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Forest Service Extends Comment Period


The U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will extend the comment period to receive input from the public on the agency’s proposed rule to amend environmental review procedures of projects on Forest Service lands. The new comment deadline is Monday August 26, 2019. The previous comment deadline had been Monday, August 12.

The proposed rule change would effectively eliminate for most projects the opportunity for public input.  The Forest Service is presenting the new rules as “simplifying” their processes, but what it really means is that the Forest Service could do what it wants when it wants, without public oversight or input.

Additional background is in our August 8 post, Urgent Appeal from the Outdoor Alliance.

Please use the Outdoor Alliance Web page and call to action at ourforestsourvoice.org to submit your comments and let your voice be heard!

Petition FERC to Stop Pipeline Construction

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), headed by a three-person voting body, has the power to shut down work for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. With so many ongoing investigations and court cases proving that these projects shouldn’t be built in the first place, there is no excuse for construction to be allowed to continue. But FERC — with a troubling track record of rubber-stamping unnecessary fossil fuel projects — doesn’t do its job without public pressure. So it’s time to dial up that pressure. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) points out that FERC has issued stop-work orders for these two pipelines in the past, and could do so again. But only if we all continue to speak up.

Sign the CCAN petition! Tell FERC to issue stop-work orders for ACP and MVP immediately!

New Rule Will Reduce Future Endangered Species Protections

A new rule that will significantly limit protections for endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was announced by the Trump Administration on August 12, 2009, and will take effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register. Note that ESA issues related to the Atlantic Coat Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline are not impacted by the new rule, as it is only applicable to future listing and delisting of threatened and endangered species.

The Trump Administration says the new rule will ease “the regulatory burden on the American public.” Environmental and conservation groups have a different take:

  •  Undermining this popular and successful law is a major step in the wrong direction as we face the increasing challenges of climate change and its effects on wildlife. – Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club
  • “We are in the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, yet the Trump Administration is steamrolling our most effective wildlife protection law. This Administration seems set on damaging fragile ecosystems by prioritizing industry interests over science. – Rebecca Riley, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “Threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants in our national parks already face habitat changes and impacts of a climate crisis that is accelerating each year. Instead of working with Congress and states to better protect and restore wildlife as the climate changes, the Trump administration is reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act to weaken protections. – Bart Melton, National Parks Conservation Association.

In an August 22, 2019 letter to the editor of The Recorder, Robert “Bobby” Whitescarver says, “Representative Leonor Sullivan (D) stated the reason for the law succinctly on July 27, 1973, on the House floor when she introduced the bill: ‘From the most narrow possible point of view, it is in the best interest of mankind to minimize the losses of genetic variations. The reason is simple: they are potential resources. They are the keys to puzzles which we cannot solve, and may provide answers to questions which we have not yet learned to ask.’ In other words, it is not wise to wipe off the face of the Earth a species that could hold the cure for cancer or any number of human ailments. Today, one-fourth of all pharmaceuticals come from, or are derived from, plant and animal material.”

The courts have twice tossed out the permit for allowing the elimination or “taking” of an endangered species or its habitat by Dominion. Whitescarver concludes, “If a bee, a bat, a mussel, or a crustacean can stop Dominion’s pipeline, I’m all for it. I wish the people in its path had as much standing in court as the critters.” With the new ruling, it seems that neither the people in the path nor endangered/threatened species would have any power against the will of for-profit corporations.

Challenge to FERC Certificate Scheduled for October 16 Oral Argument

From ABRA Update 241, August 16, 2019

The challenge to the Federal Energy Commission’s (FERC) approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline been scheduled for oral argument on October 16 before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs are 14 conservation groups, including several ABRA members, that are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The petitioners argue that FERC’s Environmental Justice Impact Statement is fatally flawed. Members of the 3-judge panel hearing the case will be announced in mid-September.

Read more about the case in our earlier post, FERC and ACP File Response Briefs in Challenge to ACP Certificate.

News You May Have Missed

 


There’s been a lot going on – here are some news items from our In the News page you may have missed (many additional interesting news articles on that page).

FERC Should Stop ACP Now

In an open letter to Kimberly Bose, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and reprinted in the Nelson County Times on August 15, 2019, Helen Kimble and Doug Wellman (President and Vice-President of Friends of Nelson) discuss the potential for hazardous landslides in the steeply mountainous areas on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route in Nelson County. Some of their letter is reproduced below, but go to the Nelson County Times for the full version.

“A recent public presentation on the potential for hazardous landslides in the mountainous areas of Nelson County VA highlighted longstanding concerns about the dangers of routing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) through the county’s steep terrain. In this letter, we call your attention to the potential for catastrophic slope failures if ACP overcomes its numerous legal challenges and begins construction. We ask you to consider the following information and its implications for your handling of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“At a public meeting on June 30, geologist Dr. Anne Witt, geohazards specialist with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), presented her analysis of the landslides triggered in Nelson County by Hurricane Camille in 1969. In that horrific storm event, 125 people are known to have lost their lives as landslides triggered by severe rainfall swept down valleys in the middle of the night carrying whole families to their deaths.

“The information Dr. Witt presented stems from her ongoing research assessing the landslide potential of steep slopes in Nelson and western Albemarle counties. Her work will contribute to a new Virginia Hazard Mitigation Plan being prepared with support from FEMA and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Using LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) technology to map the bare earth beneath vegetative cover, she unveiled a multitude of historical slides on Nelson’s steep slopes. Noting that previous slides are strong indicators of potential future slides, she concluded that Nelson County’s steep slopes have greater landslide potential than had previously been recognized.

“Dr. Witt’s presentation sharpened the concerns raised by a 2017 study of soil and geologic concerns commissioned by Friends of Nelson and Friends of Wintergreen. The final report by Blackburn Consulting Services, LLC — “Report Analysis and Field Verification of Soil and Geologic concerns with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in Nelson County, VA” — was submitted as part of FERC’s EIS review for issuance of the ACP permit. We strongly believe the Blackburn report was not given sufficient consideration in the Commission’s decision.

“Blackburn scientists reviewed the material Dominion submitted to FERC and conducted field analyses of actual conditions in a sample of sites where the pipeline would traverse steep slopes in Nelson County. In their report, Blackburn concluded that: ‘…many of the statements made in the materials submitted to FERC represented gross generalities … [and] … underestimate the true risks that this project imposes on Nelson County and its residents.'”

Key findings of the Blackburn study include [sections on]:

  •  Landform and soil characteristics
  • Mapping soil conditions
  • Vegetation
  • Soil stabilization and erosion control
  • Expansion of the corridor

“The permit the commission issued ACP constitutes a recipe for disaster. Dominion’s ‘best in class’ erosion and sedimentation control measures have failed repeatedly in the work they have already done in West Virginia. Similar stabilization measures employed by the Mountain Valley Pipeline builders have led to over 300 violations, legal action by the Virginia Attorney General, and events like sections of pipe carried great distances by floodwaters. MVP is demonstrating what will likely happen if and when ACP begins construction on Virginia’s steep slopes.” [see article below on MVP landslides]

The letter continues, saying

  • “Dominion assures concerned citizens that the ACP will be safe. However, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 11,993 pipeline failures have been reported in the U.S. over the past two decades.”
  • “At present, two federal permits for the ACP have been vacated. Another three federal permits, as well as two state permits, are in the courts or being challenged.”
  • “Renewable energy generation and storage are emerging as fully competitive with coal and natural gas on a levelized cost basis”
  • “The International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on climate change — which was soon supported by a report from an interagency panel of U.S. government scientists — made it alarmingly clear that we must quickly shift away from fossil fuels.”
  • “Former FERC commissioner Norman Bay warned overbuilding pipelines would likely result in these unnecessary projects becoming ‘stranded assets’ that profit their builders and stockholders at the cost of captive customers and future generations.”

Overwhelming evidence supports the letter’s concluding sentence: “We call on FERC commissioners to bring a halt to this unnecessary and dangerous project.

Active Landslide Threatens Homes

Photo courtesy of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Pipeline Air Force

An active landslide originating on the Mountain Valley Pipeline right of way on a steep slope has made a house NOT in the construction area uninhabitable.

On July 29, 2019, MVP filed a variance request for slip remediation with FERC, and just 10 days later admitted to FERC that over three months it had been unable to stop the earth movement, requesting “emergency authorization” to stabilize the landslide, because lives were in danger. The letter said, “The progression of the slide caused additional area outside the limits of disturbance to destabilize, uprooted numerous large trees, has the potential to impact an aquatic resource, and has progressed to the point where a residence directly downslope is unsafe to be occupied.”

On August 13, FERC granted MVP’s emergency request, saying, “A recent field inspection by one of our compliance monitors confirms that portions of the slip are still moving and could compromise the residence. The slide must be stabilized before it causes damage or injury to the residence and aquatic resources located down slope of the slide.”

Jonathan Sokolow, in two articles in Medium (Definition of Insanity: Mountain Valley Pipeline Asks for “Emergency Authorization” to Prevent a Life Threatening Landslide on August 9 and Photos of Insanity: Active Landslide Threatens Lives Along Route of Mountain Valley Pipeline on August 15), points out that while this particular landslide is on a steep slope in West Virginia, there are hundreds of similarly steep slopes along the route of the MVP and of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, all with potential for similar landslides threatening lives and residences.

In his August 15 article, Sokolow writes, “Common sense would seem to dictate that emergency inspections be conducted on each steep slope in Virginia and West Virginia to make sure no similar emergencies are developing. Prudence would indicate that all work on the pipeline be stopped until those inspections are complete. Yet in the days since this active ’emergency’ (MVP’s word) became public, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, whose job is to inspect and regulate this project, has said or done nothing. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have been silent. In fact, most elected officials in Virginia seems to be ignoring this brewing disaster. In other words, regulators refuse to regulate, and leaders refuse to lead. We now have photos of this crime scene, but no thanks to government officials. We have photos thanks to ordinary citizens and an incredible effort known as the ‘Pipeline Air Force,’ a project of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. …. Virginia has the power to stop work now on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, to stop this misnamed “engineering marvel” before gravity does its work, before someone gets hurt. As we said before, this is an emergency. Just ask MVP.”