In the News

May 2020

5-23-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Letter: Virginia can learn from Hawaii’s example. “‘A carbon-free energy system is not only possible, but it is practical and necessary.’ That’s how Hawaii sees its plans for a 100% clean energy economy. Dominion Energy’s new Integrated Resource Plan says something very different: Retire all carbon generation and we will ‘severely challenge the ability of the transmission system to meet customers’ reliability expectation.’ Dominion fiercely is holding onto the 100-year-old idea of the regulated central utility, while Hawaii is creating a framework for the new technologies that can generate and store electricity where we use it.”

5-22-20 E&E Energywire. Court is urged to keep Army Corps permit on ice. “Environmental groups this week affirmed that —yes, in fact —they would like federal courts to temporarily block a nationwide permitting program for oil and gas pipelines. The Northern Plains Resource Council and other groups countered arguments from the Army Corps of Engineers and industry groups that Chief Judge Brian Morris for the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana exceeded the remedy they sought in their challenge of the Keystone XL pipeline. ‘Defendants’ attempt to reframe this case as pertaining only to Keystone XL is a patent misrepresentation of the proceedings below,’ the groups wrote in a Wednesday filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.”

5-22-20 Facing South. Institute Index: Pandemic erodes the case for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Year since construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — which Dominion Energy and Duke Energy want to build to carry fracked gas from West Virginia to Virginia, North Carolina, and possibly beyond — has been stalled amid legal and regulatory challenges: 2018. Current estimated cost for the 600-mile project, which was first proposed in 2014: $8 billion. Percent by which that amount exceeds the original cost estimate, with the possibility that costs could continue to rise due to numerous permits for the project being invalidated by court challenges: 100. Percent of the ACP’s capacity that the utilities initially said was needed for new power plants: 80. Portion by which the utilities’ need for that power-plant capacity declined even before the COVID-19 outbreak: more than 1/2. Percent by which U.S. energy demand is expected to drop this year because of the pandemic-related economic slowdown: 9. [and more]”

5-21-20 The Recorder.  Letter: Governor should think like a doctor about the pipeline.  Letter also appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 5-24-20.  “How can a political leader perform so well on one important issue and so poorly on another? Gov. Northam has done a good job as leader of Virginia’s response to pandemic. He has kept the public informed and given fact-based reasons for the strong measures he has taken. In all aspects of this horrific plague, he has clearly sought to serve the public interest. …. Gov. Northam is a medical doctor, and he was trained to follow the facts in making diagnoses and, above all, “do no harm” to the patient. Yet, in his handling of the ACP and MVP, he seems oblivious to the dire consequences of not thinking like the doctor he is. What will it take for the governor to come off the sidelines and apply all his power — political as well as legal — to stopping these unjustified, harmful projects?”

5-21-20 WDBJ7. Mountain Valley Pipeline requests variance to tunnel under Roanoke River. “In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week, the company requested a variance to change the crossing method. The route of the pipeline crosses the river near Lafayette in Montgomery County.”

5-20-20 E&E News. Coal plants disappear in Va. But CO2 is rising. “The switch from coal to gas has driven down U.S. electricity emissions over the last decade. But the opposite has happened in Virginia, where a massive build-out of natural gas plants has negated CO2 reductions associated with coal retirements. Virginia’s carbon dioxide emissions were higher in 2019 than they were in 2009, according to an E&E News review of EPA emissions data. Those figures are remarkable given the collapse of coal in Virginia, where the fuel fell from being used in about 43% of the state’s power generation in 2008 to less than 10% last year. The numbers underscore a growing climate challenge for the United States: As the U.S. coal fleet shrinks, long-lived gas plants are filling the void in ways that might fail to result in large reductions of CO2. Virginia is a case in point.”

5-20-20 Daily Progress. Opinion/Editorial: Landowners again lose to eminent domain. “The discussion we would like to see would be based on these questions: Does the principle of eminent domain meet the high standards originally set for it as a means of balancing private property rights with public necessity? Or has it been distorted by a succession of laws, regulatory decisions and court rulings favoring big government or big business at the expense of individual rights? More and more, we see the latter. But deep reform can’t be achieved piecemeal through court challenges, which nonetheless seem to be the only avenue left to property owners. We see no inclination among lawmakers to tackle the questions or to institute reform on their own initiative.

5-20-20 Virginia Mercury. Where was Paylor on the Mountain Valley Pipeline? “David Paylor wrote a very nice piece on April 24 about the urgent need to protect our environment and about the progress we have made doing that. They are very nice words, but where was he when we were reporting egregious violations by Mountain Valley Pipeline? We sent photographs and, rather than send someone to look, he dismissed them as false. When it was so bad that mud closed Cahas Mountain Road, he praised MVP for clearing the road.”

5-19-20 E&E Energywire. Chatterjee for Va. governor?  “Over the weekend, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee created a Facebook group pitching his “hypothetical” run for Virginia governor. Now the nation’s top energy regulator says he was just “‘laying around.”‘ ‘It’s amazing that people are taking this so seriously,’ he told E&E News. ‘But knowing D.C., you can never just joke around.’ Still, Chatterjee did not categorically rule it out. ‘I have spent basically my entire professional career in public service,’ he said. ‘So when my term is up at the commission, continuing to serve the public in some way would certainly be something that I would consider. But that could take many forms beyond simply running for office.'”

5-18-20 Roanoke Times. Lewis: Pipelines endanger health. “Virginia’s pipeline industry has a troubling record of putting profit before people, a practice that becomes more dire in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. While many Virginians are taking important steps to slow the spread of coronavirus, either by staying home or working essential jobs to provide us all with the care and resources we need during this difficult time, some companies are still jeopardizing community health by sending workers out to do dangerous, non-essential labor. This includes the fossil fuel industry, which has deemed the construction of polluting, unpopular, unnecessary pipelines more important than the health or safety of workers, workers’ families, and ultimately, all of us.”

5-18-20 E&E Energywire. N.Y. rejects $1B pipeline over climate, water concerns. “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey blocked key water permits Friday for a controversial multistate natural gas pipeline, handing climate activists a victory and setting the stage for a standoff with EPA ahead of a rollout on Clean Water Act guidance.”

5-15-20 PepperLaw. State Opposition to EPA’s COVID-19 Enforcement Discretion Policy Increases as AGs File Suit. “On May 13, nine state attorneys general filed a complaint against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging EPA’s COVID-19 enforcement discretion policy…. The plaintiff states are New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia. The complaint levies four primary allegations against EPA and its policy: (1) the discretion that EPA allows in the policy exceeds EPA’s legal authority; (2) EPA is abdicating its environmental enforcement responsibility under the law; (3) EPA implemented the policy without first providing opportunity for notice and comment; and (4) the policy is arbitrary and capricious. For relief, the AGs first request a declaratory judgment that the ‘policy was adopted without observance of procedure required by law; is in excess of EPA’s statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations; is not in accordance with law; and is arbitrary and capricious.’ Additionally, the AGs request (1) that the policy be vacated; (2) that EPA be enjoined from applying the policy; (3) lawsuit/attorneys’ fee reimbursement; and (4) any other relief deemed ‘just and proper.'”

5-15-20 Roanoke Times. Judge dismisses lawsuit that contested Mountain Valley’s power of eminent domain. “Legal action has failed, once again, to undo the taking of private land for a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia. ‘This case presents the latest trickle in a veritable flood of litigation’ against the Mountain Valley Pipeline, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg wrote in an opinion last week dismissing the lawsuit.”

5-14-20 UtilityDive. Walmart blasts Virginia regulator’s report on pricing, biomass in Dominion’s proposed 100% renewable energy tariff. “Walmart, one of Dominion Energy’s largest customers in Virginia, warned regulators that their consideration of the utility’s plan to offer a 100% renewable energy option to C&I and residential customers includes unreasonable pricing, according to a Monday filing. An April report from Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) hearing examiner Mary Beth Adams recommended approving Dominion’s proposed tariff. The utility largely approves of Adams’s recommendations and wants to see the tariff approved quickly, to prevent customers from leaving its service. Walmart, alongside renewable energy advocates, said the premium would be paid for an inferior product, as it would include “energy that most customers do not consider to be renewable,” such as co-fired coal and biomass units. The company has long-opposed the tariff but noted a litany of oversights in the net-positive report from Adams.”

5-14-20 Virginia Mercury. What part of ‘zero’ doesn’t Dominion understand? “Dominion Energy Virginia filed its 2020 Integrated Resource Plan on May 1. Instead of charting the electric utility’s pathway to zero carbon emissions, it announced its intent to hang on to all its gas plants, and even add to the number. In doing so, it revealed a company so thoroughly wedded to fracked gas that it would rather flout Virginia law and risk its own future than do the hard work of transforming itself.”

5-13-20 E&E Energywire. EPA: ‘Big rollout’ coming to streamline energy permits. “Industry sources are expecting EPA to soon finalize a regulation intended to enhance federal control over pipeline approvals while diminishing states’ ability to block energy projects. The agency is set to release a rule this week or next that would ban states from considering issues other than water quality when issuing permits for pipelines or coal terminals, four sources said yesterday. EPA Chief of Staff Mandy Gunasekara yesterday also told ‘The Gallo Show,’ a Mississippi radio program, that ‘we’ve got a big rollout coming out. We have a regulatory action likely coming out later this week that will be a follow-up step to that which will improve the process by which states can assess projects and their impact to local water quality, but not use that as a means to unnecessarily slow that down,’ she said”

5-12-20 Blue Virginia. Federal Judge Deals Another Huge Blow to Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Yesterday, a federal judge in Montana issued an order with huge negative implications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The ruling, coming in a case brought to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, effectively prevents the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline from doing any construction across the thousands of waterways they would cross. …. The Keystone XL companies, joined by a group of industry powerhouses – including Dominion Energy – who intervened in the Montana case, filed papers asking Judge Morris to reverse himself, or at least modify his April ruling to apply only to the Keystone XL pipeline. They also asked the judge to stay his own order pending appeal. Judge Morris said no to both requests.”

5-12-20 Roanoke Times. Federal judge upholds ban on process for permitting pipelines, including Mountain Valley. “A federal judge has declined to lift his temporary ban on a permitting process for the crossing of streams and wetlands by oil and natural gas pipelines, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In an order late Monday, Montana U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris denied the Justice Department’s request for a stay pending an appeal of the case. Morris earlier struck down a streamlined method used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve waterbody crossings, ruling that the agency did not properly evaluate the potential harm to endangered species by the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport crude oil from Canada to Nebraska. The sweeping ruling prevented other planned pipelines from obtaining a similar permit from the Army Corps until ‘completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations’ — a process expected to take months.”

5-11-20 UtilityDive. Dominion’s nearly $50 monthly power bill hike in Virginia is a warning for other states. “Last Friday, Dominion Energy, which holds a monopoly over power generation and distribution in Virginia, offered state regulators a clean energy proposal with a stunning price tag: nearly $50 per month added to each customer’s power bill. Yet the utility’s plan only halves current carbon emissions by 2035 — with proposals including the addition of 5 GW of offshore wind and 2 GW of battery storage. While more cost-effective and efficient options to fight climate change likely exist — after all, onshore wind and solar are increasingly the least expensive energy technologies — the state has nowhere else to turn for power generation solutions. Dominion’s 2020 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is the first filed under Virginia’s Clean Economy Act, which goes into effect on July 1, 2020, and requires 100% clean energy by 2050. The upshot is far from surprising: An aggressive, single-state clean energy goal paired with a powerful utility spells trouble for Virginia families and businesses already struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

5-11-20 Virginia Mercury. Even after pipeline pollution, DEQ is still resisting water protections and public participation. “The violations are clear in thousands of photographs, scientific study results, and other evidence given to DEQ but somehow agency officials can’t or, more plausibly, won’t see them. The DEQ is supposed to work for all of us and we will have a voice in efforts to finally fix our water quality standards – whether invited or not. We will no longer accept excuses and perpetual delays. You shouldn’t either.”

5-8-20 E&E Energywire. AGs press FERC to halt energy projects. “A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general is urging the Federal EnergyRegulatory Commission to pause energy infrastructure projects until the threat of the novel coronavirus has eased.Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh led the effort in a letter yesterday to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, asking him to declare an immediate moratorium on approvals of all new and pending natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, and related infrastructure projects until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.”

5-7-20 E&E Energywire. Feds find safety problems at W.Va pipeline project. “Federal pipeline regulators say they found unsafe construction practices at a Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) worksite in West Virginia last summer. The warning letter from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said crews failed to build the line to specifications and placed pipe in ditches in a way that could damage it. Construction on the $5.5 billion, 300-mile gas pipeline is on hold because of legal challenges. PHMSA’s enforcement action, posted late Monday, comes on top of recent problems with land slippage in the pipeline path and a threat to a key federal wetlands permit.”

5-7-20 News Break. AG Mark Herring Urges FERC to Halt New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Projects During COVID-19 Crisis. “Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 11 attorneys general in calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to impose an immediate moratorium on approvals of all new and pending applications for natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, and related fossil-fuel infrastructure projects until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.”

5-6-20 Augusta Free Press. Thousands tell Dominion: Abandon Atlantic Coast Pipeline Now. “Seventy-eight advocacy organizations from Virginia and across the country have signed onto a letter addressed to Dominion Energy shareholders asserting that new legislation and legal challenges have rendered the completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline ‘unrealistic.’ The letter, displayed in a full-page Richmond Times-Dispatch ad and a half-page Washington Post ad published today, the day of Dominion Energy’s annual shareholder meeting, points to the pipeline’s $8 billion price tag, eight missing permits necessary for construction, and the fact that Dominion recently informed state regulators that ‘significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable’ under the state’s new law requiring Dominion to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.”

5-6-2020 Virginia Mercury. Dominion’s responsibility to shareholders: Abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “A petition asking shareholders to abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is being circulated. Unfortunately shareholders won’t have the power to do so at this year’s annual meeting today. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has on record two shareholder proposals for the 2020 Dominion annual meeting (Climate Risk and Human Rights and Climate Justice). However Dominion successfully petitioned the SEC to prevent them from being brought before the shareholders for a vote.”

5-5-20 Seeking Alpha. Dominion says Atlantic Coast pipeline cost, timeline depends on tree cutting OK. “Dominion Energy (D +3.3%) confirms its previous cost and schedule estimates for the $8B Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline project that is expected to enter service in early 2022. But that cost and schedule depends on the company being allowed to cut trees along the pipeline’s route during the upcoming November 2020-March 2021 season, Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told today’s earnings conference call.”

5-4-20 Roanoke Times. Letter: Chambers should disavow pipeline. “[T]he state and regional Chambers of Commerce should be ashamed of their short-sighted, greedy support of the unneeded fracked-gas Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. My suggestion is that chamber members across Virginia will pay a big price for their respective leadership’s misguided pipeline-support position, in that it’s awfully easy, given current COVID-19 circumstances, for Southwest Virginia regional consumer/buyers to take their business to technology-driven ‘online-purchasing’ of routine goods and services now, and in the future.”

5-4-20 Roanoke Times. Report of pipeline slips in West Virginia under investigation, raises concern. “Land movement in a construction area shifted a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline after it was buried along a West Virginia slope, according to a report filed by environmental regulators. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report stated that ‘crews verified that the installed pipe shifted … in at least three locations south of Brush Run Road’ in Lewis County, about 50 miles from where the natural gas pipeline begins a 303-mile route that takes it through Southwest Virginia. Inspectors blamed the problem on what’s called a slip, or the gradual movement of land on its own in an area cleared for the pipeline.”

5-2-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Letter to the Editor, May 3, 2020: Energy giant should nix Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “With the Dominion Energy annual meeting set for May 6, CEO Thomas F. Farrell II could do shareholders, ratepayers and the environment a big favor by announcing the abandonment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. Climate science and energy economics make it pretty clear that the pipeline is a billion-dollar boondoggle.”

5-2-20 Common Dreams. No More Business as Usual: Halt Dangerous Development Projects That Put Our Health at Risk. “In North Carolina, fossil fuel giants Dominion and Duke Energy are pushing through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which threatens the public health and livelihoods of four tribes including the Lumbee – the largest Native tribe east of the Mississippi. Despite Native Americans being over-represented by a factor of ten along the North Carolina section of the pipeline route, tribal and other minority communities have been largely excluded from the decision-making process. Growing resistance to the pipeline has led two tribes to take their case to the Supreme Court, while resolutions supported by the National Congress of American Indians are calling for proper consultation with native nations.”

April 2020

4-28-20 New York Times. U.S. Court Ruling Could Threaten Pipeline Projects With Delays. “Several major U.S. oil and natural gas pipeline projects could be at risk of delays after a U.S. district judge in Montana this month said the Army Corps of Engineers had inappropriately used a national permit program, energy analysts said on Tuesday. …. Ann Nallo spokeswoman for Dominion Energy Inc, which is building the Atlantic Coast gas pipeline run from West Virginia to North Carolina, said ‘we’re following the developments to assess any impact.’ The company said it still expects the project to start up on schedule by early 2022.”

4-28-20 The Hill. House probe: Energy regulators almost always side with gas pipeline companies. “A probe conducted by the House Oversight and Reform Committee has found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) consistently sides with natural gas pipeline companies over property owners in certain land disputes. The committee found that in more than 99 percent of cases over the past 20 years, FERC has decided to give natural gas pipeline companies eminent domain; the move was approved 1,021 times and only rejected six times. Their investigation also determined that over the past 12 years, when landowners have sought to appeal FERC’s decision to give companies eminent domain over their property, in every case the commission has issued an order extending its time frame to respond. The appeals were ultimately denied every time.”

4-28-20 E&E Energywire. Chatterjee defends how FERC treats protesting landowners. “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee says his agency has been doing a “great job” in speeding up the process for complaints from landowners in the path of pipelines. But the agency won’t provide numbers to back that up, and an E&E News analysis of recent protests found many still move slowly. And landowner advocates say Chatterjee’s attempt at accelerating cases doesn’t get at the real problem. …. The agency press office said it could not supply figures to confirm the average processing time of less than two months cited by Chatterjee. An E&E News analysis found that of seven pipeline hearing requests between Sept. 1 and March 1, only one —involving a Tennessee Gas Pipeline upgrade —was decided within two months. Four took longer —between 76 and 87 days. Two others are still in limbo. A request for rehearing on an Atlantic Bridge compressor station in Massachusetts is undecided after more than 120 days. A protest of the Mountain Valley pipeline has been pendingfor more than 200 days. In all cases, the commission denied the opponents’ request for rehearing.

4-27-20 Southern Environmental Law Center. Press release: D.C. Circuit Hears Challenge to Unjust FERC Practice Used to Advance Construction of Unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Today, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard a challenge to a systematic practice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that prevents landowners and communities from challenging FERC’s decisions in court before energy infrastructure projects get under way—including FERC’s approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In a rare telephonic argument before the full court, challengers to the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline project argued for an end to FERC’s practice of issuing ‘tolling orders,’ which allows construction to begin—and, in some cases, allows entire pipelines to be completed—before court challenges to FERC’s approval can proceed.”

4-27-20 E&ENews. Court battle could upend ‘Kafkaesque’ FERC approvals. “A high-profile legal dispute over the federal government’s process for considering landowner challenges to energy projects is coming to a head today in a historic remote hearing before a prominent appeals court. The full slate of active U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit judges could choose to overturn long-standing precedent allowing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use “tolling orders” that effectively block property owners from going to court while greenlighting construction of projects — like the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline — on their land. …. Environmental groups and landowners today will ask the court to enforce a congressionally mandated deadline that gives FERC 30 days after a rehearing request is filed to either approve or deny a project. FERC has bypassed this requirement by consistently issuing tolling orders allowing indefinite consideration of pleas for rehearing.”

4-24-20 Virginia Mercury. Clean air and clean water are more important now than ever. “In the face of the greatest public health crisis in decades, we are more aware than ever of the connection between environmental protection, public and individual health and a strong economy. As we enter a new decade of environmentalism, it is worth reflecting on how far we have come so we can move forward with confidence and commitment to address new and urgent challenges. …. The challenges ahead will require innovative approaches to environmental protection that extend into much more complex areas of public policy such as addressing climate change, environmental justice and sustainable economic development. As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, community health is a vital component of community resilience. To that end, with direction and support from the governor’s office and the secretary of natural resources, DEQ is invested in being part of the solution. We are currently engaged in a wholesale review of our environmental justice procedures, we are committed to transparency, public accessibility of our work and establishing programs to continue to effectively administer our environmental protection programs.”

4-24-20 E&E EnergyWire. How a GOP-backed plan threatens the Atlantic Coast pipeline. “Virginia recently enacted a Republican-sponsored ratepayer protection measure that may spell trouble for the controversial Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline. While the law didn’t attract as much attention as the state’s landmark Clean Economy Act —whichtargets 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 —consumer and environmental activists say the provision, in tandem with the CEA, could throw up big obstacles for the proposed 600-mile-long gas line. …. The law stipulates a utility cannot recoup the costs of large new gas pipelines from its captive ratepayers unless it can prove that infrastructure is necessary for reliability and is the least-cost way to meet electricity demands. In other words, Dominion Energy Inc., Virginia’s large investor-owned utility and the lead developer of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, must prove the project is the best, cheapest way to keep the lights on in the Old Dominion if it’s going to make customers foot the bill for the capacity it has contracted.”

4-24-20 SCOTUSblog. Courtroom access: “There’s got to be a better way to do this”  “At around the same time, the clients – Johnson called them ‘the suits’ – began to arrive to take the places that the line-standers had been holding for them for nearly 12 hours. A man who arrived a little later offered Johnson $500 for his spot in line. Johnson retorted that, just as with the pipeline, his place ‘ain’t for sale.’ …. Like Johnson, Wilkin said, she had ‘planned to go up for the case as soon as the date for arguments was announced, and in this fight we’ve all had our fair share of being left out or pushed out of the room. This just hit home more than those other times. To me it was the most clear-cut instance of industry executives paying their way into a seat at the table, while many of us impacted by these projects are left out in the cold.'”

4-24-20 Roanoke Times. Mountain Valley says pipeline still on track despite issues with permit program. “The Mountain Valley Pipeline is still targeting a completion date of late this year, a spokeswoman said Friday, despite reports of the suspension of a nationwide program needed to grant a key permit it lacks.”

4-24-20 Food & Water Watch. This Federal Agency Closes Its Eyes To The Climate Crisis, So We’re Suing Them. “The lawsuit, Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is in response to the December 2019 FERC approval of the “261 Upgrade Project,” which consists of two miles of new pipeline and a new 11,000 horsepower compressor unit near Springfield, Massachusetts — the worst city for asthma sufferers in the entire country. Shortly after, our legal team began work challenging this reckless approval with one of the local groups on the ground fighting the project, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, which has been documenting how this new source of air pollution will devastate local communities that are already overburdened with unhealthy air. Our goal is simple: Make FERC factor in climate change in its permitting decisions, since they are ignoring legal requirements and court orders to do so.”

4-24-20 Virginia Mercury. State Corporation Commission should pause process on natural gas project. “The State Corporation Commission did the right thing when, weeks ago, it chose to officially suspend the disconnection of utility services in light of the pandemic. Now, it should do the next right thing by suspending the consideration of new fossil fuel infrastructure permits, at least until Virginians have a chance to address the immediate medical and economic crisis we face from COVID-19.”

4-22-20 E&E Energywire.  ‘A big deal’: Keystone XL ruling could threaten other pipelines. “A sweeping court ruling last week that halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through waterways set off alarm bells for some energy industry analysts.Experts warned that the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana’s broad order withdrawing a nationwide Clean Water Act permit for the crude oil project connecting Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico could also affect a pair of East Coast natural gas pipelines and an oil sands conduit between Canada and Wisconsin.”

4-20-20 UtilityDive. Report: Natural gas is a loser for long-term utility shareholder value. “Investment into new natural gas infrastructure like pipelines and power plants is ‘incompatible’ with long-term shareholder value, and thus it is in the best interest of the investor community to push utilities away from natural gas, according to a new report from corporate social responsibility group As You Sow and environmental consulting firm Energy Innovation. Major utility companies such as Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Southern Co. and American Electric Power have adopted goals of net-zero or close to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but those companies are also planning new natural gas infrastructure that will undercut these decarbonization goals and hurt investors in the long run, the report said.”

4-20-20 Virginia Mercury. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is looking like a riskier investment every day. “When announcing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, its owners, including Dominion Energy, said the project is essential for us to have the energy we need, will save us millions of dollars each year, foster economic development and be a windfall for shareholders. Events since the announcement demonstrate that none of the claims are likely to be true.”

4-16-20 The Recorder. Troubled 600-mile pipeline’s need under scrutiny again. “A motion the Virginia State Corporation Commission approved last week again suggested a lack of need for – and unsound rationale behind — the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. An Associated Press article spotlighted the issue, focusing on the pipeline need controversy and quoting a source describing it as an albatross. According to the SCC filing, construction of more gas power plants, the reason Dominion Energy cited for the pipeline in the first place, is no longer feasible in light of passage of renewable energy legislation.”

4-15-20 Courthouse News Service. Virginia High Court Hears Trespass Case Against Pipeline Firm. “The Virginia Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to clarify a state law governing how natural gas companies give notice to landowners when they want to survey private property without permission. At issue is surveying for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a more than 300-mile project that aims to bring natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina and beyond. In April 2016, surveyors for the pipeline company entered Fred W. Vest’s land in Bent Mountain, Virginia. Vest had denied the company access to his land and when they showed up anyway, following a series of communications and a second notice, he filed a trespass case against the company’s employees.”

4-13-20 Energy News Network. New Virginia law could be Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s greatest barrier yet. “Virginia environmentalists are confident that a bipartisan ratepayer-protection measure championed by a House Republican will spell doom for Dominion Energy’s fiercely debated Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Not surprisingly, however, Dominion is still convinced the $8 billion natural gas pipeline still has a bright future. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB 167 into law in early April, barely a month after the General Assembly wrapped up this year’s ambitious session. Both the Senate and the House of Delegates had voted unanimously to pass the legislation, introduced by Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. Briefly, Ware’s measure adds an extra level of scrutiny. It protects customers from paying for large new gas pipelines if utility regulators determine that the capacity of such infrastructure is not necessary for reliability and is not the least-cost way to meet electricity demand. Peter Anderson of Charlottesville, senior program manager for Appalachian Voices in Virginia, applauded Northam and the legislature for ensuring that regulators now have the appropriate tools to prevent electric monopolies from gouging consumers by constructing unnecessary pipelines.”

4-13-20 Pulitzer Center. Community Fights Construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Throughout Virginia and West Virginia along the pipeline route, a coalition of neighbors have come together in a variety of ways to protect the places they call home and have strengthened their communities in the process. With their work, they hope to offer a model for support and base-building in a world increasingly suffering from environmental harm. …. ‘We want to stop the pipeline. We want to make sure that no Democrat ever runs statewide with a pro-pipeline agenda, and we want to make it so difficult for these pipeline companies to come to Virginia that no pipeline ever dreams about trying to come through Virginia in the future,’ Delegate Sam Rasoul, who represents Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates, said in an interview.”

4-13-20 Daily Progress. Opinion/Letter: Pipeline may become even less viable. ” Shale drillers have been, and will be, going out of business. Though the federal government may prop them up, that’s only a short-term fix. Which brings us to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is intended to move natural gas from such drilling operations. Dominion Energy continues to fight in the courts for this albatross, including in the Supreme Court. Why? It no longer makes any sense (not that it ever did). Dominion stands to lose gargantuan amounts of money on this ill-conceived project, not even considering the damage COVID-19 will do. And those of you ratepayers who depend on Dominion for your electricity, you’re going to pay the price. So are those of us in the pipeline’s path. It is in the company’s best interests to pull the plug now, rather than throwing good money after bad. It will be way worse if the company persists.”

4-10-20 Virginia Mercury. FERC has a big pipeline problem. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a pipeline problem. A really, really big one. According to publicly available information on FERC’s website, the commission approved no fewer than 46 onshore gas pipeline ‘mega-projects’ from 1997 to 2019. These largest-of-the-large pipeline projects consist of gas pipelines measuring 24 to 42 inches in diameter, with over 100 miles of new pipeline. FERC’s most productive years during this time period were 2007 and 2017, when the commission approved nine and eight pipeline mega-projects, respectively. What immediately stands out is how notorious the class of 2017 is in terms of environmental impacts and operational risks. The roster is a veritable who’s who of fracked gas behemoths, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and Rover Pipeline, among others. It seriously calls into question FERC’s understanding, and exercise, of its role as a true ‘regulatory’ body.”

4-10-20 Virginia Mercury. After Clean Economy Act, Dominion says ‘significant build-out’ of new gas plants no longer viable. “Although it has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed by the General Assembly this March has already spurred changes to the long-term plans of Dominion Energy, the state’s largest electric utility. On March 24, Dominion asked regulators to waive a requirement that as part of its long-term planning it comprehensively assess the risk and impact of new natural gas plants on the grounds that ‘significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable, with the passage by the General Assembly of the Virginia Clean Economy Act.'”

4-8-20 Daily Progress. Dominion: Significant new natural gas generation not viable. “Dominion Energy Virginia recently told state regulators ‘significant build-out’ of natural gas-fired power plants is no longer viable because of renewable energy legislation lawmakers passed earlier this year. The disclosure came in a filing with the State Corporation Commission several weeks before Dominion has to file its integrated resource plan, or IRP, a long-range planning document that describes how the utility will generate power to comply with regulations and meet customer needs. The company’s critics called it the latest development to raise questions about why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the approximately $8 billion multistate natural gas pipeline the utility’s parent company is spearheading, is needed.”

4-8-20 The Enterprise [NC]. Pipeline opponent wants appraisers off his property. “A farmer living along the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route is asking Nash County [NC] officials to halt appraisers from entering his home during a statewide stay-at-home order meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Marvin Winstead, founder of Nash Stop the Pipeline, has asked the Nash County Board of Commissioners to reject the pipeline project, citing reductions in safety measures and alleged harassment of landowners, according to a letter delivered to the board Friday. …. ‘Over the last few days I have been harassed by Dominion attorneys to allow out-of-state assessors onto my property and even into my home as part of the ongoing eminent domain process,’ Winstead states in the letter.

4-6-20 Blue Virginia. New Pipeline Construction is Non-Essential & Endangers Us Now More Than Ever; Protect All Rural Regions from Virus. “Twenty organizations representing thousands of Virginians sent a letter to Governor Northam, Secretary Valentine and Secretary Moran with the following plea: ‘It is imperative during the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the health of all Virginians by preventing gas construction projects to continue until after the crisis passes. Please issue instructions that gas construction workers are non-essential and are not allowed to work or to set up camps in Virginia.’ It is terrifying to see the caravans of pipeline workers returning to our area with license plates from other territories where strict guidelines have not been implemented to protect those regions.”

4-6-20 Energy News Network. Virginia bill will put more pressure on Dominion Energy to justify cost recovery. “A scantly noticed bill curated by a freshman legislator from northern Virginia elicited giant cheers from Dominion Energy watchdogs when it passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates just seven days before the General Assembly adjourned on March 12. Though overshadowed by the Virginia Clean Economy Act, supporters view the success of House Bill 528 as a momentous first effort to shift power from utility monopolies and toward regulators and ratepayers. On its face, the measure deftly shepherded by Del. Suhas Subramanyam is simple. It restores the State Corporation Commission’s oversight of Dominion’s cost recovery timeline for early retirements of all types of power plants. …. Subramanyam’s measure reverses current law, passed in 2018 as part of the massive Grid Transformation and Security Act. That allowed Dominion to recover — as a one-time expense — the remaining balance on a retired power plant instead of refunding the extra earnings to customers.”

4-3-20 Hays Free Press [TX]  Well water tests underway after pipeline crew hits Karst feature. “On March 28, reportedly during the first day of drilling, a Kinder Morgan contractor trying to bore a pilot hole under the river near Chimney Hill Road in Blanco County hit a karst feature, losing all the drilling fluid and mud down the hole. Within days, water that was either tan and foamy or mud-colored began coming out of the taps at three homes about a mile away.”

4-3-20 E&E Energywire. FERC eases enforcement rules. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced yesterday additional measures to relax enforcement for a host of regulations, including a halt to any new Office of Enforcement audits until the end of July. The rollbacks are part of wider efforts aimed at helping the electric and natural gas sectors as they respond to the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to FERC. ‘Regulated entities are taking extraordinary steps to ensure continuity for our energy systems during this unprecedented time, ‘Republican FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a statement. ‘We’re doing all we can to lift regulatory burdens and uncertainty, so that the focus can remain on critical front-line efforts.’ Chief among those changes is direction to the Office of Enforcement staff to work more flexibly with ongoing audits and investigations, and schedule no new audits until after July 31.”

4-2-20 News Leader. Pipeline companies continued work jeopardizes public health in Virginia. “Virginia’s pipeline industry has a troubling record of putting profit before people, a practice that becomes more dire in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. While many Virginians are taking important steps to slow the spread of coronavirus, either by staying home or working essential jobs to provide us all with the care and resources we need during this difficult time, some companies are still jeopardizing community health by sending workers out to do dangerous, non-essential labor.”

4-1-20 The Guardian. Will the coronavirus kill the oil industry and help save the climate? “The plunging demand for oil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic combined with a savage price war has left the fossil fuel industry broken and in survival mode, according to analysts. It faces the gravest challenge in its 100-year history, they say, one that will permanently alter the industry. With some calling the scene a “hellscape”, the least lurid description is ‘unprecedented’. A key question is whether this will permanently alter the course of the climate crisis. Many experts think it might well do so, pulling forward the date at which demand for oil and gas peaks, never to recover, and allowing the atmosphere to gradually heal.”

4-1-20 Virginia Mercury. Despite EPA decision, Virginia says polluters must ‘make every effort’ to comply with environmental regulations. “Virginia will not relax its enforcement of environmental regulations despite an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week that it won’t impose civil penalties on polluting facilities that don’t comply with routine monitoring and reporting obligations during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘All regulated entities are expected to make every effort to comply with environmental compliance obligations, adhere to permit limits and maintain the safe and environmentally protective operation of their facilities,’ said Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor in a news release Tuesday.”

4-1-20 Kallanish Energy. Federal biological review delayed for MVP. “A federal review of the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and its impacts on endangered or threatened wildlife has been delayed again, Kallanish Energy reports. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Mountain Valley Pipeline last week agreed to take another 32 days to April 27 to complete the biological review. It was the third delay in getting that review completed. The biological permits are among three suspended permits that the company must be granted again by federal agencies before the pipeline can be completed.”

March 2020

3-29-20 Bacon’s Rebellion. Is It the Death Knell For Dominion’s Pipeline? “But now there’s clear evidence that the fracking boom is over, and that has huge implications for the ACL project. The reason? Oil and gas prices have dropped thanks to a perfect storm of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic tanking the U.S. economy, bitter energy wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that fracking gas and oil rigs are enormously expensive and wells can produce for only a short period. The Hill reported last week: ‘Oil sank to $23 (a barrel) from a high of $53 in mid-February, far below the break even point that producers need to drill new wells to maintain supply, and with volumes rapidly diminishing at existing wells.’ …. The situation has clear implications for the ACL project which was conceived at the height of the Marcellus boom.”

3-28-10 Roanoke Times. Federal reviews delay Mountain Valley Pipeline yet again. “A winter hiatus in construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline will last well into the spring. The latest delay came this week, with word that two federal agencies will take another month to review one of several approvals — set aside by legal challenges from environmental groups — that must be restored before work can ramp up on the highly disputed natural gas pipeline.

3-27-20 The American Prospect. The Constitutional Option to Fight the Climate Crisis. “Ubiquitous pipelines crisscrossing America and worries over climate change raise the question: Does transporting oil and gas serve the public interest?” [Detailed discussion of eminent domain case over Louisiana pipeline]

3-27-20 Virginia Mercury. Virginia made big commitments to renewables. What does the economic slump mean for them? “Three weeks ago, Virginia’s Democrat-led General Assembly passed the most ambitious plan for transitioning off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources to come out of the South yet. It was a banner moment for environmentalists. Among the promises they secured were state commitments to build out 24 gigawatts of solar, wind and energy storage by 2035 — almost 40 percent more than the existing capacity of the fossil fuel units owned by the state’s largest utility, Dominion Energy — and annual targets that would bind the utilities to progressively including more and more renewables in their energy portfolios. Then the new coronavirus hit, and the financial markets tanked. …. What that will mean for Virginia’s planned buildout is not yet clear.”

3-27-20 Inside Climate News. Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry. “The American Petroleum Institute sought the EPA’s help for companies hurt by COVID-19. One former EPA official called the suspension ‘an open license to pollute.’ The Trump administration’s unprecedented decision to suspend enforcement of U.S. environmental laws amid the COVID-19 crisis throws a lifeline to the oil industry as it copes with the greatest threat to its business in a generation.”

3-26-20 E&E Energywire. Is pipeline construction ‘essential’ in a pandemic?   “In Virginia and West Virginia, construction is suspended on the Mountain Valley pipeline (MVP) due to legal challenges by environmental groups (Energywire, Oct. 17, 2019). But the developer, a joint venture led by EQT Corp., says shutdown orders allow work to continue, and it is focusing on maintaining erosion and sediment control measures. That angers Elizabeth Struthers Malbon of Blacksburg, Va., who complained to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the developer is continuing to bring in temporary workers. ‘MVP and FERC have no right to ignore the public danger to citizens who live in the vicinity’ of the pipeline, she said in a comment posted on the FERC docket this week. A spokeswoman for the pipeline did not respond to a request for comment.”

3-26-20 Roanoke Times.  Economic slowdown not affecting many outdoor construction projects. “While business closures and work-from-home orders have altered the employment scene for many Southwest Virginians, most outdoor construction projects are moving forward. Workers on highway improvements, home and commercial construction and other projects generally have more room for the social distancing that is being called for in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. …. Work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has been largely stalled in recent months by the suspension of permits for environmental reasons, is not expected to be further slowed, according to company spokeswoman Natalie Cox.”

3-25-20 Roanoke Times. Bowers, Christopulos and Smusz: COVID-19 and an army of pipeline workers don’t mix. “We all have grave concerns about COVID-19. Restaurants, public facilities and churches have closed. Everyone is asked to stay home and gather in groups smaller than ten. But out-of-state natural gas corporations either don’t pay attention to current news, or maybe they just don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Mountain Valley Pipeline’s owners are preparing to unleash thousands of pipeline workers in six Virginia counties (Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania), most of them non-local. Each of these workers is a potential virus carrier. …. This is not the time to bring in an army of out-of-state workers with the threat of COVID-19 contamination to local residents, requiring food and health care that are already in short supply. MVP construction should be suspended indefinitely.”

3-25-20 Law.com Why a SCOTUS Case Over the Atlantic Pipeline Project Could Have Big Implications. “While the case currently before the Supreme Court is a multifaceted dispute, it primarily centers on the intersection of two federal statutes: the Mineral Leasing Act and the National Trails System Act. The Mineral Leasing Act gives the Forest Service, a unit of the Department of Agriculture, authority to grant rights-of-way for natural gas pipelines through all federal lands, ‘except lands in the National Park System.’ That language is pretty clear. The debate before the court, however, hinges on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of whether or not the Appalachian Trail is considered a unit of the National Park System in the context of the Mineral Leasing Act. The National Trails System Act gives the National Park Service authority to administer the Appalachian Trail; and the National Park Service Organic Act was amended in 1970 to incorporate ‘any area of land and water administered by’ the National Park Service into the National Park System. So, is the Appalachian Trail part of the National Park System?”

3-25-20 Blue Virginia. Why on Earth Is Mountain Valley Pipeline Construction Considered “Essential Infrastructure” During COVID-19 Crisis? “[I]t’s really galling, given that so many other businesses – including ones that are net positives to society – have had to shut down, while a business focused on building more of what we know is harming the environment, contributing to pollution and the climate crisis, etc., gets an exemption because it’s supposedly ‘essential.’ Other than there being a lot of money tied up in the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, what on earth is ‘essential’ about building more dirty, destructive, likely-to-be-economically-‘stranded’-in-a-few-years, fracked-gas distribution capacity?” See also the petition to governors of Virginia and West Virginia asking them to add transient pipeline construction workers from across the country to the non-essential stay-at-home list, until after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.

3-25-20 Earth Justice. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Prevails as Federal Judge Strikes Down DAPL Permits. “A federal court today granted a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to strike down federal permits for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The Court found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it affirmed federal permits for the pipeline originally issued in 2016. Specifically, the Court found significant unresolved concerns about the potential impacts of oil spills and the likelihood that one could take place.”

3-23-20 Bloomberg Environment. Virus Leads Pipeline Agency to Ease Job Qualification Rules. “A federal safety agency is helping hazardous material transporters and pipeline operators prepare for the spread of Covid-19 by easing staff training and qualifications requirements. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a stay on enforcement March 20, applicable only to requirements for pipeline operator employee qualifications and training. …. The pipeline industry is preparing to operate with a workforce potentially reduced by illness or quarantines, said Bryn Karaus, who focuses on pipeline regulation in her position of counsel for Van Ness Feldman LLP in Washington. Qualified employees are required to conduct specific tasks, like inspecting pipelines for corrosion or leaks. During the pandemic, if training isn’t available, pipeline operators may have to substitute other employees, Karaus said.”

3-23-20 Utility Dive. Utilities beginning to see the load impacts of COVID-19 as economic shutdown widens. “It has been less than a week since states and major cities began instituting quarantines along with stay-home and shelter-in-place directives to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The full impacts on electricity usage are not yet known, but grid operators say demand is both shifting and falling. Data from overseas may give an indication of just how steep the declines could become. Italy instituted lockdowns and closed essential businesses earlier this month, in response to a spike in novel coronavirus infections. According to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the country has since witnessed a significant decline in electricity demand. …. In the United States, grid operators say it is too soon to get a firm handle on the impacts of coronavirus shutdowns, but some are already seeing usage declines.”

3-19-20 Energy News Network. Q&A: NRDC attorney on the legal issues behind Atlantic Coast Pipeline challenge. “A self-described “FERC nerd,” Gillian Giannetti explains what Supreme Court justices are now considering.”

3-19-20 The Recorder. FERC urged to stop major projects due to virus spread [letter to FERC ACP docket]. “FERC must halt all large-scale construction on projects that are not critically important. These pipeline construction projects bring in transient workers into very vulnerable rural communities and place not only workers, but those communities at great risk.”

3-17-20 Virginia Mercury. Can an unusual coalition budge Congress on pipeline reforms? “Property rights advocates and environmentalists are often foes when it comes to federal regulations. But they’ve found some common ground in their shared desire to prod Congress and the courts to overhaul the federal permitting process for natural gas pipelines. Property rights advocates contend that the current system enables industry to unfairly seize land for energy infrastructure projects, which have been criticized as speculative ventures increasingly connected to a need for new gas. Environmentalists are wary of the climate change implications of burning the natural gas slated to be carried through new pipelines.”

3-16-20 pv magazine. Traditionally non-partisan FERC is politicized with 3-1 Republican majority. “Despite violating, in the words of Senator Joe Manchin, ‘proper decorum’ and ‘simple civility,’ the Senate confirmed James Danly as the third Republican on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Danly’s first nomination had been rejected earlier this year. The Commission has traditionally been non-partisan, and traditionally, the party of the nominees are alternated — ‘pairing’ the nominations. Legally, no more than three chairs can be held by one party. Richard Glick is the one Democrat on the Commission. The FERC Chair is Neil Chatterjee, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The other Republican, Bernard McNamee, was deputy general counsel for energy policy at the Department of Energy.”

3-16-20 Seeking Alpha. Dominion Remains Overvalued Even After The Sell-Off. “The market plunge has created value opportunities, but I do not believe Dominion Energy is one of these. The firm’s lower recent net income figures and high-debt load will affect growth in the near term. In the sharp market downturn that occurred on 03/12/2020, several value opportunities have emerged. However, Richmond, Virginia-based electric and gas utility Dominion Energy (D) is not one of these, I contend, and still has further to fall before it can be considered fairly valued.”

3-16-20 Charlotte Observer. As the cost of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline soars, renewable energy is the better option for NC. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a long way from being constructed, but it’s already proving a leaky conduit for cash. The cost keeps rising for the proposed 600-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia, through Virginia and down to the southern border of North Carolina in Robeson County. Estimated in November 2018 to cost $5.1 billion, the project jointly owned by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, is now expected to cost approximately $8 billion, a 60 percent jump in a year and a half. …. Last week, a collection of more than 70 social justice, clean energy and faith groups called on Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a climate emergency and block further construction or expansion of natural gas-fired power plants and pipelines. In a letter to the governor, the groups said, ‘We contend that ’coping’ with this ongoing emergency includes the authority to help prevent it from growing worse indefinitely.'”

3-14-20 Salon. Energy companies get a free hand as FERC ties homeowners in legal knots. “Trump energy regulators are using an obscure bureaucratic maneuver to allow pipeline companies to legally seize land and start construction while pipeline opponents are in legal limbo. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has used this ploy, upheld in a 1969 case, to stall opposition for decades. The commission’s general counsel is James Danly, a relatively inexperienced attorney Trump nominated for a commission seat. Danly has stalled every timely request for a rehearing in the past two years. That means pipeline challengers can’t go to court until the commission decides to stop stalling them.”

3-13-20 Mountain Xpress [Asheville NC]  Local groups join call for state climate emergency declaration. “More than 70 youth, social justice, clean energy and faith groups, among others, today called on North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to join more than 1,400 local and national governments by formally declaring a climate emergency. The top target of their letter and a statewide campaign escalation is a giant expansion of fracked natural gas projects that Duke Energy is building or planning, and which leading climate experts are urging Cooper to cancel. At a press conference today in Raleigh, speakers from youth groups and communities hit by repeated hurricanes and targeted by Duke’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) urged the Governor to use his Emergency Management Act authority to help prevent continuing pain – by halting the expansion of gas, a leading cause of accelerating climate chaos – rather than just responding to ongoing disasters.”

3-12-20 Nelson County Times. Letter: ACP: a pipeline to nowhere. “May 2020 will mark six years since more than 200 Nelson County landowners received the first letters from the Southern Reliability Project, since renamed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. …. During this six-year period, natural gas prices have plummeted, and a glut remains. More than 200 oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy involving $127 billion in debt since 2015. Chesapeake Energy, the grandfather of natural gas fracking, is currently trading at 22 cents per share. And, West Virginia natural gas drillers are selling off leases or filing for bankruptcy at an alarming rate. Pipeline construction nationwide is being put on hold or canceled. …. If industry giants like Kinder Morgan and Williams are making adjustments, and West Virginia’s drilling rig counts are continuing to drop (down 31 percent from last year) where the ACP originates, why is Dominion continuing to fight to save this pipeline?”

3-10-20 Courthouse News Service. Judge Rules Against Virginia County in Challenge to Pipeline Project. “A federal judge has sided with a pipeline company in a dispute over the permitting powers of local governments, a win for the beleaguered natural gas producer after several setbacks in court. …. Senior U.S. District Judge Norman Moon, a Bill Clinton appointee, sided with Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC in a ruling issued Monday, finding federal law superseded the county’s effort to block the project.”

3-10-20 Roanoke Times. DEQ notes problems with erosion control during lull in work on Mountain Valley Pipeline. “At a time when building the Mountain Valley Pipeline was focused almost entirely on controlling erosion, muddy runoff continued to flow from dormant construction sites. In a letter last month to a conservation group that first raised the issue, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said the infractions would be forwarded to the state attorney general’s office, which has the authority to seek tough financial penalties. …. But no demand had apparently been made by Tuesday [March 10, 2020]. DEQ spokeswoman Ann Regn said the agency is ‘compiling noncompliance information monthly’ and will notify Mountain Valley, in conjunction with the attorney general, of any violations or penalties.”

3-10-20 Roanoke Times. Editorial: What the Constitution Pipeline says about Virginia’s pipelines. “Both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines were proposed in 2014, one year after the Constitution. Today the MVP is about 90% complete while no pipe has been laid for the ACP — although trees have been cut in some places. Both projects are now halted by those same ‘legal challenges’ that frustrated the Constitution, just not ones filed by Virginia state government. If either McAuliffe or Northam had opposed pipelines the way Cuomo does, might both be getting cancelled today the way the Constitution has been? This is one of those great ‘what ifs’?”

3-10-20 Utility Dive. Duke, Dominion, Southern won’t hit clean energy targets at current pace: Report. “Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and Southern Company are not making investments consistent with their clean energy goals, according to a report released Monday from Synapse Energy Economics. …. ‘[C]ontrary to what Southern Company, Dominion Energy, and Duke Energy say on their websites, in television ads, and in shareholder reports and pamphlets, the three companies are thus far taking minimal actions to decarbonize their electricity systems,’ according to the report. ‘[N]one of the three companies examined in this report will meet their 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals under their current resource plans.'”

3-7-20 Cleveland19. Dominion Energy Ohio may face $2.5 million fine for Pepper Pike [OH] gas line explosion. “A new report filed by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recommends Dominion Energy Ohio should forfeit $2.5 million for failure to comply with Pipeline Safety Regulations requirements that caused or contributed to this incident for the gas line explosion that happened last year.”

3-6-20 Utility Dive. Virginia passes bill to bring scrutiny to coal plant closures, despite Dominion opposition.  “The Virginia Senate passed a bipartisan House bill 35-5 on Thursday, giving state regulators control of cost recovery over power plant retirements, despite opposition from Dominion Energy. The bill would require the Virginia State Corporation Commission to determine the length of time that a utility can recover “any appropriate costs” from retiring coal and gas generation early. The measure undoes a former provision that gave Dominion the flexibility to skirt refunds on coal and natural gas plants retired early. The bill is seen as a key example of the Democrat-led legislature standing up to Dominion, despite nearly a decade of successful lobbying from the utility. However, Dominion saw many wins as the legislative session winds down, including the advancement of bills that would guarantee utility cost recovery of offshore wind development.”

3-5-20 News5Cleveland. Report recommends Dominion Energy Ohio forfeit $2.5 million for last year’s Pepper Pike gas explosion. “An initial report released by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has recommended that Dominion Energy Ohio forfeit $2.5 million for a gas pipeline explosion that happened last year in Pepper Pike. According to an investigation report released last month by PUCO, ‘evidence shows that a failure to follow established welding procedures, insufficient inspection and oversight at the construction site, and lack of procedures and training regarding auger boring, which led to the pipeline being subject to excessive strain, all played a role in the failure of the pipeline.'”

3-5-20 WDBJ7. Franklin County collects nearly $1M in unpaid taxes from MVP contractors. “For Franklin County Commissioner of the Revenue Margaret Torrence, this story begins in 2018. Riding around the county, she noticed Mountain Valley Pipeline contractors had dozens of pieces of equipment lying around. All of it was taxable property. But those taxes weren’t getting paid. ‘It’s been worth the time that it took to pursue it,’ said Torrence. Torrence identified at least 24 MVP contractors and subcontractors who owed the county unpaid personal property taxes. She began working to collect the money last fall. Now, after months of letters, emails and research, she says those companies are finally paying up. ‘We were able to bill, and collect, to date, $876,621.18. So that’s a significant amount of revenue,’ said Torrence. …. In Franklin County, MVP contractors and subcontractors still owe tens of thousands of dollars. The two companies with delinquent accounts owe about $62,000. Others owe thousands more. Torrence says she’ll continue pursing all of these companies until they’ve paid their bills.”

3-5-20 Bloomberg Environment. Insight: Fourth Circuit Rules ‘Environmental Justice Is Not Merely a Box to Be Checked’  “The Fourth Circuit’s decision indicates that thorough consideration of a planned project’s potential impact on environmental justice communities is a concrete compliance requirement. Concerns around environmental justice have previously played a critical role in delaying energy projects. …. Given what appears to be an emerging trend requiring compliance, the regulated community should carefully consider environmental justice laws and their import when planning and seeking approval of major, capital-intensive projects.”

3-4-20 Fredricksburg.com. Letter: Market reasons not to build Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “There were good reasons to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2013, reasons that were articulated in your March 1 editorial [‘Atlantic Coast Pipeline even more needed now’]. But today we have reached the end of the ‘natural gas bridge’ to clean energy. The heat-trapping CO2 in our atmosphere is the highest it has been in 3 million years, and we now know that methane emissions from natural gas are 85 times worse than CO2 while they are in the atmosphere. Here are some market reasons not to build the ACP….”

3-4-20 Forbes. Utility Investors Risk Billions In Rush To Natural Gas: Is It A Bridge To Climate Breakdown? “The U.S. power sector’s rush to build out natural gas capacity risks far more than locking in emissions that would bust the Paris climate targets – it also poses tens of billions in financial risk to utility investors. Once commonly considered a ‘bridge fuel,’ electric utilities now must face the mathematical reality that fast-falling clean energy costs mean the bridge only leads to climate breakdown and the destruction of shareholder value. A new report from Energy Innovation and shareholder advocacy group As You Sow outlines these evolving risks for shareholders, strategies for investors to accelerate decarbonization, and policies for utilities to cut financial risk from over-reliance on natural gas through new clean energy investment.”

3-4-20 Virginia Mercury. Governor signs bill making Virginia Council on Environmental Justice permanent. “After almost two years of operating on a temporary basis, the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice became permanent Wednesday when Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill establishing it as an advisory body to the executive branch. ‘It’s past time we created a permanent council on environmental justice,’ said Northam in a statement. ‘This bill will help to ensure communities are directly involved in the decisions that affect them most, and will help prevent vulnerable Virginians from being disproportionately impacted by pollution, climate change and environmental hazards.'”

3-4-20 Roanoke Times. Letter: Pipeline bust or BOOM? “One critical part has been left out of most pipeline conversations. We know that, despite stealing land via eminent domain and destroying environmentally sensitive areas, MVP can indeed build a pipeline. But can they actually operate it safely?

3-4-20 Utility Dive. Manchin pledges to hold out for Democratic FERC pairing post-McNamee as Dems decry Danly nomination. “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., attempted to assuage the concerns of his Democratic colleagues Tuesday, pledging to refuse a vote next time there’s a vacancy on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, unless the White House gives them a Democratic nominee. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-8 to confirm James Danly to FERC, giving the now-four person commission a 3-1 Republican majority. Commissioner Bernard McNamee announced in January he would not be seeking a second term on commission, meaning a new spot could be open as soon as June. Manchin, who serves as ENR Ranking Member, voted in favor of the nomination, but said he would not do so if the situation arose again. ‘I made a commitment to Danly before because I thought he was well-qualified,’ he told Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who expressed his frustrations immediately after the vote. ‘But I will make this commitment to you. If we do not get a pairing when McNamee comes off … I’ll make my statement known: If we don’t get a pairing we’re not voting.'”

3-3-20 Politico. This Pipeline Case Could Gut 100 Years of Safeguards for Federal Parks. “Environmental groups fear that a ruling in favor of the energy companies behind the project could ultimately open up millions of acres of federal land—national monuments and historic places, wild and scenic rivers and other wilderness areas—to uses ranging from energy exploration and timber harvesting to highway construction and mining. Doing so, they say, would upend over a century of what was once considered inviolable protection.”

3-2-20 Washington Post. Va. Senate committee kills Dominion rate review bill. “Dominion Energy won a major victory Monday when a Virginia Senate committee killed a bipartisan bill that would have subjected the state’s biggest utility to a review of whether its electricity rates are too high.”

3-2-20 NC Policy Watch. Monday numbers: A closer look at the Mountain Valley Pipeline (and the doublespeak regulators employ to describe its environmental impacts). “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rarely met a pipeline it didn’t like, and the MVP Southgate project is no exception. In its 500-plus-page Final Environmental Impact Statement the commission determined that the 70-mile project — 48 miles of which will run through Rockingham and Alamance counties — won’t significantly impact the environment, as long as contractors properly mitigate the damage. And there would be damage. In fact, the language of the FEIS details, albeit often in bureaucratic/Orwellian terms, the long-term effects on wildlife, forests, habitats and drinking water supplies.” [Article considers excerpts from the report along with their translations into everyday English.]

3-2-20 National Parks Traveler. Groups Concerned Over How Supreme Court Will Rule On Appalachian Trail Pipeline Case. “‘Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline cannot circumvent the law, which clearly states that federal agencies do not have the authority to grant pipeline rights-of-way across lands within the National Park System—of which the Appalachian Trail is unequivocally a part. Only Congress has this authority, should it choose to exercise it,’ said Pierno. ‘Dominion’s legal argument hinges on the notion that the Appalachian Trail is somehow not land—a ludicrous, nonsensical position, and one that we hope the Court rejects.'”

3-1-20 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. How a dirt path is challenging a 600-mile pipeline. “Ultimately, the collision between supporters of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and those who want to protect the Appalachian Trail is a clash between two visions for our country: a fossil-fueled future, or a more sustainable economy based on renewables. For more than a century, fossil fuel industries have won these battles, especially in places like Appalachia. Now, as the Supreme Court case suggests, a beloved dirt path can have powerful political and economic muscle. Outdoor recreation contributed $412 billion, or 2%, to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2016, more than oil and gas extraction, according to the federal government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The number of jobs tied to outdoor recreation vastly outstrips those in coal, oil and natural gas combined.”

February 2020

2-27-20 The Motley Fool. Dominion Energy Gambles $175 Million on a Supreme Court Decision. “When Dominion released its fourth-quarter 2019 earnings, however, it noted that it had bought Southern’s 5% stake. That brings its control of the project to more than 50%, effectively giving it complete control over the investment. The cost of this acquisition was roughly $175 million and included some other natural gas assets. To be fair, that’s a relatively tiny cost compared to the entire project, which has already spent $3.4 billion on construction efforts and it isn’t close to done yet (the total cost is expected to be about $8 billion at this time, but it could go higher). However, when you consider the increased control it gives Dominion, it is a notable move. And it comes at an interesting time.”

2-27-20 gettingmoreontheground.com [Robert Whitescarver’s blog]. Uplifted Standing In Line at SCOTUS [Includes description of “two kinds of people in line that frigid night: the pipeline fighters and the homeless folks of D.C. hired by a professional ‘line-standing’ company to stand in line for the pro-pipeline people.”]

2-26-20 Forbes. Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Building $7.5B Gas Pipeline Under Appalachian Trail. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a classic struggle between energy development and ecological preservation. If the utilities conclude that the pipeline is necessary to meet future demand and that it is financially viable, they can either wait-and-see what the High Court decides or they could choose now to once again re-route their pipeline. Either way, more legal battles are sure to come, elevating the line’s profile and hardening the positions on both sides.”

2-25-20 Washington Post. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed. “A respectful and prudent owner would reevaluate the 2013 decision to build this now nearly $8 billion gas pipeline. Instead of continuing the fight to build a gas bridge to nowhere, and trying to find a suitable “degree of injury” to the mountains, to the rivers and to historic black communities along the route, an astute owner would refocus its efforts on building a truly clean energy future.”

2-25-20 Utility Dive. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch warns of unintended consequences in Atlantic Coast Pipeline case. “The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from two consolidated cases on Monday, regarding a lower court’s decision to reject the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to issue a key permit for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. One extreme-case scenario, Justice Neil Gorsuch warned, is that if the lower court’s decision is upheld, more pipelines could inadvertently be “invited” along the Pacific Crest Trail, along the West Coast. The environmental advocates responding in the Supreme Court case and several environmental groups dispute the legal and actionable feasibility of this argument.”

2-24-20 Charlotte Business Journal. Supreme Court justices appear on board with Duke Energy, Dominion argument on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Supporters of the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline left encouraged after the hour-long U.S. Supreme Court arguments over a vital permit while opponents said, regardless of the court’s decision, the fight would go on. ‘This fight didn’t start here today and it will not end here today,’ said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Initiative, at a post-hearing press conference outside the court. David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia, another of the groups involved in the challenge, said his group was confident in its arguments. He stressed that courts have overturned other important permits for the project and said, ‘whatever the ruling in this case, the opposition to this project will continue.’ Though a decision is likely a few months off, there is reason for ACP’s proponents to feel good about the hearing. All five justices in the court’s dominant conservative wing and one in the more liberal minority appeared to question an appeals court’s ruling that voided a permit to allow the pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail.”

2-24-20 NBC29. Supreme Court won’t have final word in pipeline case. “The fight over a partially-built, controversial pipeline linking West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina plays out in front of the world’s most powerful judges. But, the nation’s highest court is unlikely to have the final word in this case. Supreme Court justices will consider one piece of lower court’s decision to block Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction. …. Several justices – conservative and liberal – made it clear they saw substantial holes in the arguments made by both sides. Congress could sort out the confusion by passing a new law, but that isn’t likely given Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are unlikely to agree on the issue. The Supreme Court will decide the case by the end of June. Regardless of what it decides, pipeline developers will need to address environmental concerns raised by the lower court if construction is to begin again.”

2-24-20 Virginia Mercury. ‘Trails’ vs. ‘lands’: High court weighs arguments in case that could decide fate of Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Where does a trail end and the land beneath it begin? That’s just one of the thorny questions the Supreme Court grappled with Monday morning during a one-hour hearing on a U.S. Forest Service permit for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline that has been hotly anticipated by both the gas and oil industry supporting the pipeline and the environmentalists opposing the project.”

2-24-20 Washington Post. Supreme Court hears battle over Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “The Supreme Court on Monday appeared ready to remove an obstacle to construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, with a majority of justices expressing skepticism about a lower court ruling that tossed out a key permit needed for the natural gas pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail. Justices on the court grilled a lawyer for environmental groups who sued and won a 2018 ruling from the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal throwing out a special-use permit for the 605-mile (974-kilometer) natural gas pipeline. The 4th Circuit found the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to grant a right-of-way to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest. But conservative justices, who hold a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, expressed reservations about the ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts at one point saying the lower court’s finding would ‘erect an impermeable barrier’ to any pipeline from areas where natural gas is located to areas where it is needed. ‘Absolutely incorrect,’ attorney Michael Kellogg, representing the environmental groups, responded.”

2-24-20 The Hill. Justices grapple with $8 billion pipeline that would cross Appalachian Trail. “The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a high-profile case that could block construction of an $8 billion gas pipeline seeking to cross the Appalachian Trail. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would carry natural gas 604 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina and would tunnel below the famed trail that runs more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. At issue is whether jurisdiction over the affected land belongs to the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service (NPS). The case presents the justices with a complex tangle of federal laws that will determine if the land is open to energy development or must be preserved for recreational use under the park service’s mandate.”

2-24-20 Marketplace.org. Reporter’s notebook: a bitterly contested $8 billion pipeline along the Appalachian Trail. “Opposition to the pipeline comes in many forms. I’ve driven down from my home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs to central Virginia to observe a clash of competing natural resource economies. On one hand, there’s energy; the pipeline project estimates the project will bring more than $15 million in tax revenue to this county over ten years. On the other, there’s water. The creeks in and around the Appalachian Trail feed the Rockfish River, which has carved a valley now thriving in what locals call agritourism: fishing, hiking, boating …. local agri-tourism creates more long-term jobs in this economically challenged area than the pipeline would.” Article quotes local pipeline fighters, Joyce Burton and Richrd Averitt.

2-23-20 New York Times. Will the Appalachian Trail Stop an $8 Billion Pipeline? “Ultimately, the collision between supporters of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and those who want to protect the Appalachian Trail is a clash between two visions for our country: a fossil-fueled future, or a more sustainable economy based on renewables. For more than a century, fossil fuel industries have won these battles, especially in places like Appalachia. Now, as the Supreme Court case suggests, a beloved dirt path can have powerful political and economic muscle. Outdoor recreation contributed $412 billion, or 2 percent, to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2016, more than oil and gas extraction, according to the federal government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The number of jobs tied to outdoor recreation vastly outstrips those in coal, oil and natural gas combined.”

2-23-20 Washington Post. U.S. Supreme Court to decide winner in case of gas pipeline vs. Appalachian Trail. “The Trump administration has weighed in on behalf of the project, with Solicitor General Noel Francisco arguing that while the National Park Service administers the trail, the land beneath it is controlled by the Forest Service. Environmentalists opposing the construction argue that no pipeline has been granted a right of way across the trail on federal land since it became part of the park system. Other crossings are on private or state lands or on easements that predate federal ownership. Trying to separate the land from the trail is an “elusively metaphysical distinction” that “contradicts the government’s own long-standing approach to administering the Trail,” according to a brief from lawyer Michael K. Kellogg, who will argue for the environmental groups in Monday’s hearing.”

2-22-20 Blue Virginia. Return the Power to the State Water Control Board to Protect Our Water! “Virginia legislators were mistaken when they passed legislation in 2018 to limit the State Water Control Board (SWCB)’s ability to protect Virginia’s water. In light of repeated assaults by MVP construction on our surface and groundwater, the General Assembly must immediately make every effort to restore that power to the SWCB to protect our waterways from the negligence of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Legislators should pass Del. Chris Hurst’s HB 643 and HB 644.”

2-21-20 NPR. Supreme Court Pipeline Fight Could Disrupt How The Appalachian Trail Is Run. “Those who manage the Appalachian Trail are not involved in the litigation of the case. Instead, they say it has become a football between two sides: the pipeline company and the environmental groups who oppose it. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the private organization that oversees the day-to-day management of the trail, is not involved because – perhaps surprisingly – the group does not oppose the pipeline. The group coordinates efforts with federal and state agencies, more than 30 smaller regional groups and thousands of volunteers, and warns that a ruling could upend this complicated structure that allows them to maintain the trail.”

2-21-20 Columbia Journalism Review. A pipeline runs through Southern news deserts. “All three states crossed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have a dearth of local newspapers, according to the UNC report. The counties along the route are some of the most rural and economically depressed parts of the US, in a region that is historically reliant on extractive fossil fuels. In North Carolina, seven of the eight counties the proposed pipeline would run through are predominantly black. These places lack consistent, informative local coverage of energy, justice, and the environment because of the declining number and resources of print news outlets, shifting the balance of news sources toward expanding corporate media monopolies. The areas are also overlooked by national media, which mostly parachute in to cover major updates or catastrophes or if they need a tie-in to President Trump’s policies—a dynamic that can perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes about these places. The absence leaves ample space for powerful campaigns by Duke and Dominion, the pipeline’s developers and buyers of its natural gas, as well as industry-aligned lobbyists and politicians, to shape the pipeline narrative. Another result is misinformation and confusion about the status of a massive energy project that affects tens of thousands of people, several endangered species, and a variety of fragile ecosystems. The number of permanent jobs the pipeline is estimated to create varies, depending on whom you speak with. In some cases, property owners have been caught unaware of their rights or legal options when Dominion came knocking to claim eminent domain.”

2-21-20 News & Observer [Raleigh NC]. Bill aims to answer pipeline question: ‘Is this necessary?’ “As Dominion Energy spearheads the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Virginia lawmakers are advancing legislation sponsored by a Republican who says he wants to protect the company’s captive ratepayers from possible overcharges. Under legislation from Del. Lee Ware, Dominion’s Virginia electric utility would have to demonstrate the need for a new fuel source and show that it ‘objectively studied’ other options, among other conditions, before the State Corporation Commission could approve passing along costs from the natural gas pipeline. Ware said his bill ‘makes very clear the question that I’ve always wanted answered: Is this necessary for the ratepayers … or is this entrepreneurial on Dominion’s part?'”

2-21-20 Daily Star [Oneonta NY]  Energy giant drops proposed Constitution Pipeline. “Williams Companies, the Oklahoma energy giant, confirmed Friday that it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that triggered a prolonged battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates. ‘Williams — with support from its partners, Duke, Cabot and AltaGas — has halted investment in the proposed Constitution project,’ the company said in response to questions from CNHI. ‘While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,’ Williams added. Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer who helped form the opposition group Stop the Pipeline, said the group ‘fought this epic 8-year battle with courage, conviction and intelligence,’ adding: ‘Perseverance pays off.'”

2-20-20 Tribune-Democrat [PA]. Supreme Court pressed to nix ruling hindering Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments that impact two natural gas pipelines in West Virginia, including Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) that runs through Monroe and Giles counties but is now stalled at the Appalachian Trail crossing on Peters Mountain. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACC), which traverses several counties in the eastern part of the state is also stalled by an Appalachian Trail crossing. …. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has led an 18-state coalition that continues to urge the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s decision.”

2-20-20 The Quartz. The Forest Service says the Appalachian Trail isn’t “land” in a pipeline fight at SCOTUS. “The federal government basically argues that the Appalachian Trail isn’t ‘land’ for the purposes of the case. Instead it’s a ‘footpath’ or a ‘trail’ that happens to be administered by the National Park Service. …. ‘The central flaw in the court’s logic lies in the fact that the Appalachian Trail is a “trail,” not “land,”‘ the government explains. Advocates for the trail didn’t hesitate to run—and pun—with this perplexing claim from government attorneys. How can land not be land, they asked? And they did it with as many rhetorical flourishes as one brief can stand. The scenic national footpath stretching across states patently is land, the trail’s advocates explained with a kind of literary deadpan, writing, ‘Land is what you walk on.'”

2-20-20 Virginia Mercury. Democratic-led Senate committee kills bills to beef up regulation of pipeline construction. “By this time last year, Southwest Virginia landowners and residents had been begging the [State Water Control Board] for months to do something about the [MVP] pipeline construction, which had unleashed torrents of mud that covered roads and choked streams. Ultimately, it decided it couldn’t revoke the water certification it issued for the project, even in the face of a criminal investigation and widespread violations of state law that would lead to a more than $2 million fine and consent decree. Two of three bills introduced by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, to fix the obvious inability of state regulators to halt the damage wrought by MVP or similar projects, went down in the Democrat-led Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee on identical 13-1 votes. The committee did advance Hurst’s bill increasing penalties for violations by the largest natural gas pipelines but not one that would have assessed additional fines for cumulative violations nor another that would give the water board stop work authority, among other provisions.”

2-18-20 S&P Global. Morgan Stanley: $64B capex upside for utilities replacing coal with renewables. “‘We believe this project [the ACP] will not move forward due to legal risks, and as a result [Dominion] will pursue additional renewables investments that will allow them to maintain their 5.5% EPS growth target,’ analysts wrote. In a sign of its confidence in the pipeline, Dominion on Feb. 11 announced its plan to take on a greater share of the project through acquiring Southern Co.’s 5% equity stake. ‘We continue to see significant risk in getting that project completed,’ [Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen] Byrd said.”

2-18-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Letter: Environmental justice not served at Union Hill. “The Fourth Circuit Court recently rejected the air quality permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station at Union Hill in Buckingham County. …. The court has spoken. The DEQ and the Air Pollution Control Board — which was guided by the DEQ and manipulated by Northam — have both failed in their missions. Northam has likewise failed the commonwealth. Northam’s call for 100% renewable energy by 2050 also will fail if natural gas infrastructure projects are allowed free rein. It is long past time for Northam and his agencies to aggressively challenge the deeply flawed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

2-17-19 WV News. Dominion still banking on end of 2021 completion of Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Dominion Energy CEO Thomas Farrell recently confirmed the company still anticipates completing construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by the end of 2021, and introducing the first product into the system in 2022. ‘Project costs of approximately $8 billion are in line with the high end of the “judicial option” range we provided about a year ago,’ Farrell said recently during an earnings report conference call. Farrell also said he’s confident the U.S. Supreme Court by May or June will reverse the Fourth Circuit on a ruling regarding a U.S. Forest Service permit where the pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail.”

2-16-29 Daily Progress. Effort to stall Trump rollback of environmental regulations continues in Charlottesville court. “The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a motion to prevent the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality from moving forward with proposed environmental policy changes until the organization provides requested public documents. The request for a preliminary injunction, filed Thursday by SELC attorneys, is the latest development in a federal lawsuit from the Charlottesville-based organization against the agency. Spurred by a notice of proposed changes to the regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the lawsuit argues that requests made by the SELC under the Freedom of Information Act have not been met. …. ‘The irony of all this is that the comment process puts a high value on informed input from the public, but at the same time, the Trump administration is keeping information away from the public,’ Kym Hunter, a senior SELC attorney who filed the request for the preliminary injunction, said in a news release. ‘The rules call for openness and transparency, but instead the administration has shut the door and boarded the windows.'”

2-16-20 Roanoke Times. Hurst: Virginia not doing enough on pipelines. “Sediment steadily encroaching onto private property. Road closures and traffic jams. Man-made erosion of the lush Appalachian Mountains. This has become the new normal for the residents of my district and far too many others who live in Southwest Virginia. The unfortunate truth is that this is what so many of us warned about when the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project filed for its construction permit in 2015. Now, almost five years later, following dubious arguments and deceitful reassurances from big energy and stakeholders of the MVP, the commonwealth’s environment and its citizens are more at risk to the consequences of this project than ever before. …. While I’m proud of the work the Attorney General has done to hold the Mountain Valley Pipeline accountable, Virginia is not doing nearly enough to defend our environment from the threats we face. …. With the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate Expansion and Atlantic Coast Pipeline projects looming, it is the paramount responsibility of our legislature to ensure every Virginian is protected from the threats these projects pose both currently and in the future.”

2-14-20 Roanoke Times. Mountain Valley Pipeline extension clears environmental review by FERC. “Plans to extend the Mountain Valley Pipeline 75 miles into North Carolina moved forward Friday, even as the initial project remains mired in legal and regulatory challenges. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that while there would be some environmental damage caused by building the so-called MVP Southgate, it could be minimized to ‘less than significant levels.’ An environmental impact statement released by FERC is a major step forward for the pipeline, which would originate at Mountain Valley’s terminus in Chatham, head southwest through Pittsylvania County and cross into North Carolina, extending to Alamance County near Burlington. …. Meanwhile, Mountain Valley’s efforts to regain three sets of suspended federal permits for the original pipeline project hit another snag this week.”

2-14-20 Virginian-Pilot. Letter: Put a stop to ACP. “Re ‘ACP project essential to Virginia’s energy future’ (Other Views, Feb. 7): Kevin Doyle’s Op-Ed accused our community in Union Hill of ‘abuse of the justice system’ for bringing a legal case against an Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit. That permit was for air pollution from a pipeline compressor station that Dominion Energy wants to force on Union Hill. Ancestors of John Laury and other freedmen and freedwomen founded this community at the end of the Civil War. Descendants of those founders still call this home. But during the permitting process, Dominion denied that a minority community even existed here. When federal judges reviewed this permit, it was the first time our voices were heard. Doyle is wrong. Three judges of the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously threw out the compressor station permit because Dominion tried to bully us out of the way. There is no abuse of the system here, just justice.”

2-12-20 Bacon’s Rebellion. Huge Dominion Pipeline Project Loses Partner. “The delayed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is undergoing a major change due to rising costs and legal delays – The Southern Company, based in Atlanta, is backing out of the project as an equity partner. According to an announcement late Tuesday, Dominion Energy will acquire The Southern Company’s 5% stake in the natural gas project whose cost has risen from $5.1 billion to $8 billion thanks largely to legal challenges by environmentalists and regulatory agencies. The new ownership structure will be 53% Dominion and 47% Duke Energy, based in Charlotte. …. According to S&P Global, The Southern Company bailed on the pipeline because of its concerns of delays and soaring costs.”

2-11-20 E&E Enerywire. FERC vows rapid responses in eminent domain legal brawl. “Federal energy regulators told a court yesterday that they would attempt to reach final decisions within 30 days on complaints from property owners who have their land seized for construction of projects like natural gas pipelines. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s pledge comes as the agency faces a high-profile showdown in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit over its delayed response to landowner grievances — even as pipeline developers move forward with construction. ‘While this reorganization will not eliminate complaints about delayed judicial review from all parties, the Commission has chosen to allocate its resources to ensure the speediest review for those litigants placed in the most vulnerable position by Commission decisions,’ FERC wrote in a filing with the D.C. Circuit. Challengers of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, the project targeted in the lawsuit, said the court is unlikely to put much stock in FERC’s ‘nonbinding’ commitment.”

2-11-20 S&P Global. Dominion agrees to buy Southern stake in Atlantic Coast Pipeline as project costs soar. “Southern Company is out as an equity partner in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline after majority owner Dominion Energy agreed to buy its stake, amid ballooning costs and legal challenges that have stalled the 1.5 Bcf/d US Northeast natural gas project. Dominion disclosed the new ownership structure Tuesday as it released financial results for the final three months of 2019. It will own 53% and Duke Energy will own 47%, with Dominion acquiring Southern’s 5% stake in the pipeline and gas transmission assets, which include an interest in a small LNG project in Florida, for $175 million. Southern will remain an anchor shipper on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The 600-mile pipeline, which would run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, moving Appalachian Basin gas to Mid-Atlantic markets, is now expected to cost approximately $8 billion, slightly above the high end of Dominion’s previous guidance range of $7.3 billion to $7.8 billion. And while Dominion expressed confidence it will eventually finish the pipeline, it isn’t talking about the pipeline’s growth potential in the same way it has before.”

2-10-20 The Week. America needs to stop its natural gas pipeline mania. “But despite the gusher of Big Carbon profits, like all natural gas infrastructure proposed or under construction, the ACP is a risky project both financially and in its direct effect on the landscapes and communities through which it will run. Worse, it is doubling down on a losing hand — locking in huge investments in assets which will very likely be worthless long before they are exhausted. Far from being a relatively clean “transition fuel,” natural gas is a climate disaster that might even be worse than coal. The ACP and all other expansions of gas infrastructure should be stopped permanently.”

2-10-20 New York Times. Trump Weakens the Nation’s Clean Water Efforts. “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.”

2-10-20 Bloomberg Environment. Natural Gas Pipeline, Iconic Trail at Odds in Supreme Court Case. “The resulting Supreme Court dispute is one of many clashes between the Trump administration’s quest for energy dominance and environmentalists’ efforts to protect the nation’s wild lands. More broadly, it spotlights a persistent challenge that transcends political winds: how to build America’s infrastructure without ripping up America.” An excellent summary of the U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association case, U.S., No. 18-1584.

2-7-20 Roanoke Times. Environmental problems continue with Mountain Valley Pipeline, group says. “Problems with erosion and sedimentation along the construction zone of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have continued, despite a winter slowdown in the work. Inspections by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality found repeated violations from Sept. 19 through Dec. 20, 2019, according to an analysis by Wild Virginia, one of the environmental groups opposed to the natural gas pipeline being built through Southwest Virginia. The group’s conservation director, David Sligh, asked in a letter emailed Thursday to DEQ what enforcement actions have been taken, in light of a court order that allows for tougher monitoring and penalties for any repeat violations after Sept. 18.”

2-6-20 Crozet Gazette. Friends of Nelson Get Update on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “The annual meeting of Friends of Nelson at Rockfish Valley Community Center January 12 included an update on efforts to keep the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from crossing the county. …. The gathering shared a supper and members welcome [renewing] board members Jim Bolton, Ron Enders, Kathy Versluys, Marilyn Shifflet, Doug Wellman and Julie Burns to two-year terms. Continuing on the board are Ellen Bouton, Connie Brennan, Woody Greenberg, Charlie Hickox, Cheryl Klueh and David Schwiesow. Helen Kimble retired as president. Kim and Jimbo Cary provided the music and there was a spirit of celebration.”

2-5-20 S&P Global. Credit risks mounting for US gas producers, S&P Global Rating says.  “Deteriorating conditions in US natural gas markets this year are posing growing credit risk to the industry’s producers and even midstream developers, S&P Global Ratings said Wednesday. In an industry outlook webcast, ratings analysts at S&P said that recent supply gains, weaker expected demand growth and lower prices in 2020 are putting new pressures on the gas trade. In the US upstream, low prices have created the biggest risk for individual producers. On Monday, S&P downgraded its credit rating on six of Appalachia’s most prolific shale gas producers. It also adjusted its credit outlook to negative on eight of nine Appalachian producers under its review.”

2-3-20 NBCNews.com. Racism and ecological injustice combine in ‘reckless, racist’ Atlantic Coast Pipeline fight. “Although it is not new, under the current administration, powerful and wealthy corporations are given free rein to despoil and destroy our sacred and treasured lands. …. Nearly four decades since the birth of the environmental justice movement in the 1980s, we face a new Goliath of ecological injustice. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline — a project that starts in West Virginia and cuts through Virginia and North Carolina — is poised to threaten poor, rural, black and indigenous communities across those states, forcing us to recognize and respond to the fact that marginalized communities still bear the bulk of our nation’s environmental burden.”

2-3-20 E&E News. FERC reorganizes to address landowner disputes. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is launching a reorganization to better focus on rehearing requests from landowners affected by energy infrastructure permits, the chairman announced late last week. The reorganization includes a new ‘rehearings’ section within the Office of the General Counsel to focus on requests filed under Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act, which details FERC’s responsibilities to permit interstate pipeline projects. ‘Our objective today is to reinforce the Commission’s commitment to ensure landowners are afforded a judicially appealable rehearing order as quickly as possible,’ FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a statement.”


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