The next scheduled Commission meeting is April 16. It is uncertain at this time whether that meeting will occur.
  • The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality announced this week it is suspending routine field activities, including inspections and monitoring, for the next two weeks, though it will continue to “investigate significant pipeline concerns” during that period.
  • The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board will not hold a Spring meeting. The Board had not yet scheduled the meeting. Whenever the Board next meets a primary agenda item will likely be what to do about the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was vacated in January by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

What’s the Impact of a Recession on Natural Gas?

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #268, March 19, 2020:

Growing speculation about a possible economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to raise questions about the impact on the natural gas market. A March 9, 2020, commentary by Andrew Bradford, CEO of BTU Analytics, notes that declines in natural gas demand in 2020 could decline by as much as 5%, or 4.2 billion cubic feet per day. Continuing, he says:

“Considering the US gas market was already expected to be long supply following a weak winter 2019-2020, an additional 4.2 Bcf/d is a lot of length to manage into an already long summer gas market. Add in an oversupplied global LNG market and the US gas market could be further awash in supply if demand falters. While US operators are slashing CAPEX (capital expenditures) in the face of falling oil prices, the risk of demand shocks to the system may overwhelm the CAPEX declines.”