Category Archives: Environmental Justice

“Zombie Easements” story featured on NPR

It’s been just over a year since Dominion and its utility partners announced they were scrapping plans for a pipeline to carry natural gas from the fracking fields of West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. Opponents were thrilled, but the fight isn’t over yet.

Audio and written story by Sandy Hausman forRadio IQ. August 5th, 2021

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.