Category Archives: Virginia government

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.

Support Virginia’s HB 167


Please ask your delegate to support HB 167. The bill would require electric utilities who want to expand their capacity to deliver fuel and then recover the costs from their customers to prove that: 1) additional capacity is needed, 2) both the amount of additional supply and its delivery date are clearly identified, 3) alternatives have been objectively studied, and 4) the new source is the least expensive option. If HB 167 were to become law, it would cut down on the number of costly, dangerous and unnecessary pipeline projects like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Click here for detailed information on the bill and to follow its progress.

Click here to find your legislators and their contact information.

In addition to contacting your own legislators, the League of Conservation Voters suggests it would be useful to contact the following key legislators and tell them you support HB167:

Action Alert: Stand with Union Hill


A federal court recently struck down the permit that would allow Dominion to build a huge compressor station in the historic minority community of Union Hill in Buckingham County (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/opinion/virginia-pipeline.html). Dominion says it will push ahead to build the compressor station, a key part of its Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposal. Please take a moment to to ask Governor Northam to stand with Union Hill and stop this violation of environmental justice. Here’s how to contact the governor:

Mailing Address
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

EmailFill out the email form here.

Phone:   (804) 786-2211

Herring Files Amicus Brief in Cowpasture Case

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has filed an amicus brief in the Cowpasture case before the US Supreme Court, the case in which the Forest Service and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are challenging the Fourth Circuit Court’s ruling on the Forest Service’s permit for the ACP to cross the Appalachian Trail.

Herring’s lead argument is that “The Pipeline Threatens Virginia’s Natural Resources Without Clear Corresponding Benefits” – in other words, the ACP is not needed. The brief’s second argument is that “The Challenged Permitting Decision Violated Numerous Federal Statutes and Regulations.”

The brief’s summary:

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a proposed 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline that would begin in West Virginia and terminate in two different locations in North Carolina and Virginia. The pipeline would bisect Virginia from its northwestern corner to its southern border before splitting in two and turning northeast towards the Atlantic Ocean. Along its proposed route, the pipeline would run directly through several of Virginia’s most cherished places — the George Washington National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail.

The pipeline company (Atlantic) claims the project is necessary to address an unmet and growing demand for natural gas in Virginia and North Carolina. But that claim does not withstand scrutiny. Indeed, recent analyses indicate that the demand for natural gas will remain flat or decrease for the foreseeable future and can be met with existing infrastructure.

Beyond offering dubious benefits, the pipeline unquestionably threatens some of Virginia’s most valued natural sites. The George Washington National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail are woven into the fabric of Virginia’s history, offering solitude and recreation to Virginians and visitors for generations, bringing tourism and its corresponding benefits to the neighboring communities. Despite the undisputed (and indisputable) value of the natural resources in the pipeline’s path, the United States Forest Service failed to conduct the meticulous review of Atlantic’s permit application called for by the Service’s governing statutes and regulations. Instead, the permitting process was rushed and slip-shod and driven by Atlantic’s arbitrary deadlines. Given the chaotic nature of the agency proceedings, it is unsurprising that the Fourth Circuit invalidated the permit on three separate grounds that are entirely independent of the question whether the Forest Service has authority to grant Atlantic permission to cross the Appalachian Trail.

Atlantic and the Forest Service challenge none of those alternative holdings. As a result, the challenged permit will be invalid regardless of how the Court resolves the question on which it granted review. What is more, the Fourth Circuit’s decision specifically requires the Service to consider alternative routes that do not cross National Forest land. For that reason, it is highly unclear if the issue before this Court — whether the Mineral Leasing Act would authorize the Forest Service to issue a pipeline right-of-way across the Appalachian Trail — will re-emerge. The Forest Service’s arguments to the contrary betray its intent to repeat the shoddy review conducted the first time around, ignoring its statutory and regulatory mandate to give due consideration to alternative routes for the pipeline. This Court should not indulge the agency’s abdication of its critical responsibilities.

Virginia agrees with the arguments made by respondents and their other State amici and urges this Court to affirm if it reaches the question presented. In the alternative, Virginia asks the Court to dismiss the writ of certiorari given the Fourth Circuit’s (entirely correct) conclusion that the challenged permit fails for numerous other reasons. Because respondents and their other State amici aptly present the arguments for affirming on the specific question on which this Court granted review, this brief focuses on the Fourth Circuit’s alternative grounds for invalidating the challenged permit.

Read Herring’s full amicus brief here.

Other states attorneys general filed amicus briefs supporting the Fourth Circuit’s decision. From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #260:

The amicus brief filed by Vermont Attorney General Thomas Donovan, on behalf of his state and 12 other states and the District of Columbia, stressed that the Appalachian Trail is a vital part of the National Park System and that “existing Appalachian Trail pipeline crossings and utility easements will be unaffected” by the Fourth Circuit’s decision. The AGs’ brief also notes that the “availability of adequate energy sources or even this particular pipeline project” are not imperiled by the Fourth Circuit decision, noting that the project could be built on nonfederal land to cross the Trail.

Seven of the 13 states filing amici briefs in support of the Fourth Circuit decision encompass 58% of the total length of the Appalachian Trail. Of the 18 states whose Attorneys General filed briefs in support of the Forest Service/ACP appeal, only 2 are states traversed by the Trail – Georgia and West Virginia – and their total of 80 Trail miles represents less than 4% of the Trail’s 2200-mile length. Other amici briefs filed this week in support of the Fourth Circuit decision include those by: John Jarvis, former Superintendent of the National Park Service; Natural Resources Defense Council; Wintergreen Property Owners Association; and a joint brief by Nelson County, VA and the City of Staunton.

A link to all the briefs filed is available here.