From Allegheney-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #222 for March 21, 2019:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has announced its schedule for issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Southgate Project, a proposed extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) into North Carolina. Specifically, the proposal is a 73-mile natural gas pipeline connecting with the MVP in Pittsylvania County, VA and extending to Rockingham and Alamance Counties in North Carolina. The Southgate Project would also include construction of a 29,000 horsepower compressor station in Pittsylvania County (about half the size of the proposed Buckingham compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline). The pipeline would transport 375 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. FERC’s March 14 notice of the FEIS schedule is:
- Issuance of Notice of Availability of the final EIS: December 19, 2019
- 90-day Federal Authorization Decision Deadline: March 18, 2020
The Southgate Project has encountered stiff opposition since it was first proposed in mid-2018. In September, the Alamance County Commissioners adopted a resolution in opposition to the project. The March 15 FEIS notice acknowledges that “major issues raised during scoping include project need, water quality degradation, environmental impacts, and private property rights and valuation.”
In a letter on February 15, 2019, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Interim Right-of-Way and Work Area Stabilization Plan.
SELC points out that the ACP’s “stabilization” actions were merely an excuse to do new construction. ACP had said that several areas had already been trenched, and that installation of strung pipe in those areas was necessary to stabilize the right-of-way. In reality, none of the areas, totaling almost half a mile in length, had been trenched.
The letter states, “Atlantic and DETI have now asked the Commission for authorization to trench and install pipe in those three areas and six others, covering a total of approximately 1.5 miles along the pipeline right-of-way. Trenching, however, is not necessary to stabilize a right-of-way; on the contrary, it is one of the most destabilizing activities involved in pipeline construction. The Commission’s own Final Environmental Impact Statement for the ACP is replete with examples of the environmental risks associated with trenching. Accordingly, Atlantic and DETI’s construction plans call for installing additional erosion control devices once trenching begins and ‘minimizing the length of open trench at any given time.’ Far from a stabilization method, trenching actually demands further mitigation measures due to its destabilizing effects on a landscape.”
The SELC letter concludes, “We urge the Commission to enforce the terms of its certificate and to reject Atlantic and DETI’s request to proceed with construction that cannot be justified by environmental or safety concerns.”
Read the full letter here.
On January 29, 2019, over 180 environmental organizations, including Friends of Nelson, wrote a letter to members of Congress requesting a congressional hearing into the approval process for interstate gas pipelines. The letter argued that the Federal Energy Regulator Commission (FERC) approves nearly all proposed pipelines, abuses its eminent domain authority, relies on erroneous data when evaluating whether to allow pipeline companies to begin construction. In requesting a congressional hearing, the letter lists many of the misuses of FERC’s Natural Gas Act (NGA) authority:
- Allowing premature use of the legal construct of eminent domain to seize property rights, even before a pipeline project has met all legal obligations, thereby allowing the taking of private property for a pipeline that may never be constructed (which has in fact happened – once taken, the property rights do not return even if approvals for a pipeline are subsequently denied);
- Stripping people of their legal and due process rights to challenge FERC approval of natural gas pipelines and infrastructure before the power of eminent domain is used to seize their property rights, and construction is allowed to proceed, thereby inflicting irreparable harm on communities and the environment;
- Undermining the legal authority of states to determine whether natural gas pipelines and infrastructure would violate state water quality standards and should be approved, denied or modified prior to construction;
- Undermining the authority of other federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to determine if the project would comply with federal law under their jurisdiction and therefore should be approved, denied or modified before FERC approval is granted and construction started;
- Advancing pipeline projects based on demonstrably false and misleading facts, claims and “data”; i.e., FERC approval is granted despite demonstrated proof (such as legitimate scientific data, photographs, agency documentation, and factual proof) that information provided by the pipeline company, key to its proposal, is false, misleading and/or intentionally not provided;
- Advancing pipeline projects without genuine demonstration of need, instead allowing companies to claim “need” simply by producing contracts with affiliates of the pipeline company itself and/or asserting the project is needed in order to enhance a company’s private profits or competitive edge;
- Allowing third party contractors with demonstrated conflicts of interest and an obvious vested interest in the outcome to lead review of the proposed project. This includes contractors who are working for the company at issue on other or related projects, and/or those working for the pipeline companies on directly related projects that will be affected by the actions and recommendations of the contractor; and
- Allowing FERC employees and Commissioners with demonstrated conflicts of interest, including financial, to work on project review and decision making for proposed pipeline projects.
Read the full letter here.
On January 31, 2019, Utility Dive reported that Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur will not seek a third term at the agency and will depart later in 2019. She will serve out the remainder of her term, which ends on June 30, but could stay longer if the Senate does not appoint a successor by then.
The Democratic member of the Commission is the longest serving regulator and the only one with experience at an electric utility. She said she would have preferred to serve a third term, but “LaFleur advisor Andrew Holleman said Senate leaders told the commissioner this week she would not be renominated,” and she decided to make her announcement immediately. After her departure, FERC will have only three Commissioners: Democratic Rich Glick and two Republicans, Bernard McNamee and Chairman Neil Chatterjee; Commissioner Kevin McIntyre died on January 2.
No one political party may hold more than three seats on the five-member FERC, so the White House would have to nominate a Democrat and Republican to fill the two vacancies. No names have been proposed at this time. “If the Senate does not confirm a replacement for LaFleur, federal law allows her to stay on the commission until the end of this Congressional session in 2020. In her series of tweets, the regulator said she would stay on until the end of her term, ‘and probably longer, depending on my future plans and the possible appointment of a successor.'”
From ABRA Update #213 for January 17, 2019: “A plan for stabilization measures on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route during cessation of construction activity on the project was approved January 10 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The plan had been submitted to the agency in the wake of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals December 7 decision to stay the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement for the project. The Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Chesapeake Bay Foundation had written FERC on December 21 asking that the agency to require the company to remove strung pipe from the right-of-way rather than allow it to continue to install pipe along a route that is not authorized by law, but the request was ignored.”
Here’s Dominion’s approach to ground stabilization: putting new pipe into the ground on January 15, 2019. Note the right angle bend, something to remember when Dominion tells a landowner the ACP can’t divert around some important feature of property. Thanks to the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper [NC] for the photo.
The Nelson County Times reported on December 27, 2018, that “The Nelson County Board of Supervisors has agreed to sign an engagement letter to support the city of Staunton in backing the Southern Environmental Law Center’s challenge to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 2017 decision to issue a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to permit the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to proceed. SELC is representing a number of groups in a lawsuit against FERC that challenges its decision to issue the certificate. SELC hopes to stop the construction of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project. In signing the engagement letter Nelson County agrees to help bring relevant matters to the attention of the D.C. Circuit Court where the case will be heard in the near future; it does not become part of the lawsuit. …. Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of putting together a brief, and not spending more than $1,000 on the effort. Reed, Harvey, and Rutherford voted in favor of the resolution. Thomas Bruguiere Jr., chairman of the board, and Larry Saunders, vice chairman of the board, voted against the resolution.”