Category Archives: Environmental Justice

Oil and Gas companies are making old pipelines the landowner’s problem.

From Popular Science. In the US private residents end up footing the bill to prevent further eyesores and pollution. March 10, 202. 

There are some 3 million miles of natural gas pipelines buried in the US. More than half of all gas transmission lines in the country were installed before 1970, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Those pipelines have an average lifespan of 50 years. And it’s not just old pipelines that are set to go out of service. Younger pipelines are also at risk of falling into disuse as the power sector comes to rely less on natural gas in favor of wind, solar and batteries.


No clearer sign exists that that bridge has been crossed than the cancellation of several high profile natural gas pipeline projects in the last year, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Constitution Pipeline. What does that mean for the millions of miles of gas pipelines that are already in the ground?


The most comprehensive data on abandoned pipelines comes from Canada. In the 1980s, the Canadian government began an extensive study of abandoned pipelines, which identified a slew of serious risks to leaving them in place. Sinkholes could form as pipelines corroded and collapsed. Leftover fossil fuels, or the cleaning agents used to clear out lines, could leak out into the surrounding soil or water. Aging lines under lakes or rivers could carry water where it’s not wanted. Empty pipelines could also become slightly buoyant, relative to soil, and rise to the surface, where landscaping and signage marking a pipeline’s path is rarely maintained after it has been retired.


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can order a pipeline company to remove a line that’s not in use, says Carolyn Elefant, an energy and eminent domain attorney, but it doesn’t always do so.


Pipeline companies have ample incentive to leave pipelines in the ground. Removal is expensive and requires heavy equipment, permits and environmental reviews. And pipelines laid before 1980 often have the added feature of an asbestos coating that must be dealt with. It can cost almost as much to get a pipeline out of the ground as it costs to put it in the ground.

A pipeline-loving agency could be key to Biden’s climate plan

From Grist. A new commission chair could change the way FERC regulates energy projects.  February 18, 2021

There’s a saying about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: It’s never seen a pipeline it didn’t like. But the commission’s new chair could make that adage a thing of the past.

Established by Congress in 1977 to regulate the United States’ energy landscape. FERC wields an enormous amount of power, overseeing the nation’s pipelines, natural gas infrastructure, transmission lines, hydroelectric dams, electricity markets, and, by association, the price of renewables and fossil fuels. It’s made up of up to five commissioners — no more than three members of the same party can serve at a time — including one chair, who sets the commission’s agenda.

Historically, the commission has not done a good job of taking climate change and environmental justice into account as it has approved and regulated energy projects across the U.S. A system for accounting for climate impacts isn’t baked into FERC’s structure. That could change as President Joe Biden executes a “whole of government” approach to tackling climate change.

In January, President Joe Biden appointed Richard Glick, formerly the sole Democratic vote on the commission, to chair FERC. Some of Glick’s priorities? Environmental justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation. At his first press conference since being appointed to lead the commission, Glick announced that FERC will create a senior-level position dedicated to assessing the environmental justice impacts of proposed projects. For the first time, the commission will take a look at how developments like natural gas pipelines affect surrounding communities to make sure they don’t “unfairly impact historically marginalized communities”.

Experts say Glick’s influence on the commission will extend far beyond the new environmental justice position. Under Glick, FERC could liberate renewables from “artificial impediments” and allow clean energy to hit the grid at the lowest possible cost. In addition to taking a hard look at MOPR (Minimum Offer Price Rule that keeps energy prices at a level gas generators needed in order to operate in a profitable manner), Glick is expected to develop a more cooperative attitude toward states and their green energy objectives. Glick could also update electricity transmission policy to encourage more transmission infrastructure — the backbone of America’s power system, without which power from power plants wouldn’t be able to flow to customers. System reliability is going to be a priority, too, especially considering the power issues Texas and other states are experiencing right now.

Glick is in a powerful position as head of FERC, but he still has to work with the Republicans on the commission, at least until June, when Republican commissioner Neil Chatterjee retires and Biden appoints his replacement.

Reaffirming Property Rights Through Natural Gas Act Modernization Act

Last September, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 4673, “Reaffirming Property Rights Through The Natural Gas Act Modernization Act. 

This bill has a number of noteworthy provisions that provide needed protections for landowners  nationwide facing increased and unfair use of eminent domain for pipeline development. 

If you have not already reached out to your senators to encourage them to consider this bill, please do! The bill has been referred to the committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The best way to keep the bill moving forward is to encourage a hearing!

Please reach out to your Senators today, particularly if they are members of the Commerce Committee. 

Provisions included in the bill are outlined below; 

  • Sec 2 -Establishes that there is No Presumption of Public Interest in the export of Natural Gas.
  • Sec. 4 Ensures Notice to Landowners occurs in a clear and uniform way, and that all impacted
    persons have the information needed to intervene in the process. 
  • Sec. 5 Lays out Requirements for Exercise of Eminent Domain, stipulating that pipeline
    companies obtain all other required state and federal approvals and permits before construction
    proceeds.
  • Sec. 6 is a Requirement to Execute Project Only for Certain Purposes – that is, according to
    the plans provided to FERC with its application. This prevents a bait-and-switch. 
  • Sec. 7 ensures that companies cannot “sit” on undeveloped confiscated land for more than one year without proceeding, or if a project does not go ahead as planned, this provision also ensures that property reverts back to the previous property owner. 
  • Sec. 8 Ensures that in the event eminent domain is exercised, property owners are more fairly compensated
  • Sec. 9 eliminates FERC’s historic practice of using “tolling orders,”

An early look at climate and energy bills in the 2021 session.

From Virginia Mercury. Potential Climate and Energy bills in the 2021 session. January 4, 2020.

Last year, Virginia’s general assembly passed more than 30 separate clean energy bills, putting the state on a path to zero-carbon electricity by 2050. Building on last year’s progress will be hard this winter due not only to COVID complications, but also to an exceptionally short and tightly controlled legislative session.


Below are some of the bills that are far along in the drafting process and are likely to be filed this year.

  • Building codes – Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, is expected to introduce legislation that would require the Board of Housing and Community Development to adopt the latest International Energy Efficiency Code within 12 months.
  • Right to buy– Del. Jeffrey Bourne, D-Richmond, patroned a bill that would give customers the right to go outside their utility to buy renewable energy. most Virginia customers still can’t buy solar energy unless they install it on their own property.
  • Solar for public schools and other government buildings– a bill from Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke clarifies that the VCEA and Solar Freedom legislation in Appalachian Power territory applies to non-jurisdictional customers as well as jurisdictional customers. The bill also expands a pilot program for municipal net metering that will allow a local government to use surplus electricity generated by solar panels on one building for another building also owned by the locality
  • Transportation – Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, is expected to carry a bill called the Clean Car Standard, simply requires manufacturers of electric vehicles to send some of their vehicles to Virginia dealers, so consumers can actually buy them. A bill from Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, would have Virginia offer incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. Another bill would require a Transit Modernization Study, which would gather information about how the public is currently being served by the existing transit system
  • Environmental justice– Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News, and Keam are expected to introduce a bill that will expand last year’s Environmental Justice Act to change how the state forms and carries out environmental justice policies within agencies, and to ensure greater public involvement in the permitting process at DEQ
  • Pipelines– A bill from Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, adds specificity to the currently vague process that governs small to medium changes in pipeline routes and may impact permit conditions like erosion control measures. Currently it is unclear under what conditions DEQ must re-examine plans it has previously approved. The legislation will bring clarity and explicit direction to all parties involved.
  • Fossil Fuel moratorium– Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, is expected to introduce legislation expanding the Virginia Clean Economy Act’s two-year moratorium into a permanent moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, to take effect in 2022
  • Utility Reform– We should expect to see legislation to strengthen oversite of utility companies and pare back the ability of utilities to pocket overearnings.
  • ‘Bad’ Bills– we should expect to see a few bills from Republicans attempting to roll back parts (or all) of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, or trying to block Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Environmental Justice in Rural Virginia

 

Watch this 4.5 minute video from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Hear from the people of Charles City County, Virginia, a rural community east of Richmond being targeted for two large new natural gas plants and a pipeline expansion. CBF Environmental Justice Staff Attorney Taylor Lilley is working with partners and the community to ensure their voices are heard and to prevent pollution and other threats to clean water from these proposals.

Virginia Withholds Key Permit for “Header Injustice Project”

Press release from Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 26, 2020
CONTACT:
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-1889
Anne Havemann, General Counsel, anne@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-2146
Lauren Landis, Grassroots Coordinator, lauren@chesapeakeclimate.org, 757-634-9567

Richmond, VA — Today, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued a preliminary ruling against a controversial fracked-gas expansion project referred to as the “Header Injustice Project” by affected communities. Under the terms of the decision, the utility may re-apply for a permit but must comply with certain conditions that could prove extremely difficult to meet. If the utility, Virginia Natural Gas (VNG), can show by December 31, 2020, that its main customer — the 1050-megawatt C4GT gas plant — has the financing it needs to build, VNG must also submit information about needed environmental justice analyses and confirm that it will protect VNG’s customers from unnecessary rate increases.

The second condition related to cost protections might prove especially challenging for VNG to meet. To shield VNG’s customers from “holding the bag” for the costs of the project should the gas plant cease operation, the Commission is requiring that the capital cost of the project must be recovered over 20 years instead of the 70 years proposed. VNG’s own rebuttal testimony recognized that “[t]here is a very real risk that if the entire cost of the Project is required to be amortized over 20 years that the Project will be cost prohibitive and not be completed.”

The Commission found that there was a “very real risk” that C4GT might shut down before VNG fully recovered the costs of the Project. In its 2020 session, the Virginia General Assembly voted to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will raise the cost of all carbon-emitting facilities in Virginia, making it more difficult for merchant facilities like C4GT, which sell energy and capacity into the regional power grid, to make a profit.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, intervened in the proceeding and consistently raised concerns about the potential impacts to ratepayers from the proposed 70-year cost-recovery period, among other issues. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also intervened as did the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Appalachian Voices and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.

Anne Havemann, CCAN General Counsel, stated:

“This was a needed win in these trying times. The Header Injustice Project is so named because it is an absolute travesty in terms of environmental justice. Major components would go through majority-minority communities, and virtual hearings were held about an issue that would impact areas that have limited internet access. As a result, these communities, with little knowledge or say in the project, would have been the worst impacted by its harms: toxic air pollution, noise, threats of explosion. This is the textbook definition of environmental racism.

“But, at the end of the day, it was the arguments around need and cost that moved the needle. This decision recognizes that there is great risk in continuing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and affirms that ratepayers should not be forced to subsidize these projects. Virginia is on the pathway to 100% clean electricity. Fracked gas should no longer enter the equation.

“We thank the SCC Commissioners who did the right thing today. The tide is turning in Virginia toward clean energy and toward justice. We hope that Governor Northam is paying attention and will use his authority to reject the other terrible fracked-gas projects proposed in the Commonwealth, including Dominion’s Buckingham Compressor Station.”

Additional information:

Virginia Natural Gas is calling the proposal the “Header Improvement Project.” But the organizations fighting it call it the “Header Injustice Project” because it would harm countless communities.

The proposal is for three new gas pipelines, totaling 24 miles, and three new or expanded gas compressor stations from Northern Virginia, through the middle of the state, and to the shore in Hampton Roads. The primary purpose of HIP is to supply gas to the C4GT merchant gas plant proposed for Charles County City. This merchant plant would be located about a mile from the proposed Chickahominy Power Station, a separate gas-fired merchant power plant that would be the largest in the state of Virginia. VNG wants this network of fracked-gas infrastructure to be up and running by the end of 2022.

The project has been tangled in justice concerns from the beginning. The massive gas plant the project is intended to serve is one of two such plants proposed to be built in a community with higher minority populations than the Virginia average. And one key component of the HIP project itself — the Gidley Compressor Station — is also proposed for a predominantly Black community. Yet there has been no environmental justice review carried out.

Furthermore, holding regulatory hearings for the project during the COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns in itself because internet coverage in the area surrounding the Gidley Compressor falls below the state average, leaving residents unable to access information and participate in the process. The first hearing on the HIP proposal was held up by technical issues.

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A coalition called the Stop the Abuse of Virginian Energy (SAVE) Coalition has formed to stop this project. Learn more here: www.stophip.org.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more, visit www.chesapeakeclimate.org