Category Archives: Natural Resources

What Can You Do?

What can you do while we wait on the courts for hearings and decisions on the several pipeline-related issues? You could:

  • Tell FERC: Stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline to protect Appalachia’s endangered species. In April 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began to evaluate the impacts of sediment pollution from construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on local threatened and endangered species. The agency expressed its concern in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Although the agency’s initial analysis demonstrated that endangered species, including the endemic Roanoke Logperch, are at increased risk, work on the pipeline continues, and the well-being of the logperch, the candy darter, the Indiana bat and more remains under threat. FERC has the authority to stop construction of the MVP to ensure the protection of Appalachia’s biodiversity!  Send a message to FERC via the Appalachian Voices Web page.
  • Tell Congress: Don’t let Dominion convince Congress to sneak in a rider to critical legislation which would allow the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway! You can print, sign, and mail this letter to Representative Denver Riggleman – or write your own letter and mail it! For another sample letter, and for addresses of Virginia’s Senators and other Congressional representatives, see the Potomac Riverkeeper Network’s page, Help Us Preserve the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah!

Fish and Wildlife Case on the ACP Is Set for Oral Argument on May 9

From Allegheney-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #227:

The lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) biological opinion and incidental take statement for the Atlantic Coast (ACP) that led to work stopping on the project is scheduled for oral argument on Thursday, May 9 before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The original FWS permit was voided by the Fourth Circuit in May 2018 in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee. A new FWS permit was issued on September 11, 2018 and is being challenged in this case.

SELC argues that the FWS’s reissued permit relied on a series of irrational assumptions that mischaracterized the potential impact of the ACP route on the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee and erred in its analysis of the project’s impact on three other endangered species: the clubshell mussel, Indiana bat and Madison Cave isopod. The petitioners are requesting that the Court vacate the reissued biological opinion and incidental take statement

A copy of the SELC opening brief is available here.

You Can’t Just “smooth it back over”

So often we hear pipeline proponents say that after it is built you won’t know it is there. As Robert Pollok says, “So many people think that once they’re done, [and] smooth it back over, that you can just pop it up and plant something. And that just doesn’t happen that way.”

In the April 7, 2019, article in GoDanRiver.com, Pittsylvania County farmer sheds light on how pipeline project will affect land for years to come, Pollok explains how pipeline construction would affect his small-grain seed production operation. Mountain Valley Pipeline’s proposed Southgate extension project would run through his land and through two different properties he leases. During construction he would be unable to get farm equipment across MVP’s work zone to reach both a part of his own property and one of his leased properties which is only accessible through the part of his land that would be inaccessible. He estimates that at least 55 acres of crop land could be inaccessible during construction spanning two growing seasons.

“Pollok said he’s concerned about whether he’ll be able to grow enough to satisfy the customer base the farm has built up over 30-plus years. He’s also concerned that he will not have the option of expanding during that time. …. As a farmer in the highly-regulated certified seed production industry, Pollok’s products undergo several stages of scrutiny, from field inspections prior to harvest by state agents to sending his yield to the state to undergo a series of quality tests. ‘If it does not meet the criteria for certified seed at that point, even before I harvest it, it’s rejected for being able to be kept for seed, and it cannot be sold for seed,’ said Pollok. The seed must be free of any contamination from weeds and disease as well as be genetically pure, otherwise it’s prohibited from sale of any kind. …. Therefore, he keeps his fields carefully controlled. His equipment is only used on his own fields so as not to potentially transfer weeds from another farmer’s field to his.”

Beyond inhibiting his ability to farm parts of his land during the proposed construction, Pollok says it will take years to reverse the harm to the land caused by construction in the temporary workspaces. In 1990 his family acquired the section of land where Southgate wants to build, and “it took them more than a decade to fix the very sections damaged by the construction of the Transco pipeline in 1954. ‘It still had remnants of uneven ground and unproductive soil,’ said Pollok. ‘It was close to the early 2000s before we had it where you couldn’t say, “Oh, this was where the pipeline was,”‘ he said. ‘The crops wouldn’t be lagging in yield quality because of where that construction took place decades before.'”

And every time crews come to do work or make repairs to the pipeline, they damage the land again. “Driving up his driveway to his house, Pollok pointed out the vehicle’s window to the spot where the crews had worked a few years ago. Compared to the ground around it, grass grew more sparsely with patches of dirt clearly visible. Thick grass lined the perimeter of the former work zone. ‘Stuff still doesn’t grow right, and that was four years ago,’ he said.”

Pollok thinks it would take at least five years after construction to heal the land. During construction and during the healing time thereafter, his yield – and therefore his livelihood – would be severely reduced, and he wonders if he would ever regain the lost business. “So many people think that once they’re done, [and] smooth it back over, that you can just pop it up and plant something. And that just doesn’t happen that way.”

Read the full article here.

December 7: Multiple Pipeline Barriers


December 7, 2018, saw multiple barriers placed in the way of both the ACP and the MVP.

Early in the morning NBC posted nationally a lengthy and very sympathetic article telling the story of the environmental racism at the heart of Dominion Energy’s push to build a massive compressor station for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline in the heart of Union Hill,an historic, predominantly African American community. In it, John and Ruby Laury, longtime residents of Union Hill told NBC News, “Dominion thought they can just come in and we’d all roll over….We have to stand up. We have no fear of Dominion.”

Then the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Fish and Wildlife Service permit regarding incidental take of endangered species. This action was in response to a petition filed on November 30 by the Southern Environmental Law Center, and said simply, “Upon consideration of the submissions relative to petitioners’ motion to stay, the court grants the motion and stays implementation of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement pending review by the court.” The Fish and Wildlife Service approvals for the ACP must be in place before Dominion can harm threatened and endangered species. The Court threw out the original permit in May 2018. “The Fish and Wildlife Service scrambled to reissue this permit and its haste is evident in its analysis,” said Attorney Patrick Hunter of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This is yet another instance of government agencies rushing out ill-considered permits for this project.” Because of the stayed permit, construction must stop on the entire 600-mile route. Dominion’s Aaron Ruby said, “We respectfully but strongly disagree with the court’s decision. We believe the stay is not only unwarranted, but overly broad. We are filing a motion for emergency clarification on the scope of the court’s decision. We do not believe there is any basis for the court to stay the entire Biological Opinion, which authorizes all 600 miles of the project.”

ACP permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and Army Corps of Engineers are all now on hold.

By the end of the day, Dominion had notified FERC that work will stop along the entire ACP route, saying, “In response to a stay of implementation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement granted today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Dominion Energy, on behalf of Atlantic and itself, has stopped construction on the entire Projects, except for stand-down activities needed for safety and that are necessary to prevent detriment to the environment.”

Meanwhile, the Roanoke Times broke the news that Attorney General Mark Herring had filed suit against Mountain Valley Pipeline, citing more than 300 violations of Virginia environmental regulations, and seeking “the maximum allowable civil penalties and a court order to force MVP to comply with environmental laws and regulations.” The suit was filed in Henrico County Circuit Court, and does not state an exact monetary amount being sought by the state.

Fourth Circuit Asked to Stay ACP’s Fish and Wildlife Permit

From ABRA Update 206, December 6, 2018:

A motion to stay the US Fish and Wildlife’s (FWS) latest Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was filed November 30, 2018, with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of its clients: Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and The Virginia Wilderness Committee. The FWS’s original Opinion and Take Statement on the project was struck down by the Fourth Circuit in an opinion issued August 6, 2018. FWS issued a revised Opinion and Take Statement was issued September 11 and a stop work order that had been in effect since the Fourth Circuit’s decision was lifted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on September 17.

In its petition to the Court, SELC pointed out that four endangered species would be adversely affected by ACP construction: 1) Indiana bats habitats in several designated Appalachian Recovery Units along the route; 2) clubshell mussels adversely impacted by sedimentation-inducing activities in their watershed; 3) the Rusty-patched bumble bee as the result of tree felling in Bath County, VA; and the Madison cave isopd due to access road construction in Bath County. The petition further argues that the FWS, as it did in approving the first Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement for the ACP rushed to judgment as the result of political pressure from the Department of Interior to accommodate the project, without conducting a thorough analysis as required by law regarding the impacts upon the cited endangered species.

Concluding, the petition proclaims: “The public interest is not harmed by a delay in construction. Even if Atlantic can make a showing of economic harm, that economic harm does not equate to harm to the public interest.”