Category Archives: Certificates of Approval

Army Corps of Engineers Suspends MVP Permit in Virginia

On October 5, 2018, the US Army Corps of Engineers suspended the permit allowing the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross all streams and wetlands on its route in southwest Virginia. A similar permit for West Virginia water crossings was vacated on October 2 by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. In his letter to MVP, William Walker, chief of the regulatory branch of the corps’ Norfolk division, said, “Effective immediately, you must stop all activities being done in reliance upon the authorization under the NWP,” referring to the Nationwide Permit 12 authorization that was issued to MVP in January 2018.

Because there have been and continue to be massive amounts of muddy runoff and other environmental risks from MVP construction, lawyers for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, which represented the Sierra Club and other conservation groups in the successful legal challenge of the West Virginia permit, sought an immediate suspension of the federal authorization they describe as inadequate to protect Virginia’s clean water.

After winning the case in West Virginia, Appalachian Mountain Advocates sent a letter to FERC asking it to issue a stop work order for the entire MVP project, since the MVP’s October 2017 FERC approval was conditional on it having all required permits from both state and federal agencies. With the Army Corps permits invalidated, Appalachian Mountain Advocates argued that FERC’s stop work order must apply to all construction along the MVP route, not just the pipeline’s water body crossings.

Read the press coverage in the Roanoke Times here.

Report on Sept. 28 Arguments Before 4th Circuit Court

Thanks to Lew Freeman of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance for this report on the arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 28, 2018:

Yesterday, September 28, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond heard arguments on two important cases challenging permits granted to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The first case challenged the December 13 [2017] decision by the Virginia State Water Control Board to grant a water quality certificate for the ACP (pursuant to requirements of Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act). The second case challenged the decisions of the U.S. Forest Service to amend the Forest Plans of the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest and to accordingly issue a Special Use Permit for the ACP to cross the two forests. The plaintiffs in both cases were a group of ABRA member organizations and others that were jointly represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). An article about the briefs filed in each case appeared in the September 21 [2018] ABRA Update (see https://www.abralliance.org/2018/09/21/court-to-hear-challenges-to-acp-forest-service-water-quality-permits/?highlight=court%20to%20hear%20challenges).

I attended Friday’s arguments. The lawyers representing our interests – Ben Luckett of Appalmad in the 401 case; D.J. Gerkin of SELC in the Forest Service case – were most effective. More about the oral arguments will appear in next week’s ABRA Update. For now, though, I want to highlight a particularly significant moment during the arguments presented in the Forest Service case. In the course of the argument presented by the U.S. Justice Department attorney representing the U.S. Forest Service, Chief Judge Roger Gregory, who was presiding over the panel, interrupted the attorney and noted that the U.S. Forest Service had been diligently asking Dominion Energy for more complete information on how the company would and could build the ACP through the steep forest lands in West Virginia and Virginia without causing environmental damage. The judge then observed that the Forest Service seemed to have suddenly changed its mind and proceeded to approve the requested Special Use Permit. Judge Gregory inquired of the attorney what the circumstances were that caused the Forest Service to change course. The attorney responded evasively, prompting the judge to interrupt him again and ask: “When?” The attorney tried to continue with his non-responsive response, and Judge Gregory again interrupted with: “When?” The judge’s “When?” question was asked twice more, but never received a response, prompting Judge Gregory to thunder: “Who’s running the train?” It was a riveting moment and one that also caught the attention of Michael Martz of the Richmond Times Dispatch [Martz’s article appears in both the Daily Progress and the Times Dispatch].

A recording of Friday’s oral arguments will be available on the Court’s website on Monday [October 1, 2018] at https://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/oral-argument/listen-to-oral-arguments.  The case numbers you will need to access the recordings are: 401 case – 18-1077; Forest Service case: 18-1144.


The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued the following statement about the oral arguments challenging the ACP’s water quality certification:

“This year Virginians have seen firsthand the terrible damage that pipeline construction can do to communities and waterways. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cross Virginia waterways nearly 1,000 times from the mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, threatening them with erosion, mudslides, and polluted runoff. All of the evidence shows that the regulations in place cannot provide reasonable assurance that water quality will be protected from pipeline construction and operation. We are pleased that the federal appeals court is looking closely at this question.”

FERC Lifts Stop Work Order on ACP

Early afternoon on September 17, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lifted the stop work order for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline it issued on August 10. The FERC Notice was based on the issuance of new permits by, respectively, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • On September 11, 2018, the FWS issued a revised Biological Opinion (BO), which included a modified Incidental Take Statement for the ACP
  • Additionally, on September 14, 2018, the NPS issued a new right-of-way permit for crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway

 

Earlier versions of these permits had been vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which had prompted FERC to issue its stop work order.
 

In its press coverage, the Virginia Mercury quotes D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville, N.C., who said, “The Park Service right of way is almost the same document,” Gerken said. “It’s very disappointing. … It sure looks like more of the same, which is these agencies making political decisions rather than fact-based ones. All of these federal agencies with responsibility to protect public resources moved too fast on a political timetable. This is entirely consistent with that approach. And that’s what got them in trouble last time.” Gerken added, “There is no question that these pipeline developers deliberately race the courts. So no matter how bad the legal violations are, the project is well under way before the courts have an opportunity to review it. This is baked into their business model. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong as long as it’s fast.”

Motion Submitted to Rescind ACP Certificate and FEIS

On September 4, 2018, Friends of Nelson and Wild Virginia submitted a motion to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to “rescind and place in abeyance the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline issued by the Commission staff on October 13, 2017, to rescind the Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”) issued on July 21, 2017 in the above captioned dockets, to and to initiate a new DEIS/FEIS NEPA process in this matter.”

The motion states, “Pursuant to NEPA Section 102, 42 U.S.C. § 4332, and its implementing rules, specifically 40 C.F.R. § 1502.9, Friends of Nelson and Wild Virginia move that the Commission rescind and place in abeyance the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity in this matter in accordance with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. and National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. and in violation of FERC conditions placed upon the issuance of the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity. This is necessary because 1) the DEIS published on December 30, 2016 is deemed “so inadequate as to preclude meaningful analysis,” id., § 1502.9(a), as demonstrated by the copious amount of new and crucial information that has been submitted to FERC and emerged after the release of the DEIS, 2) the subsequent vacating of the United States Fish and Wildlife takings permit upon which the FEIS is based on August 6, 2018 and 3) the necessary rerouting of the ACP which will require a full NEPA analysis in lieu of the vacating of the right of way permit by the National Park Service on August 6, 2018.

“Therefore the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity issued on October 13, 2017 should be rescinded and placed in abeyance until 1) a new route has been determined, 2) a revised DEIS is issued that fully addresses and provides the public an opportunity to comment on the significant new information that has been submitted to FERC since the release of the original DEIS, 3) a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) has been issued, and 4) the project and its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis is in full compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as required by NEPA.”

The motion is followed by 19 items of supporting facts and law, and concludes, “Friends of Nelson and Wild Virginia respectfully request that the Commission grant their motion and rescind and place in abeyance the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Supply Header Project, CP15-554-000, CP15-555-000 et.al. and also rescind the FEIS upon which the Certificate relies. In this matter, the Commission must take a “hard look” at all new information and review it in the context of the application. This must include all information required by NEPA including full review of new information by USFWS and NEPA compliant ITS for all required species. It must also include information relating to any route changes required by the vacating of the NPS authorization of the right-of-way permit that NPS had issued to ACP. At such time that a new DEIS is completed, the commission shall initiate a new public comment period for the intended completion of a FEIS. Lastly, the Commission should require Dominion to file all additional information that is vital to the NEPA environmental review before proceeding further.”

The full motion is here.

Appendix 1 contains a motion to rescind or revise the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”) issued on December 30, 2016.

Appendix 2 contains “a partial list of important information that was submitted by Dominion in an untimely manner, too late to be considered in the NEPA analysis for the ACP and should be considered in a new DEIS/FEIS process. All of these are available on the FERConline website for Docket #CP15-554-000 et.al.”

Appendix 3 is the August 23, 2018, Richmond Times-Dispatch article, State scientists confirm more sightings of endangered bumblebee along pipeline route.

Appendix 4 is a copy of FERC’s August 10, 2018 denial by Commissioners Neil Chatterjee and Robert F. Powelson of requests for rehearing and Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur’s dissent.

Troubling Questions Raised by Email Exchanges

An email exchange between Rick Webb of Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), regarding DEQ’s handling of mail sent to the State Water Control Board, raises questions about why DEQ is apparently withholding information from State Water Control Board members prior to their meeting on August 21, 2018.

Further, DEQ will not finish its summary of comments submitted to the Board until the date of the meeting itself. But according to an August 17, 2018, Blue Virginia article about an email exchange between David Sligh of Wild Virginia, DEQ has not given to SWCB members the report by Wild Virginia and DPMC summarizing the 13,000+ comments made during the April-June comment period.

Is DEQ trying to limit what information SWCB members see?

Webb’s report documents DEQ’s failure to consider the impact that construction of Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would have and already has had on Virginia’s water quality.  Regarding the email exchange, Webb writes, “The correspondence below concerns what amounts to a wholesale waiver of Virginia’s limits on the length of contiguous open trench during pipeline construction.

“If DEQ accepts Dominion’s waiver request (incorporated in the Erosion and Sediment Control Plans currently under review), open trenches (up to 12 ft deep and 30 ft wide at the top) will be allowed top-to-bottom on all the steep mountains crossed by the ACP in western Virginia. Note that DEQ and Dominion propose to limit the total open-trench length in any given construction spread to 16,000 ft. This is not protective in any meaningful sense because it will still allow open trenches on all mountainsides – from the top of the ridge to the stream below.

“FYI, we have conducted research related to DEQ’s waiver of the open-trench limitation (a minimum standard in the ESC regulations).  We examined DEQ records for 12 such open-trench variance requests made through 2015. We found that DEQ granted all such requests, with the longest being for a 15-mile open trench in southern Virginia. We concluded then. and It is still safe to say, that prior to review of the ACP and MVP, DEQ’s involvement with pipeline projects was limited to granting variances to critical regulatory requirements. There was essentially no review or oversight. This helps somewhat to explain DEQ’s present difficulties.”

On Friday August 10, Rick Webb wrote to DEQ:

RE: Comment concerning Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) Projects
State Water Control Board Request for Technical Information on Specific Wetland and/or Stream Crossings

FR: Rick Webb on behalf of Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC)

This comment concerns the above-cited public notice posted on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall on April 27, 2018, entitled Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) Projects – State Water Control Board Request for Technical Information on Specific Wetland and/or Stream Crossings. Comments were previously submitted by me, Rick Webb, on behalf of the DPMC during the officially designated comment period. This comment concerns significant information that was not available during the officially designated comment period.

Newly obtained information indicates that Dominion Energy has proposed to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and may be granted a general variance to Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Regulation Minimum Standard 16A (VAC 25-840-40.16A, which requires that no more than 500 linear feet of trench may be open at one time.

Deep open trenches extending down from the tops of mountains greatly increase the risk of uncontrolled runoff and sedimentation at stream crossings. The increased risk is due both to concentration of runoff in the trench and due to interference with installation of other erosion control measures (e.g., the proper installation of water interceptor diversions across the disturbed corridor area). The potential impact of waiving open-trench limits was not addressed in the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Concerns were raised about open-trench variances at the December 12, 2017 meeting of the State Water Control Board, where Melanie Davenport, Water Permitting Division Director for DEQ, answered a board member question concerning variance requests and factors considered. In response, Ms. Davenport indicated that open trench lengths would be limited depending on the percent slope. To the extent that this response provided assurance to the board, it was misleading.

Dominion now proposes that a three-tiered set of criteria be applied to determine allowable open-trench lengths, as follows:

  • Where slopes are <10%, the maximum allowable contiguous open-trench length would be 7,000 feet.
  • Where slopes are 10 to <33%, the maximum allowable contiguous open-trench length would be 5,000 feet.
  • Where slopes are >33%, the maximum allowable contiguous open-trench length would be 2,500 feet.

These criteria effectively waive open-trench limits. The ACP will cross many steep-sided mountains with the construction corridor running down to stream crossings. These criteria will allow uninterrupted open trenches on all of these mountains. In the event of significant rainfall and runoff, impacts at stream crossings will be unavoidable. This one among many reasons why the State Water Control Board cannot simply rely on the Section 404 general permit to prevent violation of water quality standards and protect water resource uses.

On behalf of the DPMC, I ask that the board give careful consideration to this significant problem.

Thank you,

Rick Webb

On Friday August 17 he received this response:

Thank you for your recent email to the State Water Control Board (Board).

In addition, if your email contained specific complaint information, the email has been forwarded to compliance staff to ensure they have the information.

Cindy M. Berndt
Director, Regulatory Affairs
Department of Environmental Quality
1111 East Main Street, Suite 1400
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, Virginia 23218
804.698.4378 [Call: 804.698.4378]

Webb replied, also on Friday August 17:

Ms. Berndt,

Thank for your message below acknowledging my recent comments to the State Water Control Board.

I request a copy of any submissions to the Board concerning my comments, including my comments (the email copied below) and any related summaries, advice, or other information provided to the Board by DEQ. Please also let me know which Board members received the material.

My comments addressed significant information that was not available during the officially designated comment period, and these new comments were submitted 10 days prior to the upcoming Board meeting. I seek to confirm and ensure that my comments concerning this information was provided to the Board to inform its deliberations on the sufficiency of the NWP12 for permitting waterbody crossings associated with the ACP and MVP pipeline proposals.

Thank you.

Rick Webb


From Rick Webb on Sunday afternoon August 19, 2018: Update: I did hear back from Cindy M. Berndt, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Department of Environmental Quality. She confirmed that my email concerning the open-trench waiver has been forwarded to each member of the State Water Control Board. Based on this and other well-documented deficiencies associated with regulatory review and oversight of stream crossings, there is no “reasonable assurance” that the ACP and MVP will or can be constructed without harm to Virginia’s water resources. The board should withdraw 401 certification for both projects.

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.