Category Archives: DEQ

Webinar on Environmental Justice Scheduled for June 17

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #279, June 4, 2020

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is sponsoring a webinar on environmental justice on Wednesday, June 17, from 6-8 pm. The event is being conducted by Skeo Solutions, with which DEQ has contracted to assist it in seeking public input on how the agency can advance environmental justice concepts through its programs. For registration information on participating in the webinar, click here.

DEQ: Still Resisting Water Protections, Public Participation


In a Virginia Mercury guest column on May 11, 2020, Wild Virginia’s David Sligh discusses the ongoing refusal by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to recognize violations of water quality “in thousands of photographs, scientific study results, and other evidence given to DEQ” that “agency officials can’t or, more plausibly, won’t see.”

He says, “In state reviews for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, many of us warned that dirt washing off the land and released during digging and blasting through streams would produce harmful sediment pollution. MVP’s degradation of our waters has proven us right. DEQ failed to use available tools or develop necessary ones to prevent that damage in this case and these failures have allowed pollution problems in many other cases as well, though usually with much less public exposure.”

DEQ’s response? They repeatedly say they don’t know how to assess whether a violation is present, it is too difficult to adopt numeric criteria for pollutants, tasks are too difficult to do in a timely fashion, and resources are lacking.

In March 2020, DEQ announced a new stakeholder advisory group to discuss numeric criteria for turbidity in streams. Sounds good, right? Not as good as it sounds.

“First, DEQ has decided to exclude willing and able members of the public from meaningful roles and has stacked the SAG with representatives of regulated industries and others with financial interests and histories of opposing stringent regulations.”

“Second, DEQ started this process after decades of failing to provide this most basic protection and, only then, under orders from the State Water Control Board. This lack of initiative by DEQ leaders leaves Virginia trailing behind a majority of states and our waters unprotected against severe damages that should have been stopped years ago.”

For the new stakeholder advisory group, DEQ “hand-picked organizations and individuals it wanted in the room” and “because this committee is not part of an official regulatory process, state laws about public involvement do not apply.”

VA, WV Announce Environmental Enforcement Policies During Pandemic

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #270, April 2, 2020

The recently announced U.S. EPA policy on enforcement discretion during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue clarifying guidance. The DEQ statement, issued March 31, says:

All regulated entities are expected to make every effort to comply with environmental compliance obligations, adhere to permit limits, and maintain the safe and environmentally protective operation of their facilities. We recognize this is an unprecedented public health crisis. DEQ must balance environmental protection with protecting the public’s health. As we all continue to navigate through this crisis, DEQ staff will consider non-compliance issues resulting from COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis, but by no means does this crisis equal a free pass for the regulated community.

However, should growing health concerns and public safety recommendations resulting from COVID19 and Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 51 declaring a state of emergency in Virginia affect normal operations, DEQ will review non-compliance issues on a case-by-case basis and exercise enforcement discretion as appropriate.

The WV DEP issued a statement on March 27 saying:

It is important to note that the WVDEP expects facilities to continue to be operated in a manner that fully protects human health and the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, continued operation and monitoring pollution control devices, record-keeping, maintenance, testing, and reporting requirements. If compliance is not reasonably practicable due to issues related to COVID-19 pandemic, facilities with environmental compliance obligations should contact the WVDEP and follow the requirements outlined in the EPA memorandum listed here: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-policy-guidance-publications.

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

Send Comments to DEQ

The Commonwealth of Virginia is proposing to enter into a judicial consent decree with Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to settle certain alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s environmental laws and regulations related to construction activities in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pittsylvania and Roanoke Counties, Virginia (Case No. CL18006874-00 in Henrico County Circuit Court).  The consent decree will require the payment of $2.15 million penalty, put MVP under stricter court-ordered compliance, and enhance Virginia’s ability to detect any future violation, allowing for faster, more effective accountability and environmental restoration and protection.

Written comments on the proposed consent decree will be accepted from October 28, 2019, through November 27, 2019, and should be submitted to mountainvalleypipeline@deq.virginia.gov or by postal mail to Room 2253-A, Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, Virginia 23218, or hand-delivery by close of business to Department of Environmental Quality, 1111 East Main Street, Suite 1400, Richmond, Virginia 23219.

Reviewing the SWCB’s Actions (or Lack Thereof)

Writing in the Virginia Mercury on March 5, 2019, Robert Zullo flatly states, “Citizen oversight of Virginia’s environmental regulations increasingly looks like a farce.” After an hours-long closed session on March 1, 2019, the Virginia State Water Control Board emerged with a unanimous decision to rescind its earlier call for a hearing on rescinding the Mountain Valley Pipeline certification. When called on to explain the decision, Board members fumbled through a few flimsy explanations and excuses before adjourning the meeting and fleeing the room behind a wall of state troopers. According to Zullo, “One audience member loudly pointed out that the cops would be more useful lined up at the base of mountains in southwest Virginia to stop the mud running off the pipeline job sites.”

Despite numerous well-documented Virginia violations and the prior poor compliance history of the construction contractor, continues unabated, MVP construction continues unabated, fouling private property and waterways with uncontrolled sediment.

Zullo says of the SWCB, “Their logic, evidently the best they could come up with despite so much time to get their story straight, went something like this:

  • We do not have the authority revoke the certification (which is odd, because the certification itself says “This certification is subject to revocation for failure to comply with the above conditions after a proper hearing.”)
  • If we did revoke the certification that we don’t have the authority to revoke, we would lose all the conditions that we placed in that certification (which are obviously doing a bang-up job of preventing environmental damage).
  • If we revoke the certification we don’t have the authority to revoke, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will disregard the action and allow construction to continue anyway.”

Zullo’s article concludes, “Between the water board debacle and Gov. Ralph Northam’s interference with the air board, removing two members seemingly to ensure that the board didn’t reject a crucial permit for a compressor station that is part of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citizen oversight of Virginia’s environmental agency and the regulations it enforces is looking increasingly like a sad farce. To perform their proper role, they need to be determined, independently well-versed on the issues and, perhaps most importantly, unafraid of upsetting the apple cart in a state where going along to get along when big business is involved is par for the course. Lately, they don’t seem up to the job.”

Read the full article here.

An editorial in the March 7, 2019, Roanoke Times says Something’s not right with water board, and, quoting Sokolow, asks:

  • “‘If Virginia had no authority to revoke its Section 401 permit once it issued it in December 2017, why did Mark Herring’s office approve of language in that permit expressly saying that Virginia could revoke the permit?’
  • “‘If it is so obvious that federal law prevents Virginia from revoking the MVP permit, why did it take Mark Herring 14 months to discover that the advice he gave in 2017 was not valid?’
  • And, finally: ‘Why have the board and Mark Herring not lifted a finger to do what they clearly do have the power to do, and issue a stop work order — or seek a court injunction to do so? If Virginia’s stop work statute does not apply to a situation where a pipeline company is under criminal investigation, has been sued by the state for more than 300 documented violations, and there is a record of ongoing violations, then when would it ever apply?'”

The editorial concludes, “Those seem good questions — which deserve good answers. Or even any answer.”