Category Archives: Water Quality

Court Ruling on Army Corps Permit for Keystone XL Will Impact ACP


According to an AP story on April 15, 2020, “A U.S. judge canceled a key permit Wednesday for the Keystone XL oil pipeline that’s expected to stretch from Canada to Nebraska, another setback for the disputed project that got underway less than two weeks ago following years of delays.”  The article notes that, “The cancellation could have broader implications because it appears to invalidate dredging work for any project authorized under the 2017 permit, said attorney Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case. It’s unclear what projects would be included.”

The press release from the Center for Biological Diversity is here.

Bloomberg’s article, Keystone XL Ruling Has ‘Sweeping’ Impacts for Other Projects, says “ClearView Energy Partners analyst Christine Tezak said the ruling could delay the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines on the East Coast because developers planned to rely on the NWP 12 program, though they don’t have any authorizations in place.”

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #272, April 16, 2020:  A federal district judge in Montana on April 15 ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the law when it approved National Permit 12 (NWP12) to permit the Keystone XL Pipeline to cross streams and rivers under the Corps’ jurisdiction. The ruling invalidates Nationwide Permit 12, prohibiting the Corps from using this fast-tracked approval process for any pipelines nationwide.

The Corps begin issuing NWP12 in 1977 for categories of activities that it deems to be similar in nature and “will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects when performed separately and will have only minimal cumulative adverse effect on the environment.” The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is currently without an authorized NWP12. Until the district court decision is reversed on appeal, a new NWP12 for any pipeline project, including the ACP, cannot be issued.

The case had been brought by the Northern Plains Resource Council in 2019. The judge ruled that the “Corps failed to consider relevant expert analysis and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts it found and the choice it made” regarding endangered species that were in the path of the project. Click here for a copy of the plaintiff’s statement commenting upon the decision (which also includes a link to the court decision).

New Report Highlights Threat of Pipeline Construction to Water Quality

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #269, March 26, 2020:

A new report on turbidity in streams and rivers underscores how increased sediment loads will adversely affect aquatic life as well as drinking water quality.

Numeric Turbidity Water Quality Standards: A Tool to Protect Aquatic Life was released this week by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited. It points out the impacts that pipeline construction has on nearby streams and rivers, either in the path of a pipeline or in the proximity of construction.

“Excavation adjacent to, and within, streams and rivers has the potential to cause significant sediment pollution if erosion control best management practices (BMPs) are ineffective in keeping sediment from leaving the worksite and/or right of way. Increased erosion and sedimentation in streams harm aquatic life. Sediment pollution can smother spawning beds and fish eggs, reducing juvenile fish survival. Increased sedimentation also degrades habitat for benthic macroinvertebrates, aquatic insects that provide food for larger fish species, causing impacts to benthic community health and diversity, in addition to the species who feed on them.”

The report includes the results of water quality monitoring associated with construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. It notes that in June 2018 a heavy rainfall led to turbidity levels in the Roanoke River several times what should be acceptable.

Two principal recommendations are made:

  • Numeric turbidity standards should be adopted in Virginia. (The Virginia Water Pollution Control Board has direction the Department of Environmental Quality to adopt such standards, but to date the agency has not taken action.)
  • Already established numeric turbidity standards in West Virginia should be enforced.

Trump Weakens the Nation’s Clean Water Efforts

Writing in the New York Times on February 10, 2020, Chris Wood, Collin O’Mara, and Dale Hall discuss the presidents “deeply misguided” decision to roll back water protections. Wood is president of Trout Unlimited, O’Mara is president of the National Wildlife Federation, and Hall was director the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

They write, “The Environmental Protection Agency made a startling admission last month when it announced that many of the nation’s streams and wetlands would no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act, perhaps the nation’s most successful antipollution law. The agency said it could not predict how many miles of streams and acres of wetlands would lose their protection because of ‘existing data and mapping limitations.’ In other words, the E.P.A. was sharply narrowing the reach of a landmark environmental law without understanding the consequences of its actions.”

They state “unequivocally that this ill-informed policy will reduce water protections to a level not seen in more than a generation.”

The authors did what EPA apparently did not do, and used best mapping resources to find out what would no longer be protected. They say, “Trout Unlimited’s research suggests that more than six million miles of streams — half the total in the United States — will now be unprotected by the Clean Water Act, because they flow only after rainfall. More than 42 million acres of wetlands — again, about half the country’s total — will no longer be protected because they are not immediately adjacent to larger waters.”

Under the new laws, for example:

  • In Arizona, 88% of streams and 99% of lakes will lose protection, meaning “98 percent of the permits that limit pollution discharges into waterways will simply no longer be in force.”
  • In New Mexico, invalidated permits will no longer control the levels of mercury and PCBs running off the heavily contaminated grounds of Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • “In West Virginia and Virginia, there will no longer be federal protections for some 82 small streams that are to be excavated if the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is built, based on surveys by Dominion”

Wood, O’Mara, and Hall conclude, “You need only consider the name to recognize what’s happening here. What was the Waters of the United States Rule is now the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. This signals a narrow concern only for commerce but not, illogically, for the network of tributaries and wetlands that keep navigable waters healthy. It also completely misses the point of the Clean Water Act, which is to protect the health of all the nation’s waters.”

Ten Reasons to Oppose the ACP

Here are 10 reasons why Friends of Nelson opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In the coming weeks we will be posting expanded information on each of the 10 reasons. We hope this information will help clarify your thinking and help you to explain to family, friends, neighbors, and legislators why you oppose the ACP. (Click here to download a printable version of the list.)

1. No Demand or Need
With evidence of reduced future demand and with recent upgrades to existing pipelines, energy analysts argue that there is no need domestically for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Additionally, foreign demand for this gas is better satisfied by nearer sources which can be produced and delivered at a lower cost.

2. Climate Change Implications
Gas pipelines leak methane gas and their compressor and metering stations regularly release methane and other harmful pollutants. The ACP will therefore significantly contribute to climate change.

3. Cost Burden on Ratepayers
The pipeline’s almost $8 billion construction cost will eventually mean rate increases for all Dominion customers as they will have to foot a large part of the ACP cost, regardless of whether it is put into service or not.

4. Discourages Utility Investment in Alternatives
The ACP’s possible construction and its huge capital investment cost will discourage utilities from promoting and developing non-fossil fuel, increasingly cost-effective alternatives such as wind and solar.

5. Eminent Domain Seizures of Private Property
Through the imposition of Eminent Domain, the proposed route confiscates and restricts Nelson landowners’ property rights, lowering their own and adjoining neighbors’ property values.

6. Landslide Danger on Steep Slopes
The proposed construction and placement of the pipeline endangers Nelson citizens’ lives and property, especially on steep slopes which are highly susceptible to landslide failures. Note that ruptured pipelines are likely to explode.

7. Disproportionate Harm to Minority Communities
The ACP will specifically harm the historic African American community of Union Hill by locating a dangerous and polluting compressor station in its midst.

8. Containment Failures Impact on Streams and Drinking Water
As recently demonstrated with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, construction of the ACP will, despite promised containment safeguards, silt up mountain and valley streams, affecting local drinking water and aquatic life.

9. Forest Fragmentation and Effects on Endangered Species
The ACP’s construction will further fragment our vulnerable eastern forests, reducing the habitat and population of Federally-listed endangered species. Such activity could potentially cause their extinction.

10. Detracts from Scenic Views on Public Lands
The pipeline corridor will detract from scenic views on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail and National Forest Lands. One of the most prominent viewing locations is at the Parkway’s Raven’s Roost overlook.

New Study Highlights Negative Water Quality Impacts of Pipeline Projects

From Allegheny-Blur Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #250, October 24, 2019:

A new study commissioned by Trout Unlimited concludes that the impact on water quality of several natural gas pipeline projects in the Appalachian region is profound, even when care is taken to minimize impacts. Pipeline Impacts to Water Quality, prepared by Downsteam Strategies, a West Virginia environmental research firm, examined the construction of four pipeline projects: Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and WB Xpress Pipeline (WBX) in West Virginia and Virginia, the Rover Pipeline in West Virginia and Ohio, and the Mariner East II Pipeline in Pennsylvania. The most significant water quality problems were caused by inputs of sediment-laden water to streams.

In commenting upon the sediment pollution caused by the MVP and WBX, the study notes, “Most of the routes for these two pipelines cross mountainous terrain characterized by steep slopes, headwaters streams, and highly erodible soils. Reasons for failure of erosion and sedimentation controls that led to sedimentation in waterways were notably improper installation and lack of maintenance of the structures.”

Notable recommendations in the study include “requiring site-specific stormwater plans for all stream and wetland crossings, encouraging companies to complete construction projects in shorter sections, and increasing regulatory inspections at the expense of the pipeline companies.”

Proposed Rule Changes Could Fast Track Pipelines

The EPA plans to rewrite the Clean Water Act, limiting the amount of time states and tribes may take to review new project proposals, and allowing the federal government to override states’ decisions to deny permits for projects in some situations. The change was announced by the EPA on August 9, 2019, and follows on an April executive order from President Donald Trump.

See detailed coverage of the story by Inside Climate News and Utility Dive.

Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, is quoted in the Inside Climate News article, saying, “This proposed rule change would hobble the most important tool that states have to protect significant waters, from prized trout streams to essential drinking water sources.”