Author Archives: Ellen Bouton

Action Alert: Stop Tree Clearing for Pipelines


Call the Governor Today! We can stop tree clearing for pipelines. Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Our new Governor has the authority and duty to protect our waters and our communities from the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

Governor Northam must uphold the principles he has supported for many months and we ask that you let him know that you will support him in doing the right thing. It is not too late for Virginia to meet its Clean Water Act duties. Learn More Here.

Contact the Governor today and urge him to:

  • See that his administration prohibits any construction, including clearing of trees, for either pipeline unless and until all conditions of water quality certifications are met,
  • Order the DEQ to conduct individual Clean Water Act section 401 reviews for stream and wetland crossings covered by the Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide 12 Permit,
  • Ensure that DEQ provides for public notice and comment on additional plans ACP is required to submit and that there is a clear procedure for the State Water Control Board to review and decide whether the certification will become effective.

Call the Governor:  
804-786- 2211

or
Email him through his Chief of Staff:
clark.mercer@governor.virginia.gov

ABRA Members Sue Virginia Over ACP Approvals


From the ABRA Newsletter, January 18, 2018:

A coalition of environmental and conservation organizations, including 12 members of ABRA, filed a legal challenge to the Virginia State Water Control Board’s December 12 approval of a water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The suit, filed with the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals late on January 18 by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of the client group, charges that the Board’s decision failed to consider the impacts of the project on water quality in Virginia sufficiently to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

The plaintiffs include the following ABRA members: Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Friends of Buckingham, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Jackson River Preservation Association, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Wild Virginia. In separate legal actions, also taken on January 18, SELC on behalf of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Virginia Wilderness Committee filed a legal challenge to a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a legal challenge on behalf of the Sierra Club and The Virginia Wilderness Committee to a decision by the National Park Service. The agencies both issued permits for the pipeline. These decisions further highlight agency failures to adequately review crucial information in a process that is being driven by developers rather than regulators.

A copy of the lawsuit challenging the SWCB decision will be posted on the ABRA website on January 19, 2018.

Virginia DEQ Shuts Down Public Input, Curbs Water Board in 401 Process

From the ABRA Newsletter, January 18, 2018:

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has proclaimed that there is to be no further input from the public in the final stages of water quality certification (under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and has also purported to limit the further role of the State Water Control Board in the process.

This astounding action came to light in a posting on the agency’s website, apparently made on Friday, January 12 (the final day of the McAuliffe Administration). The pronouncement contradicts the expressed understanding of members of the SWCB regarding the Board’s continuing role in the process, as well as of the need for further public input, based on a transcript of comments made by Board members at the December 12 SWCB meeting.

The DEQ posting states, in the following excerpts (portions bolded for emphasis):

The certification approved by the Board and reviewed by our attorneys is in place and becomes effective upon the issuance of the Department’s report to the Board and the public. By law the Erosion, Sediment and Stormwater approvals upon which the effective date is conditioned are approved by certified staff and those approvals are not under the State Water Control Board’s purview.

No additional information is being accepted from the public. DEQ has not imposed any specific deadlines on ACP for the submittal of information other than those included in the certification. The deadline for submitting information necessary for the certification to become effective is at the discretion of ACP. Therefore, an estimate for the delivery and publication of the written report to the board has not been made.

Upon submittal of the report documenting approval of the Supplemental Karst Evaluation Plan annual standards and specifications, erosion and sediment control plans, and stormwater management plans, Virginia’s Section 401 water quality certification for activities in upland areas becomes effective. No further action by the board is required for the certification to become effective. As provided in the certification, the board may, after review of the report, consider further actions on the certification. The matter is before the board at its discretion without additional public comment on whether further action is warranted. When or if the certification will be an agenda item at a future board meeting is unknown at this time.

Cold Weather Excuses and Financial Realities


Cold snap brings hot PR,” says Doug Wellman’s letter to the January 18, 2018 Nelson County Times. “Recent cold snap fuels argument in favor of Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” says the news story in the same issue.

Aaron Ruby, Dominion’s ever-present ACP cheerleader, wants to convince us that our recent cold weather is a justification for the ACP, telling us the cold “demonstrated in dramatic fashion the real and urgent need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Ruby says that because they used more electricity and gas to run heating systems, customers will see higher utility bills. Yes, we may see higher utility bills for January, but that doesn’t justify the immense long-term cost of the ACP ($2.3 billion more than existing sources, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center) which will be passed to Dominion customers – on every month’s utility bill for years to come.

Ruby cites “severely limited capacity” of existing pipelines serving Virginia and North Carolina as the cause for a spike in gas costs passed on to customers. Yet in the same article, Chris Stockton, spokesperson for Williams Partners, which operates the Transco System that Dominion relies on, said the pipelines “performed remarkably” during the cold weather. “We were able to meet all of our firm capacity contracts. The system delivered a record amount of gas,” said Stockton, noting that the system delivered about 10 percent of the natural gas consumed in the country on that day, Jan. 5. “It’s an incredible accomplishment. It’s a testament to the system that we have.”

In his letter to the editor, Wellman reminds us that, “Ruby fails to mention that, if the ACP is built, its captive ratepayers will be paying for it for decades. So the question for consumers is whether to pay now — $5 billion to $6 billion direct cost of construction plus Dominion’s 14 percent return on equity — or to pay later if and when there are short-term spikes in gas prices.

“There are good reasons to opt for the ‘pay later’ approach. If producing electricity is the main reason for the ACP proposal, as Dominion officials claimed when they announced their plan, there is ample pipeline capacity now and more is coming. Independent analyses have shown that existing pipelines have sufficient capacity until 2030. Later this year, modifications of the huge Transco pipeline serving the East Coast are scheduled to be completed, thereby greatly expanding available supplies well before the ACP would become operational.

“More broadly, Dominion’s relentless push to build the ACP runs against the global tide — a shift in energy production from fossil fuels to renewables. This shift is necessitated by the threat of devastating climate change and facilitated by the falling cost of solar and wind energy, both of which have reached or are approaching parity with natural gas. Rather than being a bridge to the future, gas is becoming an anchor in the past.

“If the ACP were truly in the public interest, Dominion would be stating its case directly and openly, rather than relying heavily on politics and PR. Building the pipeline truly is not for ‘public use and necessity,’ but just another instance of public pain for private gain.”

Nelson BZA to Hold Hearings on ACP Flood Plain Crossings


The Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals will hold public hearings on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s request to obtain variances for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson County totaling 4.5 miles of floodplain, 3.5 for pipeline and one mile for access roads. Variances are required because, under Nelson’s floodplain ordinance, pipelines qualify as critical facilities whose construction is not normally allowed in floodplain. State law mandates decisions on variance requests within 90 days of the January 16, 2018, application date.

The BZA has retained David Shreve, former Campbell county attorney who has a private practice in Altavista, as legal counsel for the review, and has requested technical assistance from Draper Aden Associates, an engineering, environmental services and surveying firm with offices across the commonwealth and in parts of North Carolina.

The BZA’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be February 5, during which they will meet in closed session with Shreve and Draper Aden to go over application details. The public hearings on the variance applications will be February 12, 2018, 7 p.m.

During their January 16 meeting, the BZA adopted procedures for the public hearing: speakers must sign up to speak during the hearings and will be limited to three minutes unless they are representing a group, in which case they have five minutes to speak. At Shreve’s suggestion, the BZA will take up and make decisions on the 11 floodplain crossing applications individually, thus providing a “clean record” for each application.

The February 12 meeting is currently planned for the General District Courtroom in the Nelson County Courthouse, but because of anticipated large turnout may be moved to a different site. Announcement of meeting site will be included in public notices posted in the Nelson County Times and on the county website. Additionally, the BZA left open the possibility of extending the public hearings a day if there is not adequate time to hear all public comments.

A listing of the requested variances is posted on the BZA portion of the Nelson County Website.

DPMC Seeks Urgent Action From Governor Northam on Pipelines

On January 17, 2018, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition sent a letter to Gov. Northam asking that he take swift and decisive action to restore integrity and transparency to Virginia’s regulatory reviews of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

DPMC is calling on the Governor to require his administration to take three specific actions, to meet the law and satisfy his stated intentions:

  1. His environmental officials must use their authority to review and approve or disapprove waterbody crossings covered by the Corps of Engineers’ general permit.
  2. His environmental officials must prohibit any and all activities related to construction of the pipelines that might affect water quality unless and until all requirements of the WQCs are met.
  3. His environmental officials must ensure that before the ACP certification is deemed effective:
  • a) remaining plans submitted by the company are made available to the public for review and comment and that DEQ considers and addresses those comments,b
  • b) DEQ makes a final recommendation to the SWCB, based on its review of the final plans and of public submissions, and
  • c) DEQ requests formal Board action on its recommendation.

The Northam administration now has the authority and duty to uphold the principles Mr. Northam previously outlined as the guide for determining whether the pipeline proposals were properly and fairly handled by the State of Virginia:

  • that the outcome of those deliberations must be based on scientific evidence
  • that proceedings must be conducted in a transparent manner, and
  • that approvals must be denied unless actions can be fully protective of Virginia’s environment and its citizens.

Unfortunately, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has betrayed the principles the Governor has espoused. DEQ has also disregarded intentions and expectations the State Water Control Board (SWCB) expressed when it considered these proposals in December of 2017. (see DEQ Statement on Process)

We call on all Virginians to let the Governor know you support the principles he’s outlined for these processes and want his to make sure they are followed by DEQ. You can do so by emailing him c/o his Chief of Staff at clark.mercer@governor.virginia.gov or calling 804-786-2211.