End of the Line: Episode 11, Voice. Inside the State Water Control Board meetings for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines, where many opponents thought a vote in favor of water certification was a foregone conclusion for both projects, a chorus of voices makes space for courage and power. Original air date: 12/15/17.
On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4 to 3 to approve certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, the approval does not immediately grant the 401 water permits requested by Dominion; it is subject to certain conditions and to information which must be provided by the ACP. The permit can’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by DEQ, including soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans. Although this is not an outright denial of the permits, it does not allow Dominion to move forward at this time.
The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s weekly ABRA Update (December 14, 2017) describes the hearings as ” a two-day meeting that varied from moment to moment between serious presentations and deliberations and utter confusion exhibited by the staff of the Department of Environmental Quality. For those persons present for the proceedings, it was a regulatory roller coaster ride.” The ABRA Update also says, “The final language of the Board’s action has at this writing not been posted on the DEQ webpage for the ACP project. But, according to information available at the meeting, the following appears to be the relevant operative language in the motion adopted by the Board:
“This certificate shall be effective only following submission, review, and final approval as required by law of the Karst Mitigation Plan, Annual Standards and Specifications, Stormwater Plans, and Erosion and Sediment Control Plans, and a report to the Board and the public by DEQ on the adequacy of these materials. The Board may consider further actions on the Certification following the review of the DEQ report.”
A statement from Chesapeake Climate Action Network says, “Bowing to unprecedented opposition from landowners and environmentalists, the Virginia State Water Control Board today threw a wrench in the plans of Governor Terry McAuliffe and Dominion Energy to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for fracked gas. The board voted 4-3 to approve the project under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, but dependent on a final review of several environmental studies. The vote delays Dominion’s plan to begin near-term construction of the 600-mile pipeline. The decision likely means this issue will be delayed into 2018 and into the administration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam, who has taken a less openly supportive stance on the pipeline due to environmental concerns.”
In the video below, Bill Hayden, spokesperson for the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality, struggles to answer questions from reporters on the status of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline after DEQ’s decision on December 12, 2017. When asked by reporters why the DEQ didn’t require full environmental studies from Dominion BEFORE the Water Control Board hearing today, he says, “I don’t know.” When asked how long the vote today could delay a start date for the ACP, he says at least “March or April.” That’s because the sedimentation study on the pipeline alone won’t be complete till then. He indicates that the SWCB left the door open to remand this permit for cause once the reports are completed. Dominion cannot start construction until all these reports are submitted and approved Obviously DEQ and Governor McAuliffe and Dominion were completely surprised by the delay vote today.
Scenes from Day 1 of the Virginia State Water Control Board hearing on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, December 11, 2017.
Click here for Marion Kanour’s photo album of Day 1 of the Water Control Board’s ACP hearing, December 11, 2017. There is commentary with each photo. One photo shows the “No standing or sitting” signs posted since last week’s MVP hearing, and Marion’s observation that DEQ had “also taped closed the electrical outlets used by attendees to charge phones and laptops. Emphasizing the ‘control’ in the State Water Control Board.”
A video posted on the Water Is Life Facebook page discusses the new signs, the taped outlets, and other new rules.
Richard Averitt, a Nelson County landowner on the ACP route, testifying in what seems to be one more rigged event designed to placate the people and do Dominion’s bidding. Richard began by noting that when he arrived at 7:30 a.m. to sign up to speak, there were 78 people there already and not one was pro-pipeline, yet many pro-pipeline people had been allowed to speak ahead of him.
All stand for The people’s proclamation led by Mara Eve Robbins.
David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director, commenting.
On Friday December 8, 2017, Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a petition for review with the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to overturn Virginia’s unlawful approval of the fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The litigation was filed on behalf of the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Wild Virginia. The filing came the day after contentious hearings that ended with the Virginia State Water Control Board issuing a certificate under the Clean Water Act needed by MVP to begin construction.
Wild Virginia’s press release says the filing “asserts that the Board has failed to base its decision on adequate and complete information and, therefore, lacks a rational basis for its action. All parties admit that vital information and analyses were missing at this time yet the Board endorsed DEQ’s recommendation to approve the rushed permit decision.”
The press release also highlights the fact that the the Board issued the permit regardless of seriously incomplete information from MVP. “‘The DEQ’s erosion and sediment control plans and stormwater control plans are incomplete and have not been presented to the Board,’ said David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director. ‘Karst analyses are incomplete. Data related to specific waterbody crossings is non-existent. The Nationwide 12 permit has not yet been authorized and determined to be applicable. The procedure is not based on sound science and is legally flawed. We cannot accept this betrayal of our trust and our rights without challenge,’ Sligh stated.”
Late in the afternoon on December 7, 2017, after two days of hearings, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The vote was 5-2, with members Roberta Kellam and G. Nissa Dean dissenting. The action came late Tuesday afternoon (December 7). On Monday, nearly 100 persons spoke before the Board. Over 90% of the speakers were in opposition to certification. Modifications to the draft certification document were made, including an amendment that attempts to preserve its right to examine stream crossings at a later date. More on this will follow.
Members of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge alliance (of which Friends of Nelson is a part) reacted swiftly:
Southern Environmental Law Center, Greg Buppert, Senior Attorney: “After hearing from numerous citizens and officials that the Water Board did not have the information it needed to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Board failed to insist on a thorough, science-based review of this project. Their decision to move this pipeline project forward reflects the political pressure that Governor McAuliffe has put on his agencies to approve gas pipelines before he leaves office. But the Board still has the chance to acknowledge and remedy this broken process by sending plans back to Dominion next week at the Atlantic Coast Pipeline hearings and reversing today’s decision on the Mountain Valley Pipeline. As Virginia’s watchdog for water quality, the Board must ensure that Dominion doesn’t abuse its political power to push through a risky and unnecessary project like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Statement from Mike Tidwell, Executive Director: “Terry McAuliffe has harmed farmers, consumers, drinking water, and the climate by pushing the Virginia Water Control Board to give final approval today of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The 301-mile pipeline for fracked gas constitutes a colossal misallocation of resources and will permanently harm the Governor’s economic and environmental legacies. “Even as the on-the-ground evidence shows guaranteed harm to Virginia’s watersheds, and even as scientists sound the loudest possible warning bells on climate change, the Water Control Board gave the Governor what he asked for: a final build recommendation. This decision paves the way for the literal obliteration of mountain ridgetops, the clear-cutting of forests, and for massive trenching and tunneling across valleys for a pipeline that is not even needed and that serves only to enrich energy companies while hurting ratepayers. “Governor McAuliffe made construction of the MVP pipeline a top priority of his term and his administration testified vigorously in support of the pipeline during the Water Board’s final two-day hearing this week. “Our hope is that the Water Board, next week, will ignore the Governor’s similarly misguided support of a second gas pipeline – the Atlantic Coast Pipeline favored by controversial political donor Dominion Energy – when the Board votes on that pipeline next Tuesday.”
Appalachian Voices, Tom Cormons, Executive Director: “We are thoroughly disappointed by the board’s decision. Thousands voiced their opposition to this pipeline based on evidence that it cannot be built without violating the federal Clean Water Act and the board’s obligation under Virginia law. DEQ created a rushed, haphazard process, limited the scope of the board’s review, and abdicated the state’s authority to the Corps of Engineers for oversight of pipeline construction at almost 400 water crossings. “We applaud the efforts of several members who expressed concern that the draft permit would not provide reasonable assurance, as required by law, that water quality would be protected, and particularly we applaud members Nissa Dean and Roberta Kellam who cast the two dissenting votes. “The board should have rejected the permit today because they lacked enough information to make a reasoned decision. Instead, it approved an utterly deficient permit. “The record demonstrates this project would ultimately violate the law. We are considering all options and expect the outcome will be determined in the courts. If the company breaks ground on the project, citizens along the entire route are prepared to watchdog every action, along every mile, every day of construction and afterwards, and compel agencies to act when violations inevitably occur. “Next week, the board will be presented with an equally deficient permit for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and should exercise its full authority to reject the permit.”
The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) has prepared a two-page document to aid those who will be presenting comments next Monday before the Virginia State Water Control Board as it considers whether to grant certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The guidance document is based on the October 25, 2017, letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to the Virginia State Water Control Board.
The Board will meet Monday and Tuesday, December 11 and 12, 2017, regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline certification. Both meetings begin at 9:30 am at the Trinity Family Life Center, 3601 Dill Road, Richmond, VA. The first-day agenda calls for a summary presentation by staff of comments made during the public comment period and hearings, followed by an opportunity for those who commented at the public hearings or filed comments during the public comment period to respond to the staff summary. Board consideration of the pending applications are slated to occur on the second day (December 12). Three-minute time limits will be imposed on those making comments, though it is possible for eligible commenters to sign-up and allot their time to another speaker. It is very important that a strong turnout of opposition comments to certification for the ACP be made next Monday. Make your voice count by showing up in Richmond next Monday!
[Note: Based on the December 6-7 hearings for the MVP, attendees next week should be prepared to see an extremely heavy Virginia State Police presence both inside and around the meeting venue.]