Category Archives: Virginia government

DEQ: Still Resisting Water Protections, Public Participation


In a Virginia Mercury guest column on May 11, 2020, Wild Virginia’s David Sligh discusses the ongoing refusal by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to recognize violations of water quality “in thousands of photographs, scientific study results, and other evidence given to DEQ” that “agency officials can’t or, more plausibly, won’t see.”

He says, “In state reviews for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, many of us warned that dirt washing off the land and released during digging and blasting through streams would produce harmful sediment pollution. MVP’s degradation of our waters has proven us right. DEQ failed to use available tools or develop necessary ones to prevent that damage in this case and these failures have allowed pollution problems in many other cases as well, though usually with much less public exposure.”

DEQ’s response? They repeatedly say they don’t know how to assess whether a violation is present, it is too difficult to adopt numeric criteria for pollutants, tasks are too difficult to do in a timely fashion, and resources are lacking.

In March 2020, DEQ announced a new stakeholder advisory group to discuss numeric criteria for turbidity in streams. Sounds good, right? Not as good as it sounds.

“First, DEQ has decided to exclude willing and able members of the public from meaningful roles and has stacked the SAG with representatives of regulated industries and others with financial interests and histories of opposing stringent regulations.”

“Second, DEQ started this process after decades of failing to provide this most basic protection and, only then, under orders from the State Water Control Board. This lack of initiative by DEQ leaders leaves Virginia trailing behind a majority of states and our waters unprotected against severe damages that should have been stopped years ago.”

For the new stakeholder advisory group, DEQ “hand-picked organizations and individuals it wanted in the room” and “because this committee is not part of an official regulatory process, state laws about public involvement do not apply.”

Dominion Signals Plan Shift

See media coverage of Dominion’s announced reduction of natural gas generation facilities in the Daily Progress and in the Virginia Mercury.

The following is a press release from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, April 3, 2020

Statement: Dominion’s IRP a “Snowball” In Forthcoming “Avalanche” of Companies Abandoning Gas Plans

RICHMOND, VA — On Thursday, April 2, Dominion Energy signaled a shift away from its previous intentions to build out fracked-gas infrastructure in Virginia, and pointed to the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851) as the impetus. The monopoly utility asked the State Corporation Commission for permission to change what it is required to model in its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Dominion wrote in its request that “significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable, with the passage by the General Assembly of the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 (the ‘VCEA’).” The statement continues: “The VCEA establishes the objective of 100 percent clean energy by 2045, and permits the construction of carbon-emitting generating facilities only if there is a threat to reliability or security of electric service. For these reasons, the Company believes that the aforementioned requirements related to the development of those specific resources are no longer necessary.”

Dominion’s previous IRP included 8-10 new combustion turbines and combined cycle facilities under various planning scenarios.

Harrison Wallace, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated in response:

“After passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, Dominion almost immediately abandoned all its plans for new gas plants. We believe this an open declaration that what we’ve been saying all along is true: There is no future for gas.

“Dominion’s actions clearly represent the first snowball in what should soon become an avalanche of companies abandoning gas in all its forms including pipelines and generation plants. Now, Dominion should go the rest of the way and close shop on the doomed and unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle. And the other energy companies in Virginia behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Chickahominy gas plant, and more, should follow suit and end their new gas plans as soon as possible. Then they can join us in rebuilding Virginia with a clean energy economy instead.”

CONTACT:
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, 804-305-1472, harrison@chesapeakeclimate.org
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, 240-630-1889, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

VA, WV Announce Environmental Enforcement Policies During Pandemic

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #270, April 2, 2020

The recently announced U.S. EPA policy on enforcement discretion during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue clarifying guidance. The DEQ statement, issued March 31, says:

All regulated entities are expected to make every effort to comply with environmental compliance obligations, adhere to permit limits, and maintain the safe and environmentally protective operation of their facilities. We recognize this is an unprecedented public health crisis. DEQ must balance environmental protection with protecting the public’s health. As we all continue to navigate through this crisis, DEQ staff will consider non-compliance issues resulting from COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis, but by no means does this crisis equal a free pass for the regulated community.

However, should growing health concerns and public safety recommendations resulting from COVID19 and Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 51 declaring a state of emergency in Virginia affect normal operations, DEQ will review non-compliance issues on a case-by-case basis and exercise enforcement discretion as appropriate.

The WV DEP issued a statement on March 27 saying:

It is important to note that the WVDEP expects facilities to continue to be operated in a manner that fully protects human health and the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, continued operation and monitoring pollution control devices, record-keeping, maintenance, testing, and reporting requirements. If compliance is not reasonably practicable due to issues related to COVID-19 pandemic, facilities with environmental compliance obligations should contact the WVDEP and follow the requirements outlined in the EPA memorandum listed here: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-policy-guidance-publications.

Pandemic Impacts Agencies and Courts Dealing with Pipeline Issue

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #268, March 19, 2020:

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a decisive impact on the activities of regulatory agencies and courts who have jurisdiction over pipeline issues. Within the last few days, the following has occurred:

  • The DC Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely suspended in-person oral arguments. The Court was scheduled to hear on March 31 for a major case challenging the tolling order policy of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC’s policy of delaying the consideration of appeals of its decisions). The Court will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to hear cases by teleconference, postpone arguments or decide cases based on briefs alone.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has cancelled its scheduled March 19 meeting and FERC staff began working from home, effective March 16. FERC offices are closed to outside visitors. The next scheduled Commission meeting is April 16. It is uncertain at this time whether that meeting will occur.
  • The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality announced this week it is suspending routine field activities, including inspections and monitoring, for the next two weeks, though it will continue to “investigate significant pipeline concerns” during that period.
  • The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board will not hold a Spring meeting. The Board had not yet scheduled the meeting. Whenever the Board next meets a primary agenda item will likely be what to do about the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was vacated in January by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

Virginia to Hold Forums on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Governor Northam’s administration is planning five community forums to get input on Virginia’s first-ever Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence. The forums will be in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Bristol, Falls Church and Norfolk throughout March.

Appalachian Voices says, “The governor’s press release said the forums are to get public input on a draft plan to address systemic inequities in state government on issues including education, healthcare and job opportunities. Despite the heightened focus on the need for environmental justice in decision-making by the state on issues like fracked-gas pipelines and gas plants, the press release made no specific mention of the environment.”

When Appalachian Voices asked the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion about the format for public engagement, the office replied: “These are working sessions where we foster conversation and dialogue. There will be time for both verbal and virtual public comment. …As much as we would like to hear from everyone, we are unable to do so. Public comments and/or questions will have up to a minute per person. In addition, we are prepared to receive written questions/comments/suggestions.”

The first forum was held in Norfolk on March 2, 2020. The remaining four forums will all be from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM  at these locations:

  • Monday March 9, 2020, Charlottesville, Charlottesville High School, Media Center, 1400 Melbourne Rd.
  • Wednesday March 18, 2020, Harrisonburg:  Harrisonburg City Hall, 409 South Main St.
  • Wednesday March 25, 2020, Northern Virginia:  James Lee Community Center, 2855 Annandale Rd,. Falls Church
  • Wednesday March 31, 2020, Bristol:  Bristol Virginia Public Schools, School Board Office, 220 Lee St.

Registration is not required, but space is limited at all the venues, and those interested in attending are urged to pre-register here.

In a related story, Virginia Mercury reported on March 4, 2020 that Governor signs bill making Virginia Council on Environmental Justice permanent.

DEQ Launches Environmental Justice Study

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #264, February 20, 2020

An effort to develop recommendations for incorporation of environmental justice principles into the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) programs and actions, announced last September by the agency, will soon begin interviewing environmental justice stakeholders, non-government organizations, local government officials and others in coming weeks. The February 19, 2020 announcement of the forthcoming interviews comes in the wake of the recent decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the air permit for the Buckingham County compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for reasons that included the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s failure to properly consider the environmental justice impacts of the project.

Click here for a copy of the DEQ’s announcement.