Category Archives: DEQ

Pipeline Crunch Time: Call Gov. McAuliffe

It’s crunch time. Call VA Governor Terry McAuliffe and urge him to reject the fracked-gas Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines for our air, water, and climate future.

After weeks pressure from farmers and environmentalists, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared that Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline could not enter his state without lots more study. Specifically, Cooper ordered “site-specific” reviews for each spot where the 600-mile pipeline crosses a fragile creek, river or wetland in North Carolina. This is the exact same review that farmers and landowners have been asking for in Virginia — but Terry McAuliffe refuses. And now West Virginia – where both pipelines would begin in the fracking fields there – has hit the pause button too on approval.

North Carolina and West Virginia agencies are working to protect its citizens from these massive pipelines. Virginians deserve the same protection. Please phone Governor McAuliffe today and tell him to STOP the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.

Call 804-786-2211.

A suggested script from Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) (which you can paraphrase in your own words: “Hello, my name is ____ and I live in _____[city/town]. I am calling to request that Governor McAuliffe exercise his authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act to reject the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. Due to significant health and environmental threats related to these pipelines, West Virginia and North Carolina officials announced significant delays in their permit process. There is no reason why Virginia should be behind North Carolina and West Virginia when it comes to protecting our climate, waterways, and communities. I ask that Governor McAuliffe exercise his full authority and direct the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct site-specific permitting for each waterway crossed by the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, and ultimately deny these permits. Thank you.”

CCAN wants to track the number of calls made to Gov. McAuliffe, and any responses you receive. Go to their Web page to record your call.

DPMC to Governor McAuliffe: Are Virginians Equal to Our Fellow Citizens?

An announcement from Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) about their September 21, 2017, letter to Governor McAuliffe asking him to treat Virginians fairly and put our interests on the same plane with those of the people of New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia:

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has sent a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe restating questions we asked him in a previous letter dated July 25, 2017. The lack of a response from the Governor forces citizens to guess at his attitudes, based on the actions of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on the two huge natural gas pipelines proposed to cross the state. Unfortunately, DEQ’s continued mishandling of regulatory reviews for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) proposals provides a disheartening hint to the Governor’s position. The questions DPMC continues to ask:

Do Virginian’s deserve less protection than our fellow citizens? Will you accept DEQ’s proposals to forego its responsibilities where others have fully exercised their authorities to protect their citizens and environments?

These questions become more relevant by the day. Since that July 25 letter was sent, a federal appeals court has upheld New York’s action to strictly regulate a natural gas pipeline and deny certification under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Our neighboring states have judged the information and analyses supposed to justify CWA section 401 water quality certification (WQC) of each major pipeline to be inadequate. These judicial and state actions further illustrate that Virginia has all necessary authority to reject pipeline projects unless it is proven that water protection standards will be met and that the evidence now before the State fails to meet that requirement for either ACP or MVP.

In DPMC’s letter, David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory Systems Investigator, noted that the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New York State’s denial of a WQC for the Constitution Pipeline, rejecting pipeline company claims that New York had exceeded its authority. In stark contrast to New York’s defense of its citizens and environment, now justified in court, “[r]ecords show that [Virginia] environmental officials have so far refused to even seriously consider recommending denial of WQCs in these cases, apparently willing to cede the powers reserved to states in the CWA,” as noted in the letter.

Other recent decisions, by West Virginia and North Carolina officials, have revealed serious gaps in the information and analyses presented, respectively, for MVP and ACP. Faced with a lawsuit by citizens over its issuance of a WQC for MVP, the West Virginia DEP was compelled to admit it did not have sufficient evidence to uphold its decision and remanded that decision for further analysis. The North Carolina DEQ recently determined it needed a significant amount of new information to properly assess waterbody impacts from ACP.

The flaws in Virginia’s evidence to support draft WQCs for the two damaging pipelines are even more serious than those identified by North Carolina and Virginia must follow the wise path North Carolina has chosen – not continue to continue in flawed processes, such as that West Virginia was forced to abandon for MVP. Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, stated: “Governor McAuliffe must recognize that Virginia’s reviews of these pipelines are fatally flawed. We can only hope he’ll insist DEQ abandon its rush to judgement and restore integrity to these processes; that he not burden Virginia taxpayers with the expense of defending the indefensible in court.”

DPMC Letter to Governor McAuliffe, 9/21/17
DPMC Letter to DEQ Director, David Paylor, 8/28/17
DCR Letter to FERC, 8/21/17

Virginia DEQ Presses Ahead

The Richmond Times-Dispatch for September 19, 2017, published a story, “Virginia’s environmental agency to press ahead on pipeline permits as other states hit the brakes.

West Virginia rescinded their permit to allow further review. North Carolina delayed their decision to allow further review. “Yet in Virginia, the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of the water-quality risks posed by the two pending natural gas pipelines, says it has no plans to slow down the process for either project. The pipelines face major resistance from environmental groups and some landowners and state lawmakers of both parties have asked the DEQ to slow the process.”

The article quotes Greg Buppert, lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who says, “‘Virginia is an outlier. Those two states have said this project has serious potential implications for water quality in our state and we’re going to take our process seriously. … Virginia appears stuck on Dominion’s time frame. And unless the agency backs off its timetable and gets more information from Dominion, gets more information from the public, they’re racing ahead with a defective permit.'”

Read the full article here.

Shifting Legal Terrain

A lengthy article in Blue Virginia, picked up by the Huffington Post for national distribution, discusses the way the legal terrain has shifted following the September 7, 2017, decision by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to revoke its previous approval of the proposed 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the decision on September 15, 2017 by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to delay its decision on the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Both the WVDEP and NCDEQ have requested additional information and say they need additional time to consider the requested approvals of Water Quality Certifications required by Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. The article is an excellent review of the issues as they stand at this moment. Words like “stunning” and “bombshell” are used to describe the effect of the WV and NC decisions.

The article notes that “if Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Department of Environmental Quality continues its present course, he and his department likely will suffer the same embarrassment as West Virginia. Here’s why: Virginia DEQ’s Draft Water Quality Certifications for both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline suffer from precisely the same defects as the certification that West Virginia has now conceded could not hold up in court – only worse.”

The full article appears in Blue Virginia, the Huffington Post, And on the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition Web page.   DPMC states, “Although Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states the authority to block federally approved projects that threaten water resources, implementation of Section 401 for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines has been marked by state agency denial, evasion, reversal, and outright misrepresentation.” They reprint the article on their Web page with permission of the author, saying the widely cited article “brings clarity to a confusing but critical topic.”

WV Vacates MVP 401 Certification to Reevaluate

On September 7, 2017, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told the Mountain Valley Pipeline developers and other state and federal agencies that it “hereby vacates and remands” its water quality certification for the controversial natural gas pipeline. Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management, said in the letter that the move would allow DEP “to reevaluate the complete application to determine whether the state’s certification is in compliance” with the federal Clean Water Act.

Citizen groups had challenged the DEP’s previous approval, saying the agency had not fully reviewed the MVP’s potential to degrade streams, but DEP Secretary Caperton refused their request for a hearing. The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other groups then filed a court challenge against Caperton and the DEP. The state agency was due to file a response by September 14, 2017, to the brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the citizen groups by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates. After the previous certification was vacated, a DEP spokesperson said that during the agency’s review of the legal challenge at the 4th Circuit, DEP officials determined that “the information used to issue” the water quality certification “needs to be further evaluated and possibly enhanced.”

We hope Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality will learn from West Virginia’s experience that a rubber stamp approval of 401 water quality certification would mean they aren’t doing their job properly – and might, like West Virginia, have to go back and do it over.

For news coverage of this story, see the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the Roanoke Times, WDTV5, and WVVA.

Virginia’s Own DCR Refutes DEQ’s ACP Conclusion

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has written to the Department of Environmental Quality with new information refuting DEQ conclusions. On August 30, 2017, DPMC issued the following announcement, saying DEQ’s “reasonable assurance” is in question.

The DPMC announcement:

The DPMC has written to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director, David Paylor, insisting that recent information provided by the Department of Conservation and Recreation be entered into the official record for the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The DCR letter, submitted to FERC on August 21st, directly refutes DEQ’s conclusion that there is a “reasonable assurance” that water quality standards will be met if the proposed ACP complies with the conditions in the draft 401 Water Quality Certification.

When DEQ Director, David Paylor, was asked at a recent public meeting to define “reasonable assurance” he deferred to the expertise of the “technical people.”

And now, state agency technical experts have concluded that water resources and other natural resources are indeed threatened by construction of the ACP.

With respect to the proposed ACP route in Highland and Bath Counties, the DCR:

  • Recommended a major rerouting of the pipeline (totaling 12 or 18 miles) to avoid significant karst development in the Valley Center, Little Valley, and Burnsville Cove areas.
  • Emphasized that the current route options in the Valley Center area are “likely to have significant karst associated issues, including subsidence in the pipeline trench and contamination of nearby springs.”
  • Found that land disturbance associated with the ACP corridor in the Little Valley area “could impact the major springs at Bolar.”
  • Identified rare species of high biodiversity concern that would be threatened by the pipeline access road across national forest in the Wilson Mountain/Duncan Knob area.
  • Designated a new Little Valley Slope Conservation Site where the pipeline would cross the western side of Jack Mountain.

The DCR also addressed other issues and other areas.

The DCR submission to FERC was made just one day before the August 22nd deadline for public comment on DEQ’s Draft 401 Water Quality Certification. This is another example where the DEQ has rushed ahead in the absence of critical information concerning water resource impacts and effectively precluded informed review by its own staff and the public.

Also note that hydrologic analysis submitted on behalf of the DPMC to the DEQ concerning the draft 401 Water Quality Certification indicated that peak runoff would increase in both the Valley Center and Little Valley areas due to changes associated with ACP construction. Increased runoff increases the threat to karst groundwater systems. Dominion, however, argues that no runoff changes will occur and therefore no Stormwater Management Plans are necessary. Dominion suggests that the DEQ accepts this ridiculous argument. It remains to be seen if that is the case.

For more information, see:

DPMC’s 082817 letter to David Paylor
DCR’s 082117 letter to FERC