Author Archives: Ellen Bouton

ACEJ Calls for Stay on All Further ACP and MVP Permits

In a letter on August 16, 2018, Governor Ralph Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice called for a stay on all further permits for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. Blue Virginia reports that the Council recommended an Emergency Task Force on Environmental Justice in Gas Infrastructure to review and address the evidence it has found of “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations due to gas infrastructure expansion.”

Dr. Mary Finley-Brook, a member of the council states that, “Given the evidence the Advisory Council cites in the letter, it is clear that if the Governor and state regulators are committed to environmental safety and justice they must put an immediate halt to Union Hill Compressor Station and ACP permitting until community risks and safety concerns can be addressed in a meaningful way.”

Read the letter from the Advisory Council on Environmental Justice here.

ABRA Members Sue FERC Over Original Approval of ACP

News from the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA):

A group of 13 conservation groups – 10 of whom are ABRA members – filed suit on August 16, 2018, against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) challenging the Commission’s October 13 approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and, in the groups view, its wrongful refusal to look behind the inflated claims of Dominion Energy, principal partner in the project, that the pipeline is needed in Virginia and North Carolina markets. The suit was filed on behalf of the petitioners by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. It follows the August 6 decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate two key permits for the ACP and by an August 10 stop work order issued by FERC for the project. “FERC ordered the ACP construction stopped because the Fourth Circuit determined that permits were issued without proper scrutiny. On the very same day, FERC rejected a rehearing request in which the conservation groups asserted that it also rushed through its decision to permit a pipeline that we don’t need,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. FERC’s 2-1 decision to reject a rehearing was accompanied by a dissenting opinion from Commission Cheryl LaFleur that directly questioned whether there is sufficient evidence to support the need for two pipelines in the region. Commissioner Richard Glick, who did not participate in the vote, also issued a statement saying he did not vote “solely to enable those parties challenging the Certificate to have their day in court.” Commissioner Glick also said, “I share many of the concerns articulated in Commissioner LaFleur’s dissenting opinion and I do not believe that the ACP Project has been shown to be in the public interest.” (See below related stories on last week’s decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and by FERC.) “It’s clear that even within FERC there are questions about the need for this pipeline and the unnecessary harm it will cause to the surrounding communities, the environment, and the customers in Virginia and North Carolina that will bear the financial burden,” said Buppert. Most of the arguments put forth by ACP developers three years ago have crumbled. The misinformation ACP developers used as justification for this pipeline that we know are false includes:

  • ACP is needed for power plants – Gas-fired power plants in Virginia and North Carolina are already connected to the existing pipeline system and will have few direct connections to the ACP.
  • Savings for residents – Testimony at the Virginia State Corporation Commission has revealed that customers will pay anywhere from $1.6 – $3B for the ACP – and could be paying for this pipeline in their monthly bills regardless of whether the gas is used to generate power or not.
  • Savings for businesses – The fracked gas from the ACP will be more expensive than the gas that is currently available in Virginia through existing infrastructure, which means no savings for businesses.
  • Jobs – Without cheaper gas as an incentive, the pipeline is not likely to attract new businesses and new jobs to our region.

The petitioning groups in the suit are: Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Friends of Buckingham, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Piedmont Environmental Council, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, the Sierra Club, Sound Rivers, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Wild Virginia, and Winyah Rivers Foundation.

Save the Date – CSI Training

Save the date – CSI training for the general public, Thursday August 30, 2018, at the Nelson Center, 6-9 pm. As members of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, Friends of Nelson and our sister groups are standing up to protect our region’s rights to clean water and the rule of environmental law. State and federal regulators are unwilling or unable to police these proposed unnecessary pipeline projects in earnest, so don’t miss your chance to come learn how to protect our region from harm by volunteering with the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI)! More details soon.

State Water Control Board Meeting on August 21

The Virginia State Water Control Board’s (SWCB) next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 21, beginning at 9:30 am, at the Pocahontas Building, First Floor House Committee Room, 900 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219. The tentative meeting agenda includes the following items at the end of the meeting:

  • VII. Mountain Valley Pipeline/Atlantic Coast Pipeline Reports Nationwide Permit 12 Comment Period Update in Response to April 12 Requests from Board
  • VIII. Other Business Future Meetings (September 20 and December 13)
  • IX. Public Forum
  • ADJOURN

A summary of the more than 13,000 comments filed with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on the adequacy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 for the ACP supposedly is being prepared by DEQ for the SWCB’s review and supposedly is to be made available to the public. At this writing, the DEQ summary is not yet available, although Wild Virginia and Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition posted a summary on August 15, 2018.  We hope SWCB members have been studying that!  DPMC and Wild Virginia also posted the full set of comments on July 20, 2018, and the full set is finally available on the DEQ Web page.

In the Executive Summary of their summary document, Wild Virginia/DPMC state, “However, we were recently old by a DEQ official that new comments will not be accepted at the Board meeting and that any written comments must have been submitted 10 days before that meeting. This approach is clearly not designed to allow full and effective public participation and the Board should not accept it. DEQ’s failure to issue its summary in a reasonable period of time deprives citizens of any chance to reply, if the 10-day limit is enforced. We’ve been told further that citizens will not have the chance to speak at the upcoming Board meeting about these issues. This differs from the normal case, where the public is given an opportunity to review and comment upon the staff’s response to comments. We believe these decisions negate the principle of transparent and open government and that it is an outrageous approach for public servants to follow. We ask the Board to reject DEQ’s rulings and allow for public comments on August 21.”

A section of the Wild Virginia/DPMC document summarizes major substantive issues that have not been addressed by DEQ, including “crossings not identified in tables; waterbodies characterized incorrectly or incompletely; crossing method not specified; combined impacts from multiple crossings; antidegradation; trout and other sensitive species; impacts on Tier III waters; groundwater threats; variances; direct discharges from “uplands” areas; impacts from horizontal directional drilling and spills; impacts on designated and existing uses; temperature impacts; enforcement and compliance issues; and lack of historical information on effectiveness of Nationwide Permit 12.”

We wonder how the State Water Control Board will review all the comments and address all issues in the designated portion of their meeting.

SELC Asks FERC to Reject Request to Proceed

On August 13, 2018, Dominion asked FERC to ignore the stop work order FERC had issued for the ACP on August 10 and allow Dominion to continue construction on some segments of the ACP (see story below). On August 15, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of multiple organizations, submitted a letter asking FERC

  • to reject Dominion’s request to proceed with construction of three separate segments, and
  • to reject Dominion’s request that the Commission’s stop-work order only relates to the vacatur of the National Park Service’s right-of-way permit, and not to the vacatur of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incidental Take Statement

The letter states, “The Commission must not approve construction of portions of the ACP because the three segments proposed by Atlantic would constitute new interstate projects, distinct from the ACP, with different purposes and different potential customers. Atlantic has not submitted a certificate application to the Commission for any of these projects, and the Commission has not reviewed the public convenience and necessity of these segments as required by the Natural Gas Act.”

In a footnote commenting on the August 15 submission by Dominion of a second request to continue construction on additional segments on the basis of “independent utility,” SELC says the arguments in their letter “apply equally to this second, and any subsequent, request to continue construction.”

The letter further states that “the Fourth Circuit has resolved any ambiguity about the effects of its vacatur of ACP’s Incidental Take Statement: Atlantic will violate its certificate of public convenience and necessity if it proceeds with construction without a valid ITS. Again, the Commission must decline Atlantic’s invitation to make a finding that is squarely in conflict with the Court’s opinion on this issue.”

The letter continues with a detailed explanation of why FERC “must reject Atlantic’s request to construct segments of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on the basis of ‘independent utility,'” and why “all construction must stop until Fish and Wildlife Service approvals are in place.”

Read the full letter here.

Dominion Asks to Proceed Piecemeal

Immediately after FERC issued the Atlantic Coast Pipeline stop work order late on Friday August 10, 2018, Dominion issued a statement saying it was already working with agencies to resolve issues in the stop work order, and separate project sections not impacted by the court ruling could become viable gas infrastructure.

In a letter to FERC on Monday August 13, 2018, Mathew Bley, director of gas certificates for Dominion Energy Transmission, explained that independent segments unaffected by the court ruling could serve as gas transportation infrastructure by themselves.

“Natural gas received via (supply header project in West Virginia), at Marts, can be redelivered by the planned ACP pipeline to its Long Run delivery point into Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation LLC, in Randolph County, West Virginia … The Long Run interconnection thus would provide a substantial, viable, competitive supply option for existing Columbia Transmission shippers, even if other portions of ACP were not constructed. Subject to avoidance of any areas affected by the vacatur of the ITS … Atlantic should be allowed to proceed with construction of this useful component of the ACP.

“The ACP infrastructure from its Buckingham, Va., interconnection with Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company LLC (Transco) to points downstream could be used for gas deliveries to markets in both North Carolina and eastern Virginia. These markets are chronically constrained in terms of natural gas supply. Independent of ACP’s proposed construction of pipeline upstream of the Buckingham – including areas affected by the Aug. 6 court order – ACP could receive up to 885,000 Dt/day from Transco for service on the ACP main line and the Virginia lateral.

“Depending on the availability of supply and relative operating pressures on the Transco system, ACP expects that its physical receipts at Buckingham could exceed 885,000 Dt/day. Although this approach would not provide the full benefit of access to the DETI system and the liquid South Point market hub (which customers expect upon completion of the ACP), this portion of the ACP infrastructure … would serve to redeliver gas to Hampton Roads and eastern North Carolina markets, where interstate pipeline capacity is either already fully subscribed, or nonexistent.”

Dominion asked FERC to “promptly allow construction to resume for the independently useful portions of the projects.”

It appears Dominion is tacitly admitting that the entire ACP is not necessary, and gas could be delivered to both existing and future markets by other means.

However, as pointed out by Southern Environmental Law Center in its letter of August 15, 2018 urging FERC to deny Dominion’s request to move forward on certain parts of the ACP, “If these segments do not serve the purpose Atlantic intended them to serve as interdependent parts of the approved ACP, they are separate projects that must go through the approval process set forth in the Natural Gas Act.” (See story above)