Category Archives: Virginia government

DPMC Acts While DEQ Delays

We received the news below from Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition on Friday morning July 20, 2018. Many thanks to DPMC for their determination and persistence!  DPMC, with the help of Wild Virginia, expects to make all comments made to DEQ, as well as a summary, available online in the next week. They are doing for the citizens of Virginia what DEQ has failed to do.  Link to the DPMC post on their Web site:  http://pipelineupdate.org/2018/07/20/citizens-will-act-where-the-state-delays/

CITIZENS WILL ACT WHERE THE STATE DELAYS

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has learned that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is just now compiling the thousands of emails and other comments citizens submitted during the comment period that ended more than a month ago.

This outrageous foot-dragging fits a pattern DEQ has set for months and heightens the likelihood of further damage to state waters by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) before the State Water Control Board has the chance to rule on the sufficiency of waterbody crossing reviews. The Board saw a need for this information way back on April 12, based on concerns that a blanket permit from the Corps of Engineers may not be adequate to ensure Virginia’s water quality standards will be met.

On July 3, with no commitment from DEQ as to when the comments would be available to all, DPMC decided to acquire them and provide them online. We filed a records request on July 3, 2018, seeking copies of all comments sent to DEQ. The law requires the agency to provide records within five work-days or explain why it is not “practically possible” to do so in that time period.

That deadline fell on July 11 and that day DEQ told us it would not get us the emails within the required time or tell us when it would be able to do so. They said the emails had not yet been compiled so they could be provided electronically, due to technical difficulties. We then insisted we be allowed to review the emails in person on DEQ’s computers and were told this too was not possible. We reiterated that the law required better and that we would not accept DEQ’s failure to comply.

Suddenly, just two days later on July 13, DEQ gave us more than 7,000 emails. Apparently, the technical difficulties that DEQ claimed may require more than two additional weeks to solve were now solved – but only under pressure from DPMC. Why had those difficulties not been tackled and solved in the three months since the Board ordered the public notice?

We and Wild Virginia will make all of the comments available online and publish a summary within the next week. Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack.

We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job. The repeated promises of transparency and sound science by administration officials have not been kept. It is now time for our officials to restore integrity to this process.

DPMC Posts Summary of Comments on Stream Crossings

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition has posted links to the Virginia Conservation Network’s collection of comments to the State Water Control Board, along with an initial summary of comments to which the SWCB must respond.

From the DPMC Web page (many thanks to DPMC for their fine summary!):

The Virginia Conservation Network (VCN) has collected  comments submitted in response to the State Water Control Board’s request for public input concerning the Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 and where it falls short in upholding state water quality standards and where stream-by-stream reviews are needed for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. VCN has established a webpage to provide access to these comments:  http://www.vcnva.org/pipeline-comments/.

An extensive review and summary of comments will be prepared and made available to the public and the Water Control Board. A initial summary of assembled comments follows. Additional comments can be shared with David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory System Investigator, at david@wildvirginia.org.

Initial Summary of Comments: NWP12 is Not Sufficient to Protect Virginia Streams

The Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12) is insufficient to meet Virginia’s water quality standards. This permit is for “activities that have no more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.” The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) clearly do not meet this description. Consider the following synopsis from a selection of comments to the State Water Control Board.

    • Damage to streams is already being caused by construction activities: mudslides and sediment discharges from MVP have inundated Virginia streams and covered roads and neighboring properties; NWP12 is currently allowing damage to streams in South Carolina from a Dominion Energy project; West Virginia regulators have already issued four Notices of Violation for serious erosion problems and stream impacts from MVP. SELC and Appalachian Mountain Advocates comments discuss the current on-the-ground situation in detail.
    • Mitigation measures as planned are inadequate to protect water quality: plans from developers are generalized and site-specific analyses are inadequate; many designs currently exceed engineering specifications; plans fail to consider combined impacts from upland activities and stream crossings. Sierra Club’s comments describe specific inadequate engineering evaluations and designs in detail.
    • NWP12 ignores cumulative effects of multiple crossings: the permit looks at individual crossings in isolation and ignores the cumulative effects of multiple crossings on the same stream or small watershed. Wild Va/DPMC comments identify and describe potential individual and combined impacts from numerous sites within four “clusters” of crossings.
    • DEQ presented incomplete and inaccurate information to the public: at least 81 crossings proposed by ACP and many for MVP are omitted from tables provide by DEQ (which were to provide the bases for comments to the SWCB); the tables also mischaracterize waterbody features. Crossings not identified or accurately described cannot have been adequately reviewed by the Corps or DEQ.
    • When violations occur at specific crossings, as highlighted by the VA Environmental Justice Collaborative, the impacts disproportionately impact low-income and/or minority communities.
    • The SWCB cannot defer to other agencies to protect our waters: the Corps admits it does not assess whether projects can meet state standards and that recreational uses may be impaired or eliminated. Anti-degradation analyses required by state regulations were not conducted by the Corps or DEQ. Wild Va/DPMC comments describe numerous high quality waters where state standards cannot be met and Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has already granted variances to time of year restrictions that are crucial to protect endangered species and sensitive trout streams.
    • The Water Board must use its authority to protect VA’s streams, specifically:
      • Require individual stream crossing reviews for the most sensitive streams and watersheds
      • Insist on complete and accurate information from the developers on the proposed designs, mitigation measures, and disallow variances that threaten water quality
      • Conduct a 30-day comment period on the DEQ draft individual permits
      • Suspend all activity until these reviews are complete

SELC Says Agency Rolled Back Restrictions for Dominion

Photo by Holly Marcus

The ABRA Newsletter reports that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) rolled back construction restrictions to help Dominion with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), in the closing days of the McAuliffe administration, rolled back restrictions on construction in streams to help Dominion and Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers move the project along faster. The modifications granted, which were pursuant to a September 8, 2017 request from Dominion Energy, would effectively weaken protections for Virginia water and wildlife, were made without public input or notice from Virginia to the public, despite widespread opposition to the project. Dominion had previously agreed to all of the restrictions as set out in the project’s environmental impact statement, but it sought waivers to the Time of Year Restrictions (TOYRs) because the company could not meet its original construction schedule. The revelation was announced June 28 by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which obtained the information through documents obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. In a June 22 letter to Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler, who oversees VDGIF, SELC said:

The waivers granted include rescission of the rainbow, brook, and brown trout TOYRs on the Jackson River, one of Virginia’s premier trout rivers, and permission to conduct in-stream construction on at least six Cowpasture River tributaries during the James Spinymussel TOYR. For other streams, such as Stuart Run, Morris Run, Dowell’s Draft, and Back Creek (Augusta County), VDGIF agreed to totally rescind the applicable trout TOYRs. For thirteen Mill Creek tributaries, the agency offered to allow in-stream construction during the James Spinymussel restricted period. In many cases, VDGIF made waivers more extensive than what Atlantic and Dominion had asked for.

Continuing, SELC pointed out to Secretary Strickler:

These rescissions and alterations of TOYRs put in place to protect important public resources are not consistent with the Governor’s promise to protect Virginia rivers and streams from harm caused by pipeline construction and should be reversed. We further request that Virginia publicly commit to strict enforcement of the various resource protection measures imposed by state agencies, and that Virginia will not grant requests for alteration or waiver of these restricted periods and other protective measures without formal public notice and at least a 30-day comment period.

This story was also reported on June 28, 2018, in the Augusta Free Press.

More Than 13,000 Public Comments

On June 18, 2018, the Roanoke Times reported that 2 Pipeline Projects Draw More than 13,000 Public Comments. The comments were submitted to the State Water Control Board (SWCB) to give input on how the Mountain Valley and the Atlantic Coast Pipelines would impact Virginia’s water bodies. The SWCB received approximately 7,100 emails on the ACP and 2,600 emails on the MVP. Another 3,500 letters, reports, and other paper records were submitted, but as of the article’s press time it was unclear how many were related to each pipeline.

Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) has posted on their Web page an overview of copies of comments they received, click here to access.

Ann Regn, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said that comments must be reviewed by DEQ staff members in order to present the information to the SWCB. The SWCB is currently scheduled to meet on August 21, 2018, but there are requests for it to meet sooner, particularly as the MVP has already caused environmental damage and even more is expected as construction continues. Many individuals and organizations are calling for a halt to all construction on both the ACP and the MVP while the over 13,000 comments are carefully considered by the SWCB.  Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, held a news conference on June 18 to push for a state-ordered stop to construction while damage is occurring.

State Legislators File Comments with SWCB

Press release from Delegate Mark Keam’s office, June 15, 2018:

Virginia State Legislators File Comments Urging State Water Control Board to Conduct Stream-By-Stream Analysis of Methane Gas Pipelines’ Impacts on Water Quality

RICHMOND – On Friday, June 15, 2018, sixteen members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates jointly filed comments with the State Water Control Board in the pending regulatory proceeding on the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposals.

In an unprecedented move, the group representing more than ten percent of the 140 combined members of Virginia’s state legislature expressed “serious concerns about how these projects would have severe negative impacts on Virginia’s water resources.”

These legislators believe that the Commonwealth should fully utilize the legal authority it has under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to protect the water quality in Virginia, rather than simply rely upon the Nationwide Permit 12 issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nationwide Permit 12 are generally used by the federal government to handle routine projects that have only minimal effects on water quality.

“Some supporters of pipelines assert that these projects are already approved by the federal government, and so our state has no role,” stated Delegate Mark Keam who helped draft the public comments. “But the facts and the law are clear – the Commonwealth is responsible for protecting Virginia waters, not some bureaucrats in Washington who have never even visited the hundreds of rivers and streams that these pipelines will cross.”

Keam and other legislators urge the Water Board and the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct stream-by-stream analyses of all proposed crossings in Virginia and to require all necessary standards to protect Virginia’s water uses from dangers of the pipelines, including aquatic life, recreation, wildlife, and drinking water supplies.

Read the legislators’ letter to the State Water Control Board here.

LAST CHANCE! Comments Due Today to DEQ

11:59 pm today, Friday, June 15, 2018 is the deadline for submitting comments to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on the adequacy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers NWP 12 program for stream crossings of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Written comments may be submitted via hand-delivery to DEQ, 1111 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219; via postal mail to DEQ, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218; or via e-mail at the following email address(es) ONLY – emails and attachments sent to other email addresses or internet sites will not be considered:

Additional information here.