Category Archives: Virginia government

50+ Groups and Delegates Demand Northam Deny Permits for Two New Pipelines & Gas Plant

A September 25, 2019, press release from Food and Water Watch:

50+ Groups and Delegates Demand Northam Deny Permits for Two New Pipelines & Gas Plant

Virginia cannot approve more dirty energy investment if it really wants to tackle climate change impacts

Contact: Jorja Rose, jrose@fwwatch.org, 202-683-2483

Richmond, VA — Today, Delegates Lee Carter, Del. Sam Rasoul, Food & Water Action, and a coalition of over 50 groups across Virginia officially released a letter urging Governor Ralph Northam to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. The letter specifically calls on the governor’s administration to deny state permits for two new pipelines in Northern Virginia and in Pittsylvania that will lead to more dependence on fossil fuels and the development of new dirty fuel infrastructure in the state.

“At a time when scientists are nearly unanimous in calling for the end of fossil fuel use, there can be no reasonable justification for building new natural gas pipelines,” said Delegate Lee Carter. “These two projects – one of which is in Manassas – will endanger those who live nearby, will directly damage the environment during construction, and will massively contribute to the ongoing climate crisis which we should instead be working to stop.”

Virginia is currently reviewing air and water permits that would allow the Southeastern Trail Expansion project to build out a new pipeline in Northern Virginia and expand several compressor stations. In Pittsylvania, the MVP Southgate Extension would also add 30 new miles of pipeline in Virginia.

“Virginia’s state agencies must thoroughly review the water and air permits being sought by these new projects. I believe that after weighing all of the risks associated with these projects, the agencies will reject these permits,” said Delegate Sam Rasoul. “We have a choice as a state now to head in the direction of a Green New Deal. Virginia does not need any more fracked gas pipelines nor fracked gas plants that will endanger the health and safety of Virginia communities.

The group letter criticizes past decisions to allow the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipelines that will be transporting fracked gas across the state. Both of those pipelines have garnered strong opposition because of the negative health and safety impacts they will have on Virginia communities, in particular, vulnerable communities that already bear the disproportionate brunt of fossil fuel negative impacts.

“Governor Northam should direct state agencies to deny permits for any new fossil fuel infrastructure if he’s truly committed to the 100% renewable energy future he announced last week,” said Jorge Aguilar, the southern region director for Food & Water Action. “The governor’s commitment to addressing climate change will mean nothing if his agencies are still approving pipelines and gas plants behind the scenes.”

“People of faith know that more pipelines endanger our neighbors both near and far,” said Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, Director of Faithful Advocacy for Interfaith Power & Light, which engages congregations in addressing climate change. “We urge the governor to instead join caring congregations across Virginia in shifting to cleaner power.”

This release comes on the heels of Northam issuing Executive Order 43 last week, which failed to make any mention of halting current fossil fuel infrastructure projects like the Chickahominy gas plant in Charles City and other pipelines, which will also wreak havoc on the environment and communities of Virginia.

“The fight against Chickahominy Power gas plant demonstrates what is at stake for all of us, starting with the frontline community whose well water is directly under threat and who will be near to the 6.5 million tons of greenhouse gases emitted annually from the plant,” said Dr. Mary Finley-Brook, PhD, Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative. “After stealing our water and poisoning our air, this gas plant will become a stranded asset when we move to truly clean renewables.”

Full letter here: https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/govnorthamopposeffpermitsgroupsignonletter.pdf

DEQ Issues Stop Work on 2-Mile Section of MVP

Following is a statement issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on August 2, 2019.

Contact: Ann Regn, 804-698-4442, Ann.Regn@DEQ.Virginia.gov

DEQ ISSUES STOP WORK ON APPROXIMATELY TWO-MILE SECTION OF MOUNTAIN VALLEY PIPELINE

All ongoing clearing, grading and trenching must stop in this designated area

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued a stop work instruction to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP). The instruction is based on issues identified during DEQ inspections that cite insufficient erosion and sediment controls on approximately a two-mile section of the project in Spread H in Montgomery County.

Based on a DEQ inspection conducted on Thursday, Aug. 1, the agency has determined that an imminent and substantial adverse impact to water quality is likely to occur as a result of land-disturbing activities. Specifically, MVP has failed to construct and maintain erosion and sediment control or pollution prevention measures in accordance with approved site-specific plans and/or the erosion and sediment control measures that have been installed are not functioning effectively and MVP has not proposed any corrective action.

Work in this section will be suspended until these corrective actions are installed and approved by DEQ through field inspection and verification. MVP must stop all land disturbing activities in this area including clearing, grading and trenching activities in the designated area. The only activity currently authorized in this area is work necessary to install and maintain erosion control devices as required by the approved site-specific erosion and sediment control plans, and the annual standards and specifications.

“We are appalled that construction priorities and deadline pressures would ever rise above the proper and appropriate use of erosion control measures,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “DEQ will continue to monitor and inspect all ongoing work to ensure continued compliance and protection of Virginia’s natural resources.”

For more information and the full stop work instruction, visit www.DEQ.Virginia.gov/MVP

Press coverage in the Roanoke Times is here. The Roanoke Times article says, “Environmental advocate Russell Chisholm said in a release that he was ‘appalled’ that the company’s skimping on control measures to advance the project surprised the DEQ. Citizens have repeatedly reported similar lapses in permit compliance for at least a year.”    His statement noted that “In response to citizen reports, ‘those in positions of power chose to ignore our calls for real, meaningful enforcement through a stop work order and instead allowed MVP to work despite several missing federal permits, a pending lawsuit for violations, and at least 35 Notices of Violation in West Virginia.'”


An additional blow to MVP on August 2, 2019, came from federal district court Judge Elizabeth Dillon, who denied the pipeline company’s request for an order removing tree sitters on the route.  See Jonathan Sokolow’s report.

Witnesses Tell SCC Dominion Has Sufficient Pipeline Capacity

From the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update 239, August 1, 2019:

Two witnesses appearing before a July 30 Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) hearing on the proposed fuel factor for Dominion Energy to use in calculating future customer rates testified that the company has sufficient pipeline capacity to meet future energy demands.

Greg Lander, an energy consultant representing Appalachian Voices (an ABRA member), testified that Dominion “has sufficient pipeline capacity to serve its existing generation fleet. Further, because of the frequency, magnitude, and duration of the non-power plant deliveries under its existing pipeline contracts, I conclude that the Company has ample pipeline capacity to serve additional power generation load should that be necessary.” Mr. Lander’s analysis was echoed by Bernadette Johnson, a consultant retained by the SCC staff.

Mr. Lander’s filed testimony is available here. Ms. Johnson’s filed testimony is available here and here.

The SCC is expected to decide about Dominon’s fuel factor proposal in 2-3 weeks.

Crucial Legal Decisions Expected in Coming Months

This excellent Status of Principal Court Challenges to Permits and Certifications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was prepared by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance and posted in the ABRA Update #236 for July 12, 2019.

Construction activity on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was suspended several months ago as the result of a stay from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a successful challenge to the endangered species biological opinion that had been issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But, a decision on that important case, as well as decisions regarding some other cases challenging permits for the ACP are expected over the next 3-4 months. Here is a rundown of the status of the key court cases that have been brought by various ABRA member organizations.

1. FERC Certificate – A challenge to the Federal Energy Commission’s (FERC) issuance of a certificate for the ACP on October 13, 2017 was filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 16, 2018. The plaintiffs are 14 conservation groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The suit could not be filed until FERC formally rejected a request for a rehearing of the certificate, which did not occur until August 10. One basis of the suit is the petitioners’ contention that FERC did not look behind the affiliate agreements that Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, (principal partners in the project) claim demonstrate that the pipeline is needed in Virginia and North Carolina markets. The petitioners argue that FERC’s Environmental Justice Impact Statement is fatally flawed. Jurisdiction of the case has been transferred to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are expected to occur in the fall of 2019.

2. Forest Service Permit – On January 23, 2018, the U.S. Forest Service granted the ACP a Special Use Permit to cross national forest lands and a right-of-way to cross beneath the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST). This action followed a November 17, 2017 decision by the Forest Service to amend the Forest Plans for the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests to accommodate the ACP. A suit was filed on February 5, 2018 by seven conservation/environmental organizations (most members of ABRA) represented by SELC, arguing that the Forest Service had rushed to judgment to approve the project, notwithstanding raising serious questions about the project’s ability to be built over steep mountain terrain without serious environmental damage. The case was argued before a three-judge panel on September 28, 2018. On December 13, the Fourth Circuit ruled to vacate the Forest Service permit, expressing agreement with the petitioners about environmental threats being improperly evaluated and the Forest Service’s failure to asses off-forest alternatives, and in addition ruled that the Forest Service lacked the authority to grant the project permission to cross the ANST.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) on January 28 filed with the Fourth Circuit requesting a rehearing en banc, meaning a hearing on the case before all fifteen judges of the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit rejected the ACP, LLC petition for rehearing and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was filed June 25. The Supreme Court is expected to decide in October whether to take the case.

3. Fish and Wildlife Service – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) biological opinion on threats to endangered species by the ACP was vacated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 5, 2018, but an opinion from the Court explaining its order was not issued until August 6. A new biological opinion was issued by the FWS that sought to meet the court’s objections. That re-issued opinion was also been challenged by the petitioners, (Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee) represented by SELC. That challenge was argued before the Fourth Circuit on May 9, 2019. A decision is expected later in the summer. The re-issued biological opinion is currently stayed pending a ruling by the court.

4. National Park Service Permit – The National Park Service’s (NPS) December 2017 approval for the ACP to cross underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway was challenged in the Fourth Circuit by Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, represented by SELC. The Court vacated the permit on August 6, and FERC issued a stop-work order for the entire project on August 10. The stop-work order was lifted September 17, just five weeks later, when the NPS issued a new permit that purported to remedy the deficiencies in the earlier permit. That permit was challenged again by the petitioners in the Fourth Circuit.

Before the case was argued, the Park Service asked the Court to vacate the previously issued permit for the ACP to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway so the agency could “consider whether issuance of a right-of-way permit for the pipeline to cross an adjacent segment of the Parkway is appropriate.” The Fourth Circuit granted that motion on January 23. Thus, at this writing, there is no permit for the ACP to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway.

5. Army Corps of Engineers – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filed a motion on January 18 with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for a remand and vacating of the permit that the Huntington District of the Corps had issued for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross rivers and streams in West Virginia. The Court had previously issued a stay of the Nationwide 12 (NWP12) permit issued for the ACP by the Huntington District, as well as other NWP12 permits issued for the project by Corps districts in Pittsburgh, Norfolk and Wilmington that have jurisdiction over other portions of the ACP project. The motion was unopposed and subsequently granted by the Court. While the action only directly affects the portion of the ACP subject to the Huntington District’s jurisdiction (West Virginia portions of the route), the stays on stream and river crossings for the ACP in the other Corps districts remain in effect.

6. Buckingham County Compressor Station Air Permit – The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted on January 8, 2019 to grant an air permit for the proposed ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, VA. The vote had been delayed several times and was particularly contentious because of concerns over air emissions that would affect the immediate area, as well as the Chesapeake Bay to the east, but also be because it would be built proximate to an historic African American community, raising the issue of environmental justice. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Friends of Buckingham, challenged on February 8 the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s decision to approve Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Buckingham County compressor station. Joining SELC in the lawsuit, filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, was the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. SELC filed its opening brief on May 31. Response briefs are due to be filed by July 24. Oral arguments are expected in the Fall.

7. Virginia State Water Board 401 Certification – The Virginia water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act was granted December 12, 2017 by the State Water Control Board. The action was challenged in a suit filed by SELC on behalf of several conservation group clients and argued before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 28, 2018. The principal contention in the case was that the Board’s approval of the certificate for the ACP was, on several grounds, arbitrary and capricious. On January 14, 2019, the Court rejected the arguments of the petitioners.

Crowd Calls on Herring to Act

Writing in Blue Virginia on May 19, 2019, Delegate Mark Keam says, “At the ‘Virginians for Justice: Progress Not Pipelines!’ rally in Leesburg, a huge crowd of activists from across the Commonwealth called on Attorney General Mark Herring to take stronger action to stop the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline from destroying Appalachia. These fierce grassroots leaders and tireless environmental champions have been fighting for years to stop more fracked methane gas extractions generally, and Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines specifically. I regret that I joined this fight only last year when I should have done so much earlier. But today, I was proud to stand with these warriors and with my friends and House colleagues Sam Rasoul and Chris Hurst whose legislative districts are much closer to the impact zones.”

Keam refers readers to the May 17 article by Rasoul (see A Wealth of Options at Our Disposal below), recommending the “many ways that anyone in Virginia can take action to protect us from a risky and unnecessary infrastructure project which will lead to further carbon pollution and environmental injustice.”

Read Keam’s full article here.

Here’s the video of the May 18 Leesburg rally: