Category Archives: Air Quality

Crucial Legal Decisions Expected in Coming Months

This excellent Status of Principal Court Challenges to Permits and Certifications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was prepared by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance and posted in the ABRA Update #236 for July 12, 2019.

Construction activity on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was suspended several months ago as the result of a stay from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a successful challenge to the endangered species biological opinion that had been issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But, a decision on that important case, as well as decisions regarding some other cases challenging permits for the ACP are expected over the next 3-4 months. Here is a rundown of the status of the key court cases that have been brought by various ABRA member organizations.

1. FERC Certificate – A challenge to the Federal Energy Commission’s (FERC) issuance of a certificate for the ACP on October 13, 2017 was filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 16, 2018. The plaintiffs are 14 conservation groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The suit could not be filed until FERC formally rejected a request for a rehearing of the certificate, which did not occur until August 10. One basis of the suit is the petitioners’ contention that FERC did not look behind the affiliate agreements that Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, (principal partners in the project) claim demonstrate that the pipeline is needed in Virginia and North Carolina markets. The petitioners argue that FERC’s Environmental Justice Impact Statement is fatally flawed. Jurisdiction of the case has been transferred to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are expected to occur in the fall of 2019.

2. Forest Service Permit – On January 23, 2018, the U.S. Forest Service granted the ACP a Special Use Permit to cross national forest lands and a right-of-way to cross beneath the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST). This action followed a November 17, 2017 decision by the Forest Service to amend the Forest Plans for the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests to accommodate the ACP. A suit was filed on February 5, 2018 by seven conservation/environmental organizations (most members of ABRA) represented by SELC, arguing that the Forest Service had rushed to judgment to approve the project, notwithstanding raising serious questions about the project’s ability to be built over steep mountain terrain without serious environmental damage. The case was argued before a three-judge panel on September 28, 2018. On December 13, the Fourth Circuit ruled to vacate the Forest Service permit, expressing agreement with the petitioners about environmental threats being improperly evaluated and the Forest Service’s failure to asses off-forest alternatives, and in addition ruled that the Forest Service lacked the authority to grant the project permission to cross the ANST.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) on January 28 filed with the Fourth Circuit requesting a rehearing en banc, meaning a hearing on the case before all fifteen judges of the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit rejected the ACP, LLC petition for rehearing and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was filed June 25. The Supreme Court is expected to decide in October whether to take the case.

3. Fish and Wildlife Service – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) biological opinion on threats to endangered species by the ACP was vacated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 5, 2018, but an opinion from the Court explaining its order was not issued until August 6. A new biological opinion was issued by the FWS that sought to meet the court’s objections. That re-issued opinion was also been challenged by the petitioners, (Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee) represented by SELC. That challenge was argued before the Fourth Circuit on May 9, 2019. A decision is expected later in the summer. The re-issued biological opinion is currently stayed pending a ruling by the court.

4. National Park Service Permit – The National Park Service’s (NPS) December 2017 approval for the ACP to cross underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway was challenged in the Fourth Circuit by Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, represented by SELC. The Court vacated the permit on August 6, and FERC issued a stop-work order for the entire project on August 10. The stop-work order was lifted September 17, just five weeks later, when the NPS issued a new permit that purported to remedy the deficiencies in the earlier permit. That permit was challenged again by the petitioners in the Fourth Circuit.

Before the case was argued, the Park Service asked the Court to vacate the previously issued permit for the ACP to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway so the agency could “consider whether issuance of a right-of-way permit for the pipeline to cross an adjacent segment of the Parkway is appropriate.” The Fourth Circuit granted that motion on January 23. Thus, at this writing, there is no permit for the ACP to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway.

5. Army Corps of Engineers – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filed a motion on January 18 with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for a remand and vacating of the permit that the Huntington District of the Corps had issued for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross rivers and streams in West Virginia. The Court had previously issued a stay of the Nationwide 12 (NWP12) permit issued for the ACP by the Huntington District, as well as other NWP12 permits issued for the project by Corps districts in Pittsburgh, Norfolk and Wilmington that have jurisdiction over other portions of the ACP project. The motion was unopposed and subsequently granted by the Court. While the action only directly affects the portion of the ACP subject to the Huntington District’s jurisdiction (West Virginia portions of the route), the stays on stream and river crossings for the ACP in the other Corps districts remain in effect.

6. Buckingham County Compressor Station Air Permit – The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted on January 8, 2019 to grant an air permit for the proposed ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, VA. The vote had been delayed several times and was particularly contentious because of concerns over air emissions that would affect the immediate area, as well as the Chesapeake Bay to the east, but also be because it would be built proximate to an historic African American community, raising the issue of environmental justice. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Friends of Buckingham, challenged on February 8 the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s decision to approve Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Buckingham County compressor station. Joining SELC in the lawsuit, filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, was the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. SELC filed its opening brief on May 31. Response briefs are due to be filed by July 24. Oral arguments are expected in the Fall.

7. Virginia State Water Board 401 Certification – The Virginia water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act was granted December 12, 2017 by the State Water Control Board. The action was challenged in a suit filed by SELC on behalf of several conservation group clients and argued before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 28, 2018. The principal contention in the case was that the Board’s approval of the certificate for the ACP was, on several grounds, arbitrary and capricious. On January 14, 2019, the Court rejected the arguments of the petitioners.

Not One New Report, But Two


Not one, but two, recently released reports by physicians discuss and document the health risks, both immediate and long-range, of fracking and fracked gas.

A collaboration of health professionals with the Washington and Oregon chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility have spent many months synthesizing and reviewing research and data, making new findings and conclusions on the threat of fracked gas infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest and how elected officials should respond to the crisis at hand. The report discusses impacts to fishing, safety hazards from facility and pipeline malfunctions, mental health stress on people who may lose their homes and jobs to eminent domain or habitat destruction, and more. Specific case studies include the Jordan Cove LNG project in Oregon and the Tacoma LNG facility and Kalama Methanol refinery in Washington State. Download a PDF of their report, Fracked Gas: A Threat to Healthy Communities. Press coverage is here.

Meanwhile, another review by doctors and scientists of 1,778 articles from peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals, investigative reports by journalists, and reports from government agencies on fracking concludes that the industry poses a threat to air, water, climate, and human health. Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, found that 69 percent of studies on water quality during the same time period found evidence of or potential for fracking-associated water contamination, and 87 percent of studies on air quality found “significant air pollutant emissions” associated with the industry. Their report also examines studies on the natural gas industry’s impact on climate change, and finds that due to methane leaks, natural gas extraction could be contributing to global warming even more than coal. Download their report, Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. Press coverage is here.

Note also the earlier 2017 report from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Too Dirty, Too Dangerous: Why health professionals reject natural gas.

Round-up of Legal Challenges to the ACP

This excellent update on the current legal challenges to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) Update #221

The lawsuit challenging the FERC certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) has finally been scheduled for briefs to be filed by April 5. The suit, which was filed August 16 with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals but was re-assigned to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, was brought on behalf of a group of ABRA member organizations and other plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are represented by Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad). Arguments before the court are not expected to be scheduled until sometime in the Fall. Here’s a brief status report on two other pending cases that challenge ACP permits:

  • Forest Service – The challenge to the U.S. Forest Service’s issuance of a Special Use Permit for the ACP on January 23 was filed February 5, 2018 with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs are a group of ABRA members and others, represented by SELC and Appalmad. The Fourth Circuit vacated the permit in a December 13 decision, thus denying the ACP the right to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST), which the Court said the U.S. Forest Service lacked the legal authority to grant. An appeal of that ruling to the entire Fourth Circuit (an en banc hearing before all fifteen of the Court’s judges) was denied on February 25. Dominion Energy has said it will appeal the decision by late May to the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal has not yet been made. It is worth noting that only about one percent of the cases that are appealed to the Supreme Court are heard. In the meantime, Dominion has been lobbying Congress since the Fourth Circuit’s December decision to have language added to pending legislation that would override the Court’s vacating of the Forest Service permit to cross the ANST. To date, those lobbying efforts have not succeeded. ABRA asks that contacts be made with Members of Congress to urge them to oppose such an action. For the Action Alert, click here.
  • Air Permit for Buckingham Compressor Station – The January 8 decision by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board to grant an air permit for the proposed ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, VA was challenged in a lawsuit filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Friends of Buckingham. A proposed briefing schedule for the case will be filed in early May, with arguments in the case not likely until sometime this Fall.

Breaking Through News – Series on Buckingham Meeting

Around a thousand people gathered at Buckingham Middle School on February 19, 2019, for A Moral Call for Ecological Justice, which included as keynote speakers former Vice President Al Gore, and Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Breaking Through News reporter Elaine Rackley was at the rally and has prepared a series of stories about the environmental justice event.

Rackley’s first story:

Part two in Breaking Through News Reporter Elaine Rackley’s series on the recent Moral Call to Ecological Justice rally in Buckingham County:

An Open Letter to Governor Ralph Northam

Dear Governor,

It is unfortunate you were unable to attend the February 19 meeting in Buckingham County, with keynote speakers Rev. William Barber and Al Gore addressing “The Moral Call for Ecological Justice”. The presentations were comprehensive in outlining the many injustices that would be visited on the Union Hill community if Dominion is allowed to build a huge compressor station there. You could have learned a lot had you been there, and we encourage you to take the time to review the video now available online.

At this point in your governorship, you have conveyed the message that you have no real concern about environmental justice or Union Hill. You first dismissed the report of your Advisory Council on Environmental Justice as a draft, and when council leaders made it clear that the report was, in fact, their final report, you simply ignored it. Late in the review process, after a secret meeting with Dominion’s CEO, you abruptly removed two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board who had raised concerns about the potential compressor station’s impacts on area residents. You have allowed the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality to carry out his duties in a way that indicates he supports building the pipeline rather than doing his job in a neutral way. You have shown no concern that the Air Pollution Control Board’s last hearing on the compressor station was a meaningless show leading to a pre-arranged permit approval. In all, your actions regarding the compressor station at Union Hill are a dereliction of your duty to citizens of the Commonwealth.

If you are to fulfill your promise of leading Virginia forward you will need to do much more than apologize for past mistakes or make vague promises to ‘heal’ Virginia. You will need to take concrete action toward dismantling institutional racism. Your position gives you both the authority and the responsibility to lead on this.

The path you have laid out for yourself will be long and difficult. For the sake of all the citizens of Virginia and the country, we hope you persevere and succeed. We will be watching closely.

Sincerely,

Helen Kimble, President
Friends of Nelson County

SELC Challenges Virginia Air Board Decision

In a press release on February 8, 2019, the Southern Environmental Law Center announced their challenge of the Air Pollution Control Board on behalf of the Union Hill Community. The press release states:

Today the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of its client the Friends of Buckingham, challenged the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s decision to approve Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Buckingham County compressor station.

“The Air Board has refused to address the disproportionate harm that our community will have to bear as a result of the construction of this polluting compressor station,” said John W. Laury of Friends of Buckingham. “The members of our community should not have our health put at risk for a project that wasn’t properly vetted for environmental justice or air quality concerns.”

The Air Board and the Department of Environmental Quality did not meet their obligations under state and federal laws to consider less polluting alternatives and the best available pollution controls for minimizing pollution from the proposed compressor station.

“The backdrop to the board’s decision about the compressor station is the mounting evidence that customers in Virginia do not need the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to meet their energy needs,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “When a project like this pipeline goes forward without a full and transparent evaluation of its public necessity, it unfairly puts communities like Union Hill in harm’s way.”

Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is already stymied because a federal court has vacated or put on hold multiple required permits for failing to comply with applicable law and federal agencies have themselves revoked other permits.