Category Archives: Air Quality

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

ACP Responds to Buckingham Compressor Station Court Decision

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #276, May 14, 2020

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) has finally submitted a response to the January 7 decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the Buckingham compressor station. ACP, LLC made recently two supplemental information submissions to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), each responding to different issues raised by the Fourth Circuit.

An April 24 submission to DEQ responded to the issue of “why electric turbines are not required to be considered in Virginia’s BACT [Best Available Control Technology] analysis of the Compressor Station.” The company’s April 30 submission addressed the Court’s concern about “conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the Compressor Station.” It is uncertain when the matter will be taken by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, as that body has not yet scheduled a meeting to reconsider the project’s air permit.

Community Protections Before Corporate Bailouts

Congressman Joe Kennedy III urged Congressional leadership to protect environmental justice communities before bailing out oil and gas corporations. An April 11, 2020 press release from his office says, “Following reports that air pollution increases the lethality of COVID-19, Congressman Joe Kennedy III today called on Congressional leadership to provide critical funding for environmental justice communities across the country before bailing out corporate oil and gas interests. As it becomes increasingly clear that health inequities and systemic racism make COVID-19 deadlier for communities of color and other frontline areas, Kennedy raised concerns that the Trump Administration has been more focused on keeping fossil fuels afloat rather than protecting vulnerable patients, workers, families, and communities.”

He asks that an additional COVID-19 emergency response package include “robust funding for environmental justice communities — forced to bear the brunt of this crisis already — and a firm rejection of oil and gas corporate bailouts.”

Kennedy recently introduced the Environmental Justice for All Act (with Congressman Raul Grijalva and Congressman Donald McEachin) and in February introduced the Voices for Environmental Justice Act.

Read the full press release here.

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

DEQ Launches Environmental Justice Study

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #264, February 20, 2020

An effort to develop recommendations for incorporation of environmental justice principles into the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) programs and actions, announced last September by the agency, will soon begin interviewing environmental justice stakeholders, non-government organizations, local government officials and others in coming weeks. The February 19, 2020 announcement of the forthcoming interviews comes in the wake of the recent decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the air permit for the Buckingham County compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for reasons that included the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s failure to properly consider the environmental justice impacts of the project.

Click here for a copy of the DEQ’s announcement.

A Committment to Right the Wrongs of Our Past

Writing in an opinion piece in the New York Times on January 23, 2020, Jeff Gleason, Executive Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, contrasts Dominion’s willingness to relocate a proposed compressor station in Mt. Vernon’s viewshed with its unwillingness to relocate the proposed ACP compressor station in Union Hill: “Mount Vernon tells the history of America, but so does Union Hill. Environmental justice is a commitment to right the wrongs of our past that persist today.”

Gleason’s article, ‘Environmental Justice Is Not Merely a Box to Be Checked’, discusses Union Hill’s Fourth Circuit Court victory after “appeals to Dominion, state regulators and Virginia’s governors went unheeded.”

He says that environmental justice should have required Dominion and state regulators to consider the effects of pollution on Union Hill, and should have required them to give “serious consideration to an electric compressor that would nearly eliminate air pollution from the facility. They did neither. Instead of honoring Union Hill’s past and present, the state’s most powerful forces essentially denied its existence. The courts did not.”

Gleason writes, “While Union Hill may represent the remarkable history of resilience from our country’s unjust beginnings, it also reveals the country’s continuing imbalance of power and the decisions about whose histories we choose to honor.”

Happily, the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision is a step toward righting that imbalance of power.

Read Gleason’s full column here.