Category Archives: DEQ

The Water Board Did What?!

Back in December, new member of the Virginia State Water Control Board, James Lofton, made a motion to explore revoking the SWCB permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Lofton was appointed to the Board by Governor Ralph Northam following his removal of Roberta Kellam, after she raised serious questions about the damage being wrought by MVP to the water and land resources of southwest Virginia. Lofton’s motion passed the seven-member Board on a 4-3 vote. Eleven weeks later – weeks during which MVP construction continued, with continued damage due to inadequate erosion and sedimentation control – the SWCB finally had a meeting to discuss the possible process for revoking the permit.

Before the March 1, 2019, meeting, MVP sent a letter to the Department of Environmental Quality in which, according to Blue Virginia, “MVP not only objected to the Board commencing a revocation process, but argued that the Board had no authority to do so (“Unilateral action by the board at this time cannot amend or invalidate that license or otherwise block construction”), and that MVP would sue the Board if it went any farther. In a stunning demonstration of corporate arrogance, MVP told the Board that if Virginia actually revoked the state permit, MVP would simply ignore the action and continue construction anyway as long as it had a federal permit.”

Attorneys representing 10 local, state, and regional organizations (including the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation) sent a letter on February 28 to the members of the Virginia State Water Control Board, urging the Board to start promptly a process to revoke the water quality certification issued for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). At the same time, the attorneys strongly urged the Board to use enforcement tools available to it to stop work on the pipeline while the revocation process goes forward. Responding to claims in the MVP letter, the attorneys stated, “The State Water Control Board (Board) has the authority to revoke the water quality certification for upland activities that it issued to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP). The violations MVP has committed and the damage it has done easily meet and exceed the thresholds defined in Virginia law upon which revocation may be based.” The letter also asked that “the Board to take all possible steps to stop work on this project immediately.” The permit itself expressly says that “[t]his Certification is subject to revocation for failure to comply with the above conditions after a proper hearing.”

At the March 1 meeting, a junior attorney from Herring’s office told the Board that MVP was right and that the Board had no authority to revoke MVP’s permit. The junior attorney gave this “advice” despite the fact that Herring’s office had probably written (and had certainly approved) the permit, with language stating that the SWCB does have the authority to revoke it.

The SWCB went into a four-hour closed session shortly after convening their meeting. Virginia Mercury reported that when the public meeting finally resumed, Lofton said “he had deep concerns about the pipeline project’s erosion and sediment control measures but was also worried the state couldn’t revoke the permit. ‘Based on advice of counsel and statute, I do not think the board has the authority to revoke this certification.'” He continued, “The board is very sympathetic to landowners and those opposed to the pipeline, but I’m deeply concerned we would lose the 16 conditions that are in the 401 certification if we attempt to revoke the certification. I simply cannot find the board has the authority to revoke this permit.”

Chairwoman Heather Wood tried to further explain, saying revocation of the permit by the board would “handcuff” the state’s ability to impose additional requirements on the project – and then adjourned the meeting.

In a DEQ statement released after the meeting, Wood said leaving the certification “puts additional protections in place that would not be as strong under sole federal oversight.” Removing it would have “jeopardized the commonwealth’s oversight” of the pipeline project, she added. “This was a unique situation that required time to ensure the proper legal process was and continues to be followed,” Wood said. “The board extensively reviewed all available options to continue enforcement and monitoring of this project to ensure compliance with the conditions of the 401 certification and protection of water quality.”

What happened? MVP told DEQ that they would continue with construction regardless of whether their permit was or was not revoked, and the SWCB decided that they would leave the permit in place. It remains to be seen whether SWCB and DEQ will enforce any of the permit conditions, or whether the suit brought in early December against MVP by Attorney General Mark Herring will have any effect on a corporation that says it will continue to do whatever it wants.

Virginia Water Board Urged to Revoke MVP Water Certification

From ABRA Update 219 on February 28, 2019:

Attorneys representing 10 local, state and regional organizations sent a letter on February 28 to the members of the Virginia State Water Control Board, urging the Board to start promptly a process to revoke the water quality certification issued for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). At the same time, the attorneys strongly urge the Board to use enforcement tools available to it to stop work on the pipeline while the revocation process goes forward. The Water Control Board is to meet March 1 at 10 am to discuss how to proceed with considering a possible revocation of the MVP certification, a decision the Board made over two months ago. A live streaming of the Water Board meeting will be available at http://www.facebook.com/vasierraclub.

The attorneys’ letter was written in response to a letter MVP sent to Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor on February 12, and subsequently given to Water Board members, claiming that a “cooperative effort [between MVP and DEQ] on the Project has achieved a high level of environmental protection and overall is in very good order.” The attorneys’ letter takes issue with that view:

The State Water Control Board (Board) has the authority to revoke the water quality certification for upland activities that it issued to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP). The violations MVP has committed and the damage it has done easily meet and exceed the thresholds defined in Virginia law upon which revocation may be based.

We strongly urge the Board to order the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to schedule and issue notice for a formal hearing by a specific date not to exceed ten days from the date of your decision. The delay that has followed the Board’s order to DEQ to take those steps, issued on December 13, 2018, has already allowed harm to the environment and people to continue unabated for eleven weeks. In addition to proceeding to a revocation hearing for the water quality certification, we ask the Board to take all possible steps to stop work on this project immediately.

Organizations represented by the signers of the letters include six ABRA members: Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club and Wild Virginia, plus Preserve Floyd, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Preserve Bent Mountain, Preserve Craig and POWHR Coalition (Protect Our Water, Heritage Rights).

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

Where’s the Promised Hearing?

Writing in the Virginia Mercury on February 13, 2019, members of the POWHR Coalition ask, “Where’s the pipeline hearing you promised?”

The State Water Control Board passed a motion on December 13, 2018, requiring a hearing on whether the water quality certificate for the Mountain Valley Pipeline should be revoked. But eight weeks later, no hearing date has been announced and the MVP continues to inflict damage.

“MVP’s ongoing pattern of violations disproves the assertion that formed the basis for certification, that compliance with water quality standards was reasonably assured. Every day that passes without a stop work order from the commonwealth undermines the board’s intention to reconsider the question of reasonable assurance. The Department of Environmental Quality’s refusal to issue stop-work orders where harm continues and imminent threats to water quality now exist betrays the state’s duty to use its full authority to protect our resources.”

The authors call on the Board to:

  • meet as soon as possible
  • vote that DEQ and the attorney general act immediately to stop work and prevent even further damage
  • provide an opportunity for meaningful citizen input. “In this case, participation by citizens is especially necessary to ensure that the interests of the public and the environment are represented. Recent disclosures by a former board member show that DEQ Director David Paylor is hostile to citizens.”

“It is important to stress that the authority for the notice and hearing process lies with the board; DEQ is merely tasked with carrying out the board’s order.”

Read the full article here.

On February 14, 2019, a meeting was announced for March 1, 2019, to discuss details on when the actual hearing will take place, and the format it will take.  The Water Board meeting to discuss a time and process for the actual hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 1021 Koger Center Blvd., Richmond.

Air Pollution Control Board Votes 4-0 to Approve Permit


In a 4-0 vote, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted on January 8, 2019, to approve the air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s air compressor station in Union Hill. After being postponed from the November and then the December Board meetings, the vote was finally taken by a diminished Board. Northam had removed two Board members after the November meeting, refusing to seat their replacements until after the vote, and the seventh member of the Board had previously recused himself. According to the Washington Post, the vote was taken “under heavy pressure from Dominion Energy, whose executives occupied two reserved rows at the front of the meeting room.”

The Board apparently relied solely on Dominion’s promises of good air quality, DEQ’s promises to monitor emissions closely, and on Dominion’s census figures on minority residents of the area (census figures that even DEQ staff have said are inaccurate).

Board members Richard Langford and Ignacia Moreno agreed that siting the compressor station in Union Hill raised environmental justice issues. But Langford voted in favor of the permit because he said he believed emissions would be within the accepted limits so there would be no disproportionate effects. After speaking about environmental justice issues, Moreno voted in favor because she believes the state will closely monitor health impacts. Although Board member Nicole Rovner had asked difficult questions in previous meetings, she voted in favor of the permit without any further explanation or comment. Lastly, William Ferguson of Newport News did not address environmental justice or air quality issues, but argued in favor of the entire ACP because he believes the proposed spur to Hampton Roads will provide natural gas for economic development there.

Read press coverage of the meeting and the vote in the Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and in the Virginia Mercury.

Two Former Air Board Members Challenge State Data

On the eve of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board vote, the Washington Post reported on January 7, 2019, that both Rebecca Rubin and Samuel Bleicher “warn that regulators are preparing to vote on Dominion Energy’s plan to put a natural gas facility in a rural African American community based on inaccurate information from staff and from the utility.”

Rubin and Bleicher are the two Air Board members that Northam removed after the November 2018 meeting when the Board postponed its vote. Although neither has said how they would vote (if they could), both raised questions in that November meeting.

“‘The site is not a very desirable site from the point of view of either environmental justice or impact on the community,’ Bleicher said in an interview. ‘The record Dominion prepared was based on a not-very-serious look at the neighbors. … It’s a historic free-black community. There are churches and cemeteries and people who live there — none of which shows up in the analysis they presented.'”

The state Department of Environmental Quality and Dominion (which insists its data is unbiased) have said that the area around the proposed facility is predominantly white, but they used broad census data instead of an actual head count, and showed a sparsely populated area with a 37% minority concentration.

The Post reports, “Better data has come from an anthropologist affiliated with the University of Virginia who conducted door-to-door research in the area, Rubin said in a separate interview. Using the research by anthropologist Lakshmi Fjord, ‘you don’t have to extrapolate anything,’ Rubin said. ‘It’s very clear and excellent data … to quantitatively show that it is in fact a historically black community.’ The board should let that guide its vote, she said. ‘In order for environmental justice to mean something, it has to mean something when crucial decisions are being made,'”

In reviewing Ford’s data, gathered over a two-year period, Stephen Metts, a researcher on the adjunct faculty at the New School in New York who has gathered demographic data for several other pipelines, said “Union Hill is ‘by far the strongest’ case he has seen.” Studying aerial images and Ford’s data, “Metts found that Union Hill is ‘actually 51 percent more dense than any other location in the county. And those people just happen to be 83 percent minority.'”

Read the full Washington Post article here.

Read Rebecca Rubin’s opinion column, also in the January 7 Washington Post, Is Virginia interested in environmental justice? We’re about to find out.

Related article on methodology by demographic researcher Stephen Metts:   1-7-19 Medium. Dominion Energy & Environmental Racism: a case study in how to lie with maps. “Yes, the title is provocative, but its not entirely mine. I simply and liberally borrow from the classic Mark Monmonier primer entitled How to Lie with Maps. But the reality of this ‘case study’ is indeed provocative, and it amounts to nothing less than outright environmental racism under the direction of ‘one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy’, Dominion Energy. In the following maps, charts and discussion, I detail the mechanisms behind Dominion Energy’s use of a ‘product’ from ESRI based in California; the ‘skills’ of one international environmental firm; ‘validated’ by an academic institution in Virginia and delivered to decision makers that may unwittingly (or not) participate in the statistical erasure of a local, historic, minority-majority community in Buckingham County, Virginia.”