Category Archives: Virginia government

Northam’s Energy Plan: High Points and Missed Opportunities

Writing in the Virginia Mercury on October 15, 2018, Ivy Main analyzes Governor Northam’s new Virginia Energy Plan, especially in light of the recently released report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “that makes it clear we need ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Main says, “There’s a lot to like in Northam’s energy plan, but missed opportunities abound,” and notes that “Perhaps no Virginia politician today has the courage to rise to the challenge the IPCC describes. Certainly, Gov. Northam shows no signs of transforming into a rapid-change kind of leader. But as we celebrate the proposals in his energy plan that would begin moving us away from our fossil-fuel past, we also have to recognize that none of them go nearly far enough.”

She discusses in detail some of the high points of the administration’s plan as well as the missed opportunities.

Report on Sept. 28 Arguments Before 4th Circuit Court

Thanks to Lew Freeman of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance for this report on the arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 28, 2018:

Yesterday, September 28, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond heard arguments on two important cases challenging permits granted to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The first case challenged the December 13 [2017] decision by the Virginia State Water Control Board to grant a water quality certificate for the ACP (pursuant to requirements of Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act). The second case challenged the decisions of the U.S. Forest Service to amend the Forest Plans of the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest and to accordingly issue a Special Use Permit for the ACP to cross the two forests. The plaintiffs in both cases were a group of ABRA member organizations and others that were jointly represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). An article about the briefs filed in each case appeared in the September 21 [2018] ABRA Update (see https://www.abralliance.org/2018/09/21/court-to-hear-challenges-to-acp-forest-service-water-quality-permits/?highlight=court%20to%20hear%20challenges).

I attended Friday’s arguments. The lawyers representing our interests – Ben Luckett of Appalmad in the 401 case; D.J. Gerkin of SELC in the Forest Service case – were most effective. More about the oral arguments will appear in next week’s ABRA Update. For now, though, I want to highlight a particularly significant moment during the arguments presented in the Forest Service case. In the course of the argument presented by the U.S. Justice Department attorney representing the U.S. Forest Service, Chief Judge Roger Gregory, who was presiding over the panel, interrupted the attorney and noted that the U.S. Forest Service had been diligently asking Dominion Energy for more complete information on how the company would and could build the ACP through the steep forest lands in West Virginia and Virginia without causing environmental damage. The judge then observed that the Forest Service seemed to have suddenly changed its mind and proceeded to approve the requested Special Use Permit. Judge Gregory inquired of the attorney what the circumstances were that caused the Forest Service to change course. The attorney responded evasively, prompting the judge to interrupt him again and ask: “When?” The attorney tried to continue with his non-responsive response, and Judge Gregory again interrupted with: “When?” The judge’s “When?” question was asked twice more, but never received a response, prompting Judge Gregory to thunder: “Who’s running the train?” It was a riveting moment and one that also caught the attention of Michael Martz of the Richmond Times Dispatch [Martz’s article appears in both the Daily Progress and the Times Dispatch].

A recording of Friday’s oral arguments will be available on the Court’s website on Monday [October 1, 2018] at https://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/oral-argument/listen-to-oral-arguments.  The case numbers you will need to access the recordings are: 401 case – 18-1077; Forest Service case: 18-1144.


The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued the following statement about the oral arguments challenging the ACP’s water quality certification:

“This year Virginians have seen firsthand the terrible damage that pipeline construction can do to communities and waterways. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cross Virginia waterways nearly 1,000 times from the mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, threatening them with erosion, mudslides, and polluted runoff. All of the evidence shows that the regulations in place cannot provide reasonable assurance that water quality will be protected from pipeline construction and operation. We are pleased that the federal appeals court is looking closely at this question.”

Dereliction of Duty: SWCB Chair Did Not Understand Authority

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition has revealed that the Chair of the State Water Control Board did not understand the authority of the Board, and therefore the votes on the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines were not properly informed by law.

DPMC reports they have learned that Robert Dunn, Chairman of the Virginia State Water Control Board, did not understand the ramifications of the Board’s actions on water quality certifications for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). This shocking information calls the Board’s process and decisions into serious question. Chairman Dunn’s failure to inform himself of the facts about the Board’s authority before taking votes on these enormously damaging and far-reaching projects is an outrageous dereliction of duty.

Dunn sent an email to the Richmond Times Dispatch saying:

Read your article in today‘s Richmond TD.  You stated someone cast a [sic] anti-pipeline vote and someone cast a pro-pipeline vote.  I do not believe the State Water Control Board has the authority to approve or disapprove the pipeline.  The vote was not for or against the pipeline. Do you understand what the SWCB voted on?  I believe the vote had to deal with permits to address water quality and standards.  Question for you:  Does or can the pipeline be built if the SWCB does not grant a permit??  If so, who has control?  In other words does SWCB action have ability to stop the pipeline??? (emphasis added by DPMC)

Of course, the legal reality is that the Clean Water Act gives the state an absolute veto authority over any federally-licensed project that might violate its water quality requirements. The information submitted for the Board’s consideration before any votes were taken contains detailed legal analyses of the state’s authorities and role in regard to the pipeline processes.  Thousands of people throughout Virginia understand that states have the power to deny approvals and thereby stop bad projects—clearly, Chairman Dunn does not.

Dunn’s question: “Does or can the pipeline be built if the SWCB does not grant a permit??” shows a failure to carry out his duty to understand the laws and regulations he’s charged with applying. If Mr. Dunn had questions about the scope of the Board’s authority, he should have sought the answer from those involved in the process and the official record upon which he was obligated to base his votes. And he should have made those inquiries before participating in the Board’s decisions, not months after taking his first vote on the pipeline certifications and after three Board meetings where these issues were discussed.

Dunn’s failure to do what was necessary to understand his proper role as a Board member and, therefore, his willingness to cast votes without learning the facts and law that should have governed him should disqualify him from continued service on the Board. We call on Mr. Dunn to resign immediately. If Dunn fails to do so, Governor Northam must act now to remove him from the Board and replace him with a person who will do his or her duty.

For more information, see DPMC’s article, Dereliction of Duty
 

In the Neighborhood


A video about the neighborhood around the proposed compressor station.

Weigh in as Virginia officials consider the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

Let the Virginia Air Board know that compressor stations like the one Dominion is planning for Union Hill pose health risks for neighbors and pollute the surrounding community’s air.

How to comment?  Go here.

Appalling Silence

Jonathan Sokolow’s September 4, 2018, article in Medium, Pipeline Politics: The Appalling Silence of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, discusses the apparent acceptance of  the “old plantation tradition” by Governor Northam, his Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, and his Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler.

“But elsewhere in Virginia, plantation politics is alive and well, shining a bright and distasteful light on the pipeline battle over which Matt Strickler and Governor Northam are presiding. And the epicenter is Buckingham County, the geographic heart of the Commonwealth.”

Northam has been completely silent on Union Hill for four years, although he directly addressed Dominion’s plans to build a compressor station for a different project in view of Mt. Vernon, and a week later Dominion moved the compressor station. Mt. Vernon is now safe, Union Hill is not.

Northam has remained silent despite pleas from the Virginia State Chapter of the NAACP, despite the investigation of Union Hill by the U.S. Justice Department, and despite the strong statement of the Governor’s own Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. Sokolow notes that, “You would expect a Democratic governor, elected in 2017 with overwhelming African American support, to respond positively to such recommendations from his own Environmental Justice appointees. You would be wrong.”

Sokolow reminds us, “In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama that would become a bedrock document of the Civil Rights Movement. Speaking to leaders who, despite good intentions, failed to speak up against injustice, King famously wrote: ‘We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.'”

Sokolow concludes, “Northam’s silence is more than just embarrassing. His failure to listen to his own appointees is more than just insulting. One might say his silence is appalling.”