The Nelson County Times reported on December 27, 2018, that “The Nelson County Board of Supervisors has agreed to sign an engagement letter to support the city of Staunton in backing the Southern Environmental Law Center’s challenge to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 2017 decision to issue a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to permit the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to proceed. SELC is representing a number of groups in a lawsuit against FERC that challenges its decision to issue the certificate. SELC hopes to stop the construction of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project. In signing the engagement letter Nelson County agrees to help bring relevant matters to the attention of the D.C. Circuit Court where the case will be heard in the near future; it does not become part of the lawsuit. …. Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of putting together a brief, and not spending more than $1,000 on the effort. Reed, Harvey, and Rutherford voted in favor of the resolution. Thomas Bruguiere Jr., chairman of the board, and Larry Saunders, vice chairman of the board, voted against the resolution.”
The Air Pollution Control Board voted 3-1 on December 19, 2018, to postpone their vote on the Union Hill compressor station air permit and extend the public comment period. Although Board members said they want to keep the delay to a minimum, they did not schedule a new vote. A spokesperson for Northam said the governor does not expect the two newly appointed Air Board members to take part in the rescheduled vote.
The Washington Post says, “The board voted 3 to 1 to delay action on the permit so the public can submit written comments on the two competing demographic reports, both of which were updated or newly filed since the matter was first considered early last month.”
The demographic report presented by Dominion and the Department of Environmental Quality says the compressor station area is sparsely populated, has no greater percentage of minorities than other areas in Virginia, and has few historic resources of significance. However, a house-to-house study by anthropology scholar Lakshmi Fjord found 99 households within a 1.1-mile radius of the compressor site, and the 75% of those households who participated in her study had 199 residents, with more than 83% minorities. DEQ cited a population density of about 27 people per square mile, with no more than 39 percent minorities. Fjord says the census data on which DEQ based their report is too broad, using county-wade averages rather than site-specific ones. The Washington Post notes, “When the board considered the issue in November, another DEQ staffer — Patrick Corbett of the air-permit office — cautioned against the census data. ‘It’s a screening mechanism. It’s not — I wouldn’t really rely on it,’ Corbett said in November.
Coverage in the Virginia Mercury includes further details about the differing demographic studies.
Some changes to the permit were accepted by the Board. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, “The board on Wednesday adopted changes to the permit that imposed additional requirements, including the installation of continuous emissions monitoring systems on the proposed station’s four natural-gas fired turbines to monitor nitrogen oxide pollution from their exhausts. Other changes include requirements for additional monitoring of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, and establishment of a new ambient air quality station outside the perimeter of the site. The amendments did not include any reference to the community investment plan that Dominion has proposed for Union Hill to compensate for the project’s effects on Union Hill, established around a former plantation that would be the site of the compressor station. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Chesapeake Bay Foundation had objected to the board’s consideration of the proposed changes without a chance for the public to comment on them, especially in relation to concerns about the site’s suitability and whether it posed a disproportionate impact on Union Hill. The board voted, 3-1, to allow public comment on any new information submitted to the board, including demographic studies about Union Hill the state presented Wednesday that community representatives dispute.”
The Air Board delayed the vote to allow the public to submit written comments on the competing demographic reports and any other information that is either new or updated since the November Air Board hearing.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network announced this extraordinary emergency note from justice and environmental groups that was delivered to David Paylor and Governor Northam’s staff on December 18, 2018, asking DEQ director David Paylor to recommend that the State Air Board reject the draft permit for the Buckingham compressor station.
December 18, 2018
David K. Paylor
Director, Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
Dear Mr. Paylor:
Given that state regulators have just rejected Dominion Energy’s forecast for future energy use in Virginia, Dominion’s justification for the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”) and the related Buckingham County compressor station has fallen apart. As a result, we the undersigned groups call on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) to inform the Air Pollution Control Board of recent regulatory developments and advise the Board to reject approval of the Draft Permit for the compressor station.
For the first time in Virginia’s history, state utility regulators have rejected Dominion Energy’s long-term energy plan. In an Order issued December 7, 2018, the State Corporation Commission (“SCC”) expressed “considerable doubt regarding the accuracy and reasonableness of the Company’s load forecast for use to predict future energy and peak load requirements.” This load forecast has provided the justification for Dominion Energy’s plans to build the highly controversial, $7-billion ACP. Dominion has argued to regulators that the natural gas pipeline is necessary to meet the commonwealth’s growing demand for power. With the SCC’s rejection of Dominion’s “overstated” load forecasts, this justification completely falls apart.
The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board is preparing to take action on a Draft Permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station, Registration Number 21599, on December 19, 2018. The proposed Buckingham Compressor Station is one of three that would provide compression of natural gas along the proposed 600-mile ACP and the only compressor station in Virginia. As part of its review of the Draft Permit, the Air Pollution Control Board shall consider “facts and circumstances relevant to the reasonableness of the activity involved . . . including . . . [t]he social and economic value of the activity involved.” This statutory mandate requires the Air Board to consider the need for the ACP as a whole. If the ACP is unnecessary based on lack of future energy demand, as indicated by the recent SCC Order, then so too is the Buckingham Compressor Station.
Based on the SCC’s Order rejecting Dominion Energy’s overstated load forecasts (which was issued after the close of the public comment period), coupled with our well-documented concerns about the environmental justice, climate, ecological, and public health impacts of the compressor station, the undersigned groups call on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to immediately take the corrective steps outlined above.
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Kate Addleson, Director, State Chapter Virginia Sierra Club
Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager, Appalachian Voices
David Sligh, Conservation Director, Wild Virginia
Joni Grady, Chair of CAAV, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Mindy Zlotnick, Buckingham: We the People
Rev. Siva Moore, Executive Director, Satchidananda-Ashram Yogaville
Lorne Stockman, Senior Research Analyst, Oil Change International
Del McWhorter, State Governing Board Chairperson, Virginia Organizing
Eleanor Amidon, Pipeline Education Group
Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake
April Pierson-Keating, Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance
Helen Kimble, President, Friends of Nelson
Chad Oba, Chair, Friends of Buckingham
cc: Governor Ralph Northam
Michael Dowd, Director of Air Division, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on December 3, 2018, that “Legislation is pending in Congress that would give the National Park Service clear authority to allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline beneath the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway…. Dominion Energy, lead partner in the $7 billion project, confirmed the legislative proposal, which first surfaced in a blog post from an Alabama group that suggested aid for the 600-mile natural gas pipeline is ‘tucked into the omnibus spending bill’ being negotiated by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a federal approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Monongahela National Forest, George Washington National Forest, and Appalachian Trail.
Having been thwarted by the court in efforts to bend the National Forest and the National Parks Services to its will, Dominion is trying circumvent the court ruling by sneaking a last-minute amendment into a pending appropriations bill for the Department of Interior that would permit the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway near Wintergreen and Reed’s Gap.
Although we understand that (at this moment) the amendment has been pulled, we should assume that Dominion is pulling out all the stops to get something from Congress to sidestep the court’s ruling.
Write or call (or better yet, do both!) your Senators and tell them that you are upset about any possible legislative “slight of hand,” that you oppose any last minute amendments to the budget reconciliation bill, especially one that would allow gas pipelines to cross our national forests and the Appalachian Trail, and that you oppose Dominion’s efforts to make an end run around the clear and carefully considered ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court.
Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance reports that in a filing late December 13, 2018, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to revoke the certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in light of the decision earlier in the day by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the U.S. Forest Service’s approval for the pipeline to cross national forest lands and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. In its 65-page letter to FERC, SELC stated:
Crucially, the court held that the Forest Service does not have statutory authority to authorize the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. As a result, under federal law, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (“Atlantic”) cannot obtain authorization from federal agencies to cross the Trail as proposed. Thus, the Commission’s Certificate approves a project that cannot be constructed in compliance with federal law. Further, the proposed Appalachian Trail crossing is a linchpin in the Commission’s alternatives analysis—almost every alternative considered in the Final EIS includes this crossing point. See ACP Final EIS at 3-18 to 3-19. In light of the court’s decision, that analysis is not valid and cannot be used to approve a re-route of the project at this stage. The Commission must therefore revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. Further, the Commission must issue a formal stop-work order, effective immediately, halting all construction activities because the court’s decision means that Atlantic continues to be out of compliance with a mandatory condition of its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
At their regular meeting on December 12, 2018, The State Water Control Board voted 4-3 to initiate the formal hearing process to consider revoking the 401 Certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. See Roanoke Times coverage here.
Please recall that when Northam removed the two members of the Air Control Board who had questioned the air permit for the Union Hill compressor station, he also removed two Water Control Board members who had questioned water permit certification for the pipelines. One of Northam’s new appointments to the Water Board, James Lofton, made the motion to reconsider the MVP certification in response to extensive public comment regarding ongoing MVP damage, and members Nissa Dean, Paula Jasinki (also new), and Robert Wayland joined him in voting to reconsider. Voting against reconsideration were Heather Wood, Lou Ann Wallace and Tim Hayes.
Although the MVP’s nationwide permit was revoked months ago, the Department of Environmental Quality took no action to shut down pipeline construction. Just a week ago, Attorney General Mark Herring filed suit against MVP for their repeated environmental violations – hundreds of violations.
Writing in an op-ed in a Virginia Mercury article published earlier in the day, Roberta Kellum, one of the Water Board members Northam removed, wrote of Herring’s suit that “After reading the complaint, there should be no doubt about the validity of the concerns raised by the public about water quality impacts from fracked gas pipeline construction projects and the associated water quality certifications issued by the State Water Control Board. What the complaint doesn’t tell us, however, is how the DEQ allowed so many violations to occur unabated, for months and months, or how major erosion and sediment control structures failed in spite of pre-approved plans.” She adds, “And why, in the face of so many systemic failures in complying with the water quality certification, didn’t DEQ issue a stop work order to ensure that violations were addressed to prevent any degradation of water quality? Having faced a justifiably irate and frustrated public repeatedly as a State Water Control Board member over the past two years, I hope Gov. Northam will finally appreciate the validity of public concerns for the waters of the commonwealth.”
Yes, indeed, it is certainly time for the State Water Control Board to reconsider their certification of the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline. Our thanks to the Board members who voted to do so.