Category Archives: Virginia government

Legislators Introduce Pipeline Legislation

Delegate Chris Hurst, Delegate Sam Rasoul, and Senator John Edwards held a joint press conference on January 11, 2018, to discuss legislation they’ve introduced to the 2018 Virginia General Assembly aimed at protecting water quality and landowner rights from the construction of fracked-gas pipelines, such as the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. The bills would require the Department of Environmental Quality to perform robust water permitting and impact review, and restrict the ability of pipeline companies to access private property,

The bills are (click on the links to see the full bill):

  • HB 1187 (Curtails the ability of a natural gas company to enter upon real property for the purpose of conducting surveys and other tests for its proposed line or the location of facilities) and HB 1188 (Requires the operator of any natural gas pipeline of a certain size, prior to operation, to commission an independent test of the quality of ground water for each property in the right-of-way and to file a gas discharge contingency plan that is approved by the State Water Control Board (the Board), introduced by Delegate Chris Hurst)
  • HB 1141 (Directs the State Water Control Board (the Board), regarding interstate natural gas pipeline projects, to (i) require both a Virginia Water Protection Permit and an Individual Water Quality Certification under § 401 of the federal Clean Water Act; (ii) review water body crossings, construction through karst terrain, and plans for control of erosion, sediment, and stormwater; (iii) prohibit any land-disturbing activity, including tree felling, prior to the issuance of a Water Quality Certification; and (iv) require horizontal directional drilling for certain crossings of large water bodies) and HB 1294 (Requires any company that plans to construct an interstate natural gas pipeline in Virginia to post a performance bond with the State Water Control Board (the Board) in an amount sufficient to ensure that the Board could address and remediate any adverse water quality impact that arises out of the construction) introduced by Delegate Sam Rasoul
  • SB 324 (Curtails the ability of a natural gas company to enter upon real property for the purpose of conducting surveys and other tests for its proposed line or the location of facilities – a companion to HB 1187 above) introduced by Senator John Edwards.

Respectful Disagreement

There is a thoughtful article on respectful disagreement in the January 8, 2018, Blue Virginia. Carrie Pruett discusses the January 4, 2018, letter State Water Control Board member Peter Wayland wrote to the Richmond Times Dispatch, a letter which did not discuss substantive questions about the pipeline permits or explain his votes on them, but focused instead on what Mr. Wayland called “schoolyard behavior” from attendees.

After commenting on the heavy police and private security presence at the ACP hearing, and the photographing by security people of the faces and license plates of citizens attending the hearings, Ms. Pruett says, “If Mr. Wayland is truly concerned with civility and respect, he should not ignore the power dynamics that were at work during these hearings. This is not an excuse for those who behaved poorly, but it does begin to explain their frustration. The circumstances of the hearings, in which permit opponents were set up as adversaries to state officials, were not calculated to produce a harmonious outcome.”

She discusses both Mr. Wayland’s expressed view of the proceedings and the written accounts of several meeting attendees, and she concludes, “As a citizen who participated in the public comment process, I certainly appreciate Mr. Wayland’s volunteer service on the Water Board….  I, along with other anti-pipeline activists, personally took the time to write to the Water Board office, thanking Mr. Wayland and the other members who voted against one or both permits. I regret that civil gestures such as these, along with peaceful protests and thoughtful testimony at the hearings, were overshadowed in Mr. Wayland’s mind by the negative behavior of a few.

“By the same token, when Mr. Wayland chose to express himself in the newspaper, I wish he had taken the opportunity to acknowledge the complexity of the dynamics and the full spectrum of interaction between the Commonwealth and the public. The Water Board is made up of volunteers taking time out from their schedules, but this is also true of the citizens who attended the hearings. Public participation sometimes gets loud and raucous, but civility and respect do not operate as a one-way street.

“The public process regarding these pipelines is not over, and I hope that participants on all sides will consider Mr. Wayland’s words: ‘Virginians can and should hold ourselves to the standards of dignity and thoughtful discourse that have made our commonwealth great.'”

2017 in Review

2017 was a busy year in the pipeline fight. Here are some highlights – there are a lot!

On December 30, 2016, FERC released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC extended the usual 45-day period for public comment so the deadline was April 6, 2017. Over January-March 2017 FERC held public hearings on the DEIS, where the majority of speakers (once beyond Dominion’s front-loaded supporters) pointed out omissions and inaccuracies in the DEIS, as well as numerous instances where Dominion had not provided required information. Thousands of groups and individuals, some property owners along the route and others not, filed comments with FERC.

On January 5, 2017, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors ignored their constituents so thoroughly that after five hours of testimony almost totally opposed to the ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, they read a PREPARED statement approving the station, having obviously reached their decision well ahead of the meeting. On February 2 a complaint for declaratory relief was filed against the Supervisors and Dominion asking that the special use permit for the station be vacated.

FERC Commissioner Norman Bay resigned on February 3, and with only two remaining commissioners, FERC no longer had a quorum and could not issue decisions.

Judge Michael T. Garrett ruled in Nelson County Circuit Court on February 6, 2017, that Dominion may have access to survey for the proposed ACP on the property of landowners who had steadfastly denied access. The landowners filed a joint notice of appeal with the Virginia State Court of Appeals in early March.

On February 15 Oil Change International released two studies finding that if built, the controversial Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would together contribute as much greenhouse gas pollution as 45 coal-fired power plants — some 158 million metric tons a year. ACP basic facts: http://priceofoil.org/2017/02/15/atlantic-coast-pipeline-greenhouse-gas-emissions-briefing/ ACP full briefing: http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2017/02/atlantic_coast_pipeline_web_final_v3.pdf

In mid-March, Friends of Nelson released the Steep Slope Report by Blackburn Consulting Services, which concluded that “Dominion has not adequately identified those soils and landforms that are prone to debris flows (and) landslides.” The report also states that “the potential for debris flows in the very steep mountainous portions of Nelson County is underestimated by the reports submitted to FERC by Dominion.” Steep Slopes Study by Blackburn Consulting:
http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Final-Steep-Slope-Report-March-2017.pdf

On April 5 Friends of Nelson submitted comments to FERC on the DEIS – 96 pages including charts, diagrams, maps, and photos. Read it here: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20170405-5161

On April 6, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality announced that both proposed Virginia pipelines, the ACP and the MVP, would be subject to DEQ water-quality review. This meant that DEQ would require water quality certifications under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act for each segment of both projects that crosses or potentially affects water bodies. But the next day, on April 7, 2017, DEQ provided water quality certification for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2017 Nationwide Permits, thus issuing a blanket Clean Water Act section 401 certification for pipelines that are covered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit number 12. And in late May DEQ said they would not require specific water quality impact analysis for water crossings for the proposed ACP or MVP. On June 5, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) filed suit against the DEQ in state Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, asking the court to rule that DEQ issued a Clean Water Act section 401 Water Quality Certification for construction of utility lines, including natural gas pipelines, in state waters without legal authority to do so and without ensuring water quality would be protected.

On April 27, a briefing paper released details on how Dominion intends to blast away, excavate, and partially remove entire mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of ACP construction, flattening them by anywhere from 10 to 60 feet. See http://friendsofnelson.com/press-release-acp-would-require-extensive-mountaintop-removal/

June 17-July 2: Walking the Line. Group walks the proposed ACP path for 150 miles, through Bath, Augusta and Nelson Counties, into the heart of Virginia, Buckingham County, where the walk ends at Union Hill, the site of the proposed compressor station.

On June 29, 2017, the Virginia Conservation Network, along with its partners Southern Environmental Law Center and Shenandoah Valley Network, sent a letter (signed by over 80 organizations) to Governor McAuliffe, DEQ Director David Paylor and the State Water Control Board asking them to use their full authority under the Clean Water Act to conduct a thorough and transparent review of stream and wetland crossings along the proposed ACP and MVP fracked gas pipeline routes and ensure that Virginia water quality standards are met.

And then there was one: Friday June 30, 2017, was FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable’s final day at FERC. Although a pair of Trump administration nominees remain on the sidelines awaiting Senate votes, Honorable’s a departure leaves the already quorumless panel with a single member.

At their meeting on July 4, members of Wintergreen Property Owners Association voted overwhelmingly for a new covenant prohibiting construction of “any lines, facilities, structures, or other appurtenances related to the transmission of utilities” if they do not provide services to the Association or its members.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final Environmental Impact Statement on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on July 21, 2017. FERC has 90 days to make a decision on issuing a certificate of approval for the project. The full statement can be found here: https://ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2017/07-21-17-FEIS.asp. The summary statement from FERC staff said, “The FERC staff concludes that construction and operation of ACP and SHP would result in some adverse effects,” but that with adherence to mitigation measure and FERC staff recommendations “most, but not all of these impacts, would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.” FERC said their determinations were based on information provided by Dominion and ACP, with no mention of extensive contradictory information filed by a variety of experts.

Also on July 21, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Forest Service release statement is available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd551404.pdf.

In July Friends of Nelson posted interactive maps showing the ACP route through Nelson County. See http://friendsofnelson.com/information-resources/maps/

Through August, DEQ held public hearings to receive comments on draft water quality certifications designed to protect water quality along the routes of the proposed ACP and MVP.

On August 3, 2017, the Senate voted to confirm Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson. They join Cheryl LaFleur, who had been the sole member of the five member commission, so FERC now has a quorum.

In mid-August, Friends of Nelson submitted extensive comments to DEQ on the proposed 401 Water Quality Certifications for the ACP. See http://friendsofnelson.com/friends-of-nelson-submits-comments-to-deq/ And a group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the DEQ on August 22, finding that DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cause to Virginia’s waters. See http://friendsofnelson.com/failure-to-meet-minimum-standards-of-scientific-proof/

On August 22, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed without argument to hear on appeal the survey suit against the ACP brought on behalf of six Nelson residents by Lollar Law. Briefings will take place in autumn 2017, and the oral arguments before the full seven-justice court will take place in late 2017 or early 2018. See http://friendsofnelson.com/virginia-supreme-court-to-hear-survey-case/

On August 22 in a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that a Florida pipeline project would deliver to power plants.

A lawsuit, filed September 5 in Washington D.C. federal district court, on behalf of 57 Landowners, Bold Alliance and Friends of Nelson, challenged the constitutionality of the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act, and seeking to end the unconstitutional and unconscionable process of taking citizens’ private property via eminent domain for a corporation’s profits — and not for “the public good” as the Constitution intended.

September 15-17: No Pipeline Action Camp held in Nelson County, sponsored by Friends of Nelson, Greenpeace, and Blue Ridge Rapid Response.

In mid-September North Carolina delayed by three months its decision on certification of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. This followed West Virginia’s September 7 announcement that the state was vacating its water quality certification for the proposed MVP in order to reevaluate. Virginia’s DEQ pressed ahead, even as other states hit the brakes.

In late September, Dan Weekley, Dominion Energy’s vice president and general manager of Southern pipeline operations, told attendees at an energy conference ‘everybody knows’ the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — currently slated to pass through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina — is not going to stop there, despite what the current plans say, and that the ACP will be extended into South Carolina.

The NC DEQ disapproved the erosion and sedimentation control plan submitted to the agency by the ACP, Their September 26, 2017, letter of disapproval, cites 17 specific deficiencies in the submitted plan as grounds for disapproval.

Late on Friday evening October 13, FERC approved both the ACP and the MVP. Authorization had been widely expected by both supporters and opponents of the pipelines. The certificates granted by the commission came with dozens of conditions, and other necessary permits for both projects are still pending. The approval was issued with a highly unusual dissenting opinion by Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur. The FERC permit is not the final word on the projects. VA, NC and WV must still issue environmental permits.

Meeting in Richmond on October 16, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) voted to approve Dominion’s application for 11 land conversions of open-space easements on the route of the proposed ACP through southern Highland, northern Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties, and approved a single swap for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline near Roanoke.

On October 18 Dominion released a proposed construction plan, see http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dominion-construction-plan20171018-5002-32464467.pdf, When they sent their original “we want your land” letters in spring 2014, Dominion planned to start construction of the ACP in the Fall of 2016 and have the pipeline in service sometime early in 2018. But Dominion did not expect so many people and organizations to fight back!

On November 2, 2017, the Senate approved Trump’s final two nominees to FERC, giving the Commission the full five members for the first time in two years.

On November 13, a motion was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting a rehearing of the Commission’s order issuing a certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The petition, filed on behalf of 22 organizations (including Friends of Nelson) and 10 individuals. See https://www.abralliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Petition_for_Rehearing_to_FERC_20171113.pdf.

On November 14 Friends of Nelson filed a Request for Rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on FERC’s decision to issue a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The filing is on behalf of 63 property owners and citizens of Nelson County, and 4 community organizations.

The NAACP released a report on November 14, Fumes Across the Fence Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities. “The life-threatening burdens placed on communities of color near oil and gas facilities are the result of systemic oppression perpetuated by the traditional energy industry, which exposes communities to health, economic, and social hazards. Communities impacted by oil and gas facility operations remain affected due to energy companies’ heavy polluting, low wages for dangerous work, and government lobbying against local interests.”

On November 17, the US Forest Service released a final Record of Decision (ROD) approving amendments to the Forest Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest to accommodate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Late in the afternoon on December 7, 2017, after two days of hearings, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The vote was 5-2, with members Roberta Kellam and G. Nissa Dean dissenting.

On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4 to 3 to approve certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, the approval does not immediately grant the 401 water permits requested by Dominion; it is subject to certain conditions and to information which must be provided by the ACP. The permit can’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by DEQ, including soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans. Although this is not an outright denial of the permits, it does not allow Dominion to move forward at this time.

SO…. As we move into fourth year of the pipeline fight, we know the ACP is closer to receiving all final approvals, but we continue our work to stop this economically unnecessary and environmental damaging project. Legal challenges to some approvals have already been filed, more are being evaluated. No, the pipeline is NOT a done deal.

Second Court Challenge Against SWCB over MVP

On December 18, 2017, the Roanoke Times reported that a second court challenge had been filed against the Virginia State Water Control Board over water quality certification for Mountain Valley Pipeline. Petitioners “contend the board lacked adequate information on which to find a ‘reasonable assurance’ that the 303-mile long buried pipeline would not contaminate the waters of Western Virginia.” They point to the fact that the SWCB, when it gave approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, took the unusual step of delaying the effective date until several environmental impact reports are completed, but they did not do that for the MVP.

“‘It makes no sense,’ said Mara Robbins, an organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, one of the petitioners in the second court challenge. They delayed the ACP permitting until erosion and sedimentation reports are complete. Many of the issues presented were identical. Yet the permits for the ACP were delayed and the ones for the MVP were not? They need to go back to the drawing board and get this right.'”

The article says that, “Shortly after the case was filed Monday, the court of appeals issued an order that consolidates it with the earlier challenge brought by the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Wild Virginia.”

Read the full article here, and read about the December 8, 2017, challenge to the SWCB’s MVP Approval here.

End of the Line: Episode 11, Voice


End of the Line:  Episode 11, Voice.  Inside the State Water Control Board meetings for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines, where many opponents thought a vote in favor of water certification was a foregone conclusion for both projects, a chorus of voices makes space for courage and power. Original air date: 12/15/17.

Have you missed previous episodes? Find links to all of them here.