Category Archives: Dominion

Wagner Introduces Utiity Right of Way Bill

On January 14, 2019, State Senator Frank Wagner introduced legislation authorizing utilities to acquire rights of way.  [We wonder what help he had from Dominion in crafting the bill.]

Summary as introduced:
Public utilities; acquisition of rights-of-way for economic development sites. Authorizes a public utility providing water, sewer, electric, or natural gas service to conduct an Economic Development Program (Program). Under such a Program, the utility is authorized to acquire utility right-of-way for one or more qualified economic development sites. The measure establishes criteria for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to certify that a site is a qualified economic development site. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is authorized to approve a proposal for a Program that satisfies certain conditions, including a finding that implementation of the Program will provide significant economic development benefits that might not otherwise be attained absent its approval. A utility’s capital investment is capped at one percent of gross plant investment in the aggregate of all of the utility’s Programs and at $5 million for any specific qualified economic development site.

The full text (pdf): 01/14/19 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 19104356D

History: 01/14/19 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 19104356D,
01/14/19 Senate: Referred to Committee on Commerce and Labor

More Delays, Higher Costs for ACP

On Friday January 11, 2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declined Dominion’s request to either narrow the scope of the Court’s December stay of Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction or to expedite the hearing on the case involving of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement. The oral arguments before the Court are scheduled for March 2019, and an opinion would likely not be issued until some weeks thereafter. Because of the timing of the court case, the legal window will have closed for the tree felling Dominion says is necessary for construction, thus delaying construction for as much as a year. An article in the Charlotte Business Journal on January 15, 2019, says, “Because of requirements in its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license, the pipeline could be prevented from clearing timber for construction of the pipeline until November, even if the court rules in its favor after the hearing that starts March 19. If that were to happen, the delays could add up to a $1 billion cost increase.”

That’s a $1 billion increase beyond the already projected $7 billion. Dominion’s original cost estimate for the ACP was $4.5-5 billion, and the original in-service date was late 2018. Cost estimates are now $8 billion, with an in-service date for the proposed project of mid-2021.

Dominion Withdraws Quick Take Suits

Dominion has withdrawn the Quick Take suits they filed on November 16, 2018, against at least 20 Nelson landowners. Given the multiple existing court challenges, it seems likely that ACP feared the court might side with the landowners who are at risk of suffering irreparable harm at the hands of a project that may never even be built. The ACP has, however, reserved the right to re-file another “motion for partial summary judgement” or Quick Take at any time.

“Quick Take” is a formal process of the exercise of eminent domain in which the government (or in this case, a private for-profit company masquerading as a “public” utility) takes possession BEFORE any court ruling on compensation. In other words, Dominion wanted access to begin work on these landowners’ properties BEFORE paying the landowners any money, and BEFORE receiving all permits allowing the ACP to begin construction.

Rogues?

On January 8, 2019, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported on the energy lobbyist, Bob Orndorff, state policy director for Dominion Energy, who, when speaking to Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development on behalf of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been halted because “rogue environmental groups” are getting in the way. “It’s on hold because the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a rogue environmental group to contest various permits that we have on the project.” The Gazette-Mail said, “Orndorff urged lawmakers to ‘stand up to these rogue environmental groups’ and pass a resolution to condemn them.”

The article then quotes DJ Gerken, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued on behalf of conservation groups in legal challenges: “It’s the federal agencies who went rogue here. They ignored the law, they ignored warnings from their own experts to approve a destructive and unnecessary pipeline.”

In an editorial on January 11, the Gazette-Mail asks, “Who are the real rogues?” The editorial says, “In reality, Dominion Energy has halted construction after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found environmental regulatory groups were bypassing rules meant to protect people, wildlife and the environment in the path of such large-scale projects. No doubt Dominion will continue to pursue the Atlantic Coast Pipeline once these legal hurdles are cleared, but for representatives of the industry to blame ‘rogue’ environmentalists is dishonest and simply wrong.”

The editorial continues, “Both state and federal agencies have gone out of their way to make the projects easier for the companies putting them together. Those are the types of actions that result in industrial disasters that harm the people and the environment these projects plow through. Unsurprisingly, some have already been cited numerous times for violations as they try to get the pipelines built. A joint investigative report from the Gazette-Mail and ProPublica found that government regulators bent over backwards to get these projects approved quickly, which is perhaps why they’re having so much trouble in court. It is not a ‘rogue’ action to hold companies and government agencies accountable to the minimal rules in place to protect quality of life. West Virginia has suffered enough of industry run amok.”

The editorial concludes, “The suggestion to the Legislature offered up by lobbyist Bob Orndorff that the body pass a resolution condemning the environmental groups pursuing litigation is insulting. These groups trying to protect their rights are made up of actual West Virginians who want to preserve what they have and avoid being steamrolled by big industry. Their government should be watching out for them, but it’s not, so the only way to stand up for themselves is through the courts. Remember it’s the people who are the David in this scenario, not the Goliath.”

Tree Felling Was Premature

Photo by Marion Kanour

An editorial in the Charlottesvile Daily Progress on January 9, 2019, states clearly what anyone who has seen the havoc Dominion created with its tree felling in early 2018 knows: “Given current slowdowns to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s a shame that pipeline developers got permission to start felling trees last year even before all permits were approved. Some environmental damage might have been mitigated — or at least delayed.”

Dominion rushed to get the permits and rushed to cut the trees, and despite the various restrictions on what, where, and how cutting could occur, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued 15 separate violation notices of tree felling within wetland buffer zones and stream crossings that were supposed to be protected.

The editorial notes a common thread of the court rulings that have delayed the ACP is that “permits failed to adequately address existing law or follow reasonable procedures.”

As the editorial points out, “It might not matter to Dominion that trees were felled so far in advance of the actual pipeline construction; after all, the forest isn’t going to grow back in a year. But it matters to the well-being of the environment. Although developers were required to leave felled trees on the ground, the loss of tree canopy significantly alters the local habitat and its health. That the trees were cut before they needed to be exacerbates the harm. And then there’s the matter of the stream crossing and wetlands violations. They shouldn’t have happened at all, no matter when the trees were cut. But if developers hadn’t been rushing the process, as it appears, they might have taken more care to understand and correctly implement the terms of the permit.”

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.”