Category Archives: FERC

FERC should order Dominion to cancel all easements in Nelson County

Friends of Nelson continues the fight to convince FERC to order Dominion to cancel all easements in Nelson County and elsewhere on the proposed path of the now abandoned Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Although Dominion has abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and will never build it, they stubbornly refuses to cancel the easements that it acquired to build the Pipeline. These easements were obtained by suing landowners, with the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) or by threatening to sue them in Federal Court. Since the Pipeline was cancelled 14 months ago, there is no justification for Dominion to keep the easements. The easements held by Dominion are a serious, continuing and completely unwarranted burden on as many as 200 easements in Nelson County.

 
 

FERC then decided to produce a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the Restoration Plan and assist the FERC Commissioners in deciding whether or not to issue an Order approving ACP’s plans.   They opened a “scoping period” to formally solicit comments from stakeholders that would help FERC do its environmental analysis.

 
As part of that Scoping Period, on April 15, 2021 we submitted our comments again.  
 
 

On July 23, 2021, FERC published published the Draft SEIS and basically said ‘not my department’  and they continue to duck the easement issue.  Friends of Nelson refuses to allow FERC to sit on the sidelines. 

On Monday, September 13, Friends of Nelson filed its third set of comments with FERC regarding these issues. 

In a summary of those comments, Friends of Nelson, argues that:

‘These comments present the Commission with a clear choice – that is, the Commission may act “in the public interest” and “for the public convenience and necessity” and order Atlantic to immediately release all easements that it obtained for the now-abandoned ACP if requested by the landowner.  In so doing, the Commission will end the serious burdens on private land that are imposed by these easements, easements that were obtained by Atlantic by legal force or coercion when the Commission issued the certificate of public necessity and convenience for the ACP (the “Certificate”). Or, the Commission may act “in the private interest” and “for the private convenience and necessity” of Atlantic and permit Atlantic to retain the temporary and permanent easements for many years to come and to extract further financial or other concessions from the affected property owners even though the sole reason for the easements to exist, and the sole “public interest” justification for the easements – the construction of the ACP – no longer exists. We submit that it is the Commission’s responsibility to act solely “in the public interest” and “for the public convenience and necessity,” and to reject Atlantic’s attempts to retain the easements “in its private interest.”’

Lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Niskanen Center also
have submitted multiple comments on behalf of Friends of Nelson and others, pointing out that
Dominion refuses to deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights.

Friends of Nelson will continue to press FERC at every point to require Dominion to cancel the easements, and leave our neighbors alone to enjoy their land unfettered by Dominion’s heavy-handed restrictions.

Nelson County Administration and Board of Supervisors Submit Comments on FERC Docket# CP15-554-009

On April 14, 2021, the Board of Supervisors of Nelson County unanimously directed that a comment letter be filed with FERC to address the many “zombie” easements that afflict landowners in the County following the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  In the comment letter, the Board stated that “we submit that it is the responsibility of FERC to require Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to release the thousands of easements that were obtained by Atlantic from private landowners on the proposed path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” including 250+ easements in Nelson County.  The Board added that “these easements impose a significant burden upon these landowners which has been proven to be unwarranted.  They significantly diminish and limit the owner’s use of their properties and, therefore reduce its value.”  Moreover, “it is inevitable that the county tax assessments on these properties will be reduced due the limitations that the easements put upon the landowner’s
properties, costing a loss of county tax revenue on these properties.

Signed Letter to FERC – April 14 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. It is not sure as to how the valving system of the pipelines have been in place, or whether the Butterfly Valves of the pipeline are still intact to keep them from spilling.


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.

Friends of Nelson Asks FERC to Order Release of “Zombie” Pipeline” Easements

Friends of Nelson, a non-profit organization originally formed to oppose the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to release private landowners from the easements it obtained to cross their land.

Friends of Nelson cites statements by Atlantic that it does not intend to voluntarily release the easements, and has not ruled out transferring the easements to another party, saying only “it has no plans to do so at this time.” “These easements represent a severe, continuing, and — in the wake of the project’s cancellation — a totally unwarranted burden on the properties along the Pipeline’s 604-mile route,” the comment letter to FERC says, adding, “With no ‘public use’ justification remaining, FERC must ensure that landowners’ full property rights are re-stored.”

The comment letter says Atlantic and FERC bear joint responsibility for the “zombie easements,” so-called because the easements live on even though the pipeline proposal is officially dead. FERC bears responsibility because it awarded the essential certificate of “public convenience and necessity” that opened the door to Atlantic’s use of eminent domain. Faced with powerful corporations with huge financial and legal resources, most landowners felt forced to grant easements rather than take their chances in court. Atlantic is owned by Dominion Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy Corporation, two mega-corporations.

“By remaining in place even after the cancellation of the project, these easements burden landowners’ ability to use or sell their property—and also their peace of mind, due to the threat that Atlantic could someday transfer the easements to the developer of another project” the comment to FERC states.

Friends of Nelson has researched the more than 250 easements and easement modification agreements that were filed at the Nelson County Courthouse between October 2015 and July 2020. “The owner is prohibited from doing many things within the Permanent Easement,
including, but not limited to erecting structures such as a house or barn, planting
trees and moving earth. These prohibitions continue forever, even though the pipeline will never be built,” the Friends of Nelson letter to FERC says, and it cites specific examples of Nelson County landowners’ agreements that constrain the use of their land.

The Friends of Nelson’s letter to FERC asks the agency to order Atlantic to contact all owners along the pipeline’s entire 604-mile route to inform them that Atlantic will release the right-of-way easement within 90 days of a written request from an affected landowner.

Friends of Nelson also wants FERC to order Atlantic to provide landowners with a written release of the easement, pay reasonable attorneys’ fees the landowners incur in negotiating the release of the right-of-way, and file the release in the land records of the appropriate jurisdiction.

Friends of Nelson’s request was filed on March 3. A full copy of the letter can be viewed here. 

Eminent domain for energy projects could be on its way out.

From Sierra. Reformers Set Sights on Corporate Land Grabs for Energy Projects. February 22, 2021. 


Williams Companies Inc. used the power of eminent domain to obtain an easement for a gas pipeline it wanted to build across private property in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Even though it didn’t have all of its paperwork in order, Williams Companies’ construction crews proceeded to cut down 90 percent of the family’s maple-syrup-producing trees, some of them over 200 years old. The damage done to the maple-syrup operation was a complete waste as Williams later announced it was abandoning the pipeline. “To FERC, the destruction of the Holleran’s maple business is just collateral damage for their real job, which is facilitating whatever the pipeline companies want to do,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, during a December 2020 virtual House hearing titled “Pipelines Over People: How FERC Tramples Landowner Rights in Natural Gas Projects.”


Among its many other responsibilities, FERC is charged with regulating interstate energy projects, including gas pipelines. During the past few years, protracted pipeline battles such as the fights over the Mountain Valley, and Atlantic Coast Pipelines, to name a few—have aimed a new light on the agency and its practices. Now, landowner rights groups and lawmakers from across the country are calling for change.


Raskin’s December hearing builds on an investigation his subcommittee launched early last year looking into FERC’s treatment of landowners. The numbers from the subcommittee’s report are damning: In the past 20 years, FERC has granted 1,021 certificates but rejected just six—an approval rate over 99 percent. In that same period, FERC did not grant a single appeal from a landowner. The report also called out FERC’s routine use of “tolling orders,” which effectively block a landowner from appealing a project by delaying the agency’s response, sometimes for months. Meanwhile, pipeline companies can initiate work even without final approval.


Groups opposing the ACP and other pipelines have challenged FERC’s practices and called for changes to the Natural Gas Act to level the playing field for landowners. Now the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which Raskin chairs, is working in parallel to a host of other efforts to reform FERC.


Lawmakers on both coasts have introduced bills aimed at leveling the playing field for landowners. Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, have introduced the Pipeline Fairness, Transparency, and Responsible Development Act of 2020. Oregon’s two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have each proposed legislation to reform FERC’s processes. All three bills have been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


Glick, the new chair of FERC under the Biden administration, has regularly dissented from decisions that pushed forward pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal projects, often citing his colleagues’ failure to consider the full climate impacts of projects and advocating for landowner rights.


Changes were afoot at FERC even before Joe Biden took office. On December 27, an omnibus spending bill funded FERC’s long-awaited Office of Public Participation. The new office will give environmental justice groups a voice in FERC proceedings and ensure those who can’t afford legal representation can participate.

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.