A new map, prepared by Friends of Nelson Board member Charlie Hickox, shows the routes of existing and proposed natural gas pipelines in our region. You can look forward to seeing a large version of this map displayed when we table at events and meetings.
The Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals Friday struck down the latest permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had issued for the the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The issue arose from a requirement in the Endangered Species Act that (quoting from the decision) “the proposed pipeline will not jeopardize the continued existence of several endangered and threatened species that are likely to be impacted by pipeline construction. As relevant here, the Biological Opinion concluded that the pipeline will not jeopardize four species: the rusty patched bumble bee, clubshell, Indiana bat, or Madison Cave isopod.” The FWS issued an opinion in 2017 stating that the ACP did not endanger any endangered species. The permit was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wildlife Committee (the latter two organizations being ABRA members).
In response to that legal challenge the Fourth Circuit in May 2018 vacated the FWS permit, which it explained in its opinion (not issued until August 6) that the “FWS’s vague and unenforceable take limits are arbitrary and capricious.” The agency reissued a new permit in September 2018, which was again challenged by the same plaintiffs. The Fourth Circuit stayed the new permit and, in response to that, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC suspended all construction of the project in late 2018.. The case decided Friday was argued on May 9, 2019 (see ABRA Update #229, May 10, 2019).
In today’s decision, the Fourth Circuit stated:
Specifically, Petitioners assert that FWS improperly determined that pipeline construction will not jeopardize the rusty patched bumble bee or the clubshell, and they challenge the validity of the take limits imposed for the Indiana bat and the Madison Cave isopod. Because we find that FWS arbitrarily reached its no-jeopardy conclusions and failed to correct the deficiencies in the take limits that we identified in the previous appeal, we grant the petition and vacate the 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, SELC stated:
“In its rush to help this pipeline company, the agency failed to protect species on the brink of extinction – its most important duty. This pipeline would blast through some of the last populations of these rare animals,” said Patrick Hunter, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There is no evidence that this pipeline is needed for anything other than Dominion and Duke Energy profits. For the sake of these rare species and its customers’ wallets, it’s time for these utilities to walk away from this badly planned boondoggle.”
Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been stopped since December 2018 when multiple permits were called into question or overturned including permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those permits are all still outstanding. Among the problems for this pipeline is a Federal Court decision that the Forest Service erred in allowing the pipeline to carve through national forests and was not authorized to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail. There is no clear path forward to construct the pipeline on its current route. The project is several years behind schedule and more than $2 billion dollars over budget. If constructed, ratepayers will be expected to pay for the pipeline while the energy companies collect a 15% profit.
Quoted in Charlottesville’s July 27, 2019, Daily Progress article, Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said, “Based on the clear direction provided by the court in today’s opinion, we expect FERC and the Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to immediately begin working to correct the issues identified by the court. Once the new Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement are issued, we will seek the necessary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to resume construction. We’re confident we remain on track to complete the project by late 2021.”
The Daily Progress article says, “If the Fish and Wildlife Service were to issue a new permit, Dominion has said it would begin building the pipeline from Buckingham County to the southeastern Virginia coast, connecting it to Hampton Roads and extending it through eastern North Carolina. The company plans to build a natural gas compressor station at Union Hill in Buckingham under a state air pollution permit that environmental groups also have appealed to the 4th Circuit. Separately, Dominion and its partners have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review another opinion by the same federal appeals panel last December that threw out a U.S. Forest Service permit to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail between Augusta and Nelson counties.”
At the Friends of Nelson public meeting on June 30, 2019, Anne Witt, a Geohazards Geologist from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, presented her work on a VDEM-FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Project. This project is to develop a risk assessment of landslides in western Albemarle and Nelson counties based on previous landslide events that occurred largely during Hurricane Camille. According to Ms. Witt, previous landslide locations are prone to having future ones.
The Grant Project consists of 4 parts or stages:
- Remote sensing of landslides in the study area using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning technology
- Geologic field mapping of landslide prone areas
- Landslide Susceptibility Mapping
- Presentation of data products and results to the planning community and the public
The project is presently in its first stage, so mapping is preliminary. However, LIDAR has revealed a larger number and a more accurate depiction of these previous landslides in Nelson County than seen before.
Friends of Nelson has overlaid the draft mapping of these landslides on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route. Doing so reveals how many of these slides are on or proximate to the route. Given the number and concentration of these debris flows, we feel that landowners and county officials should be aware of these past events in assessing future risk and mitigating it. Risk awareness is important given the immense amount of ground disturbance that would happen during pipeline construction and the significant potential for pipeline ruptures and explosions resulting from possible slide events afterwards.
In the figure above, approximately 60 debris flows (green triangles) and 10 debris slides (blue triangles) are on or near the ACP proposed route (in gold).
The figure below illustrates how LIDAR reveals the scope and path of previous slides that is not visible even with aerial photography in winter with no leaves on the trees.
See the short summary of Anne Witt’s talk here. Many thanks to Ms. Witt for sharing some of the slides from her fascinating presentation, and to Charlie Hickox for the summary and for the overlay showing the ACP route.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, thwarted in its intent to cross the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the George Washington National Forest (GWNF), now wants special treatment from the U.S. Congress — a law that would force through its proposed AT crossing in the GWNF. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has prepared a set of maps and documents with the most current facts, legal status, and research. The documents are intended to help groups and individuals facilitate conversations with elected officials (and others) about the threat to the Appalachian Trail,
- ACP Factsheet (this is a colorful one pager that you can distribute and take to meetings)
- The Case Against the ACP (this is a longer 2 page memo on the facts including citations; good background reading for you prior to a meeting)
- Contact Info (all 13 Virginia members of Congress with DC and District office contact info)
- Letter House (the letters that were sent to our Congressional Representatives–good to distribute and take to meetings)
- Letter Senate (the letters that were sent to our U.S. Senators–good to distribute and take to meetings)
- Map US House (this shows Congressional districts and the MVP & ACP routes)
- Map VA House (this shows state delegate districts and the MVP & ACP routes)
- Map VA Senate (this shows state senate districts and the MVP & ACP routes)
With many permits revoked or in court, Dominion now wants to legislate the ACP route. We urge everyone to use SELC’s materials and contact elected officials, community members, and the media to educate them with up-to-date information, including the many reasons why the proposed AT crossing is unlawful and should not receive special treatment from Congress – and why the ACP is simply not necessary!
Just a heads up to citizens and visitors of Nelson County: in recent days F & R workers have been drilling “core samples” and leaving behind some new survey flags at various locations where ACP proposes to cross Nelson’s roads. Rte 29, Rte 151 and Beech Grove Road are among the locations where citizen monitors have reported this activity, and we expect ACP will probably do this at many, if not all, of the proposed road crossings in the coming days. Please note that we are aware of this activity and are keeping a watchful eye. This is ACP doing further geotechnical studies, not ACP starting to do the actual drilling/construction under our roads.
If you see something noteworthy or something that concerns you, please alert Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program by calling 877-Go2ABRA, by emailing CSI@abralliance.org.
On May 16, 2019, more than 50 organizations from across the state (including Friends of Nelson) sent a letter to Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and to Virginia’s members of the House of Representatives calling on them to resist Dominion Energy’s political pressure seeking legislation allowing it to get around a decision by a federal court.
Their letter says, “Congress should not legislate the permits or routes for gas pipelines through national parks in Virginia,” and asks the legislators to “protect the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the interests of our many members in Virginia by opposing any federal legislation that would exempt the Atlantic Coast or Mountain Valley pipelines from normal process or clear the path for the building or siting of these controversial projects.”
Write your own letters! Use the letters linked above as models for yours, or go to the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley’s “No Passes” page and use the links there to send email to your legislators.