March 2016 News

March 2016

3-31-16  Utility Dive.  Industry Experts Worry over Natural Gas ‘Overbuild.’  “While pipeline developers are moving quickly to install transportation networks, some are wondering if they are moving too quickly.  Carolyn Elefant, an attorney who represents private parties in pipeline cases, spoke earlier this month at a conference by Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. According to SNL Energy, she said there is a possibility pipeline capacity could outstrip shale gas production, leading to unused capacity and abandoned infrastructure…. According to a report UCS released in October, many states are at risk of ‘overreliance’ on natural gas in several categories, including gas’ share of overall capacity, projected gas capacity, percentage increases in generation, and emissions.  Among UCS’ fears, the group warned significant additions of natural gas capacity may lock states in to investments in power plants and pipelines, ‘whose costs and losses when idled, underused, or abandoned may be passed through to customers.’”

3-30-16  Nelson County Times. Dominion Outlines Progress on ACP; Nelson Opposition Rampant in FERC Comments.  “The lead energy company behind the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline said last week it has made much progress since announcing the project in 2014.… A recently released report, however, shows many Nelson residents and surrounding areas are concerned about the effects of the project.  The report is a review and analysis of individual and form letters submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, completed by Key-Log Economics LLC. The Charlottesville-based company released the report as a supplement to another report on the economic impact of the pipeline commissioned by anti-pipeline groups Friends of Nelson and the Augusta County Alliance.  The review found a range of more than 95 percent of comments about impacts on forests, water, safety, property values, tourism and recreation were negative while 99 percent of comments mentioning health cited negative impacts…. ‘This Review and Analysis shows that those who would be most directly affected, and are thus likely to be the most informed, hold almost uniformly negative opinions regarding the ACP,’ said Joanna Salidis, president of Friends of Nelson, in the release…. Ernie Reed, of Friends of Nelson, said in a statement the information in the review is critical, as it ‘indicates that the people more likely to support the project are those with limited exposure to the issues, due to their greater distance from the route.’  ‘These people are more likely to rely on paid advertisements by the Gas Industry as their sole source of information,’ said Reed. ‘The people within closer range recognize the substantial dangers of the ACP, and are in the majority.’”

3-26-16  News Leader.  Survey Report’s Maps and Photographs ‘Disturbing’ Protestors Say.  “An addendum survey report filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is drawing the ire of local pipeline opponents.  Nancy Sorrells, co-chair of the Augusta County Alliance, said the report contains four maps detailing five contractor yards and five access roads connecting gathering sites for materials, workers and the actual pipeline construction sites.  ‘It is simply stunning to look at these maps and the photographs and to visualize the numbers of hard-working families whose lives will be turned topsy-turvy by the placement of these facilities,’ she said in a press release. ‘Getting to and from work or to school will be a nightmare. And for what? This pipeline will benefit no one but Dominion and, in fact, will immediately and, in many cases permanently, devalue the property and quality of life in Augusta County.'”

3-24-16  SNL.  FERC Deference to Pipeline Operators Seen Contributing to Overbuild.  “Discoveries of oil and gas in new regions in the U.S. typically bring the need for additional pipelines to take the resources to market. But with natural gas production booming in the past 10 years, industry experts believe that increased use of gas for power generation and deference by regulators may result in a potential overbuild of pipeline infrastructure…. Any overbuild in pipeline infrastructure could have deleterious effects on consumers and private property owners, according to Elefant.  One problem arises from electric companies that lock into long-term contracts to buy gas for power generation. State commissions are either pre-approving or encouraging utilities to enter into long-term contracts for gas. The locked prices typically lock in consumers as well, which does not bode well during a declining price environment…. Another problem with overbuild is pipeline abandonment, which could leave abandoned infrastructure on private property. Elefant said that FERC does not require pipelines to put up money for potential decommissioning or make plans for abandoning them down the line.  A third problem comes from potential encroachment on an individual’s fifth amendment rights to private property. The amendment requires that eminent domain be coupled with just compensation and public need when property is taken.  ‘If you have companies that are overbuilding, then by definition, there’s no need,’ Elefant said. ‘The constitution says you can only take private property with just compensation and if there’s a public need.’… ‘In reading over applications in the past few years, I’ve noticed that even the support for the need for these projects has really deteriorated over time,’ Elefant said. ‘In one of the applications, the company said something like “it’s our hope that we’ll get enough subscribers for this project.” There wasn’t even an attempt to suggest that there was demand for the project.’  The fix for a potential overbuilding of pipeline infrastructure could lie in section 7 of the Natural Gas Act and the public need provision, along with adjudicated hearings.  ‘FERC really needs to take a closer look at need on a case-by-case basis,’ Elefant said. ‘The best way to do that is to have adjudicated hearings again.'”

3-23-16  Style Weekly.  Protestors Break out the Golf Clubs to Make a Point About Virginia DEQ Chief.  “The protest, organized by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, was aimed at DEQ director David Paylor, who accepted a $2,300 trip to the Master’s golf tournament in 2013 from Dominion Virginia Power.  DEQ recommended the approval of two controversial permits for Dominion to release treated coal ash wastewater from the Bremo Power Station on the James River 50 miles upstream from Richmond and the Possum Point Power Station into a creek flowing into the Potomac River.  ‘We want to magnify DEQ’s relationship with Dominion and make sure there’s monitoring of Dominion,’ said Barbara Adams, a member of the Richmond Interfaith Climate Justice Council while she watched the putting.”

3-23-16  The Nation.  Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry.  “ Because here’s the unhappy fact about methane: Though it produces only half as much carbon as coal when you burn it, if you don’t—if it escapes into the air before it can be captured in a pipeline, or anywhere else along its route to a power plant or your stove—then it traps heat in the atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. Howarth and Ingraffea began producing a series of papers claiming that if even a small percentage of the methane leaked—maybe as little as 3 percent—then fracked gas would do more climate damage than coal. And their preliminary data showed that leak rates could be at least that high: that somewhere between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane gas from shale-drilling operations actually escapes into the atmosphere…. That’s why last month’s Harvard study came as such a shock. It used satellite data from across the country over a span of more than a decade to demonstrate that US methane emissions had spiked 30 percent since 2002. The EPA had been insisting throughout that period that methane emissions were actually falling, but it was clearly wrong—on a massive scale. In fact, emissions ‘are substantially higher than we’ve understood,’ EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted in early March. The Harvard study wasn’t designed to show why US methane emissions were growing—in other parts of the world, as new research makes clear, cattle and wetlands seem to be causing emissions to accelerate. But the spike that the satellites recorded coincided almost perfectly with the era when fracking went big-time…. With that in mind, the other conclusion from the new data is even more obvious: We need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad. Even with optimistic numbers for all the plausible leaks fixed, Howarth says, methane emissions will keep rising if we keep fracking…. The new data prove them entirely wrong. The global-warming fight can’t just be about carbon dioxide any longer. Those local environmentalists, from New York State to Tasmania, who have managed to enforce fracking bans are doing as much for the climate as they are for their own clean water. That’s because fossil fuels are the problem in global warming—and fossil fuels don’t come in good and bad flavors. Coal and oil and natural gas have to be left in the ground. All of them.”

3-19-16  The New York Times.  Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results.  “The demonstration here was part of a wave of actions across the nation that combines traditional not-in-my-backyard protests against fossil-fuel projects with an overarching concern about climate change.  Activists have been energized by successes on several fronts, including the decision last week by President Obama to block offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard; his decision in November to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Paris climate agreement.  Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects — a process that has been called ‘Keystone-ization.’… Activists regularly protest at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, but there have also been sizable protests in places like St. Paul and across the Northeast…. Greg Yost, a math teacher in North Carolina who works with the group NC PowerForward, said the activists emboldened one another.  ‘When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,’ he said. ‘The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere — we’re all in this together, we feel like.’… This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College who helped organize the demonstration at the storage plant near Seneca Lake: ‘This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.’”

3-18-16  Charlottesville Newsplex.  Deadline Approaching for Submitting Pipeline Survey Comments.  “People interested in submitting comments to the U.S. Forest Service about allowing surveys in the national forests for natural gas pipeline projects have until Monday to do so.  The USFS is accepting comments to help it decide on whether or not to issue a permit for environmental and cultural resource surveys within the George Washington National Forest.  Environmental groups are asking the USFS to deny the request to survey until Dominion Resources and the other energy companies associated with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline consider alternatives that do not cross national forest lands and the companies can clearly explain why the ACP cannot be reasonable accommodated off Forest Service lands.”

3-16-16  Nelson County Times.  Hampton Roads Caucus Members Endorse Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  “Joanna Salidis, president for Friends of Nelson, a group in opposition of the pipeline, said the letter is filled with ‘mischaracterizations and errors.’  ‘For example, they point to the commodity price spikes in the winter of 2013-2014 as evidence that more pipeline capacity is needed,’ she said. ‘But, those increases were so isolated that they were not passed on to rate payers.’… Salidis said legislators cite environmental benefits, but there are few of those in her opinion.  ‘Far from it, from both a climate and clean water perspective, more fracked gas is a disaster,’ she said…. Ultimately, Salidis asks what benefits, and to whom, are enough to justify the ‘forcible taking’ of so much property?  ‘I don’t think enough Virginians understand that not a single property owner “chosen” by Dominion has any choice about whether they get the ACP on their property or not,’ she said.”

3-15-16  News Leader.  Atlantic Coast Pipeline Receives General Assembly Support.  “Local anti-pipeline leaders, however, say while the Hampton Roads Caucus is acting in the interest of their constituents and local communities, its letter is based on inaccurate studies and misinformation ‘generated by Dominion.’  ‘The truth is that Dominion’s economic models do not stand up under scrutiny,’ said Nancy Sorrells, co-chair of Augusta County Alliance.   Sorrells said natural gas can be supplied to the Hampton Roads region more quickly, at lower costs, and without disrupting public and private land in Virginia, by using existing pipelines.  She said Columbia Gas, which serves the Hampton Roads area, already has plans to expand its capacity for the reasons outlined in the letter.  An expansion that ‘will supply an additional amount of natural gas nearly equal to that proposed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,’ she said.”

3-14-16  WAMU 88.5.  Has Dominion’s Political Power Clouded the Fight over Coal Ash?  “In recent weeks, the coal ash controversy has sparked student protests, arrests at the state Capitol and legal fights across state lines. At its core, the battle is about finding the best way to drain the ponds and what level of toxic pollutants — if any — should be allowed into Virginia’s historic rivers. It’s also a story about clout and influence. Environmentalists and others say Dominion is so politically powerful in Virginia that regulators aren’t being tough enough.  ‘I no longer trust the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] to handle this matter,’ says Naujoks. ‘They’ve given Dominion basically everything it wants.’… By any measure, Dominion is a powerful force in Virginia politics. The company has a dozen lobbyists and employs thousands of people across the state. Its charitable foundation gives out millions each year to nonprofits — and of course, Dominion provides electricity for nearly every home and business in the commonwealth…. Dominion’s biggest source of power might be its deep pockets. Virginia allows unlimited campaign contributions to state lawmakers, and its largest public utility has taken full advantage of those campaign finance laws.The company donated more than $1.3 million to candidates and party committees in 2014 and 2015, according to a review of the data from the Virginia Public Access Project by the Investigative Reporting Workshop…. Dominion’s influence in Richmond has helped it win big legislative victories in recent years. In the 2015 Virginia legislative session, the utility successfully pushed for a bill that locks in base rates for seven years and exempts the company from regular rate reviews.  ‘If you were to ask me to put a list together of the five or 10 most powerful corporations in Richmond, I would put Dominion at the top of that list,’ says Quentin Kidd, professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, ‘and there would be a big gap between Dominion and the second.’  That power can help Dominion when it comes time for key regulatory decisions. While the company doesn’t get to dictate the terms of everything that happens in Virginia, Kidd says, it can help set up meetings or ‘open doors’ with regulators and other key stakeholders. ‘I think Dominion has the ability to do that better than perhaps any corporation in Richmond,’ Kidd says.”

3-11-16  Power for the People VA.  McAuliffe’s Stark Choice on the Clean Power Plan: Serve Virginia, or Dominion Power.  Opinion blog.  “Governor McAuliffe has another choice before him now: he can craft a compliance plan that moves Virginia firmly in the direction of clean energy and lower carbon emissions, or he can adopt one that allows unbridled growth in new power generation from natural gas. The latter could still meet the letter of the law, but it would hugely increase greenhouse gas emissions from Virginia power plants…. The carbon reduction target EPA set for Virginia under the Clean Power Plan is extremely modest. EPA’s numbers show Virginia can meet the target for existing sources simply by not increasing emissions. If the state also includes new power plants under the cap, however, it creates a real incentive to invest in clean energy.  But there’s a problem. Dominion Resources, the Richmond-based parent company of Dominion Virginia Power, is heavily invested in the natural gas sector, primarily transmission and storage. That has led Dominion to lobby for an implementation plan that covers only existing power plants.  Excluding new sources would leave the company free to build as many new natural gas-burning power plants in the state as it wants, locking in years of increased carbon pollution, and further boosting demand for fracked gas and pipeline capacity. Dominion’s plans call for more than 9,500 megawatts of new gas generation in Virginia, equivalent in carbon impact to building eight average-sized coal plants in the state.  McAuliffe can do what Dominion wants, or he can do the right thing for the climate. He can’t do both.”

3-11-16  The News Virginian.  New Report Claims Property Values Are Unaffected by Natural Gas Pipelines.  “However, Friends of Nelson President Joanna Salidis said the study has a major flaw.  ‘As the study we commissioned by Key-Log Economics pointed out, these studies do not compare two distinct categories, properties affected versus those not affected by the pipeline,’ she said. ‘The researchers divided parcels into groups by whether they had a pipeline on the parcel or not, but they did not examine whether properties designated ‘unaffected’ were still in the blast or evacuation zone.’”

3-9-16  The Daily Star.  Lawsuit Claims FERC Is Just a Rubber Stamp for Pipelines.  “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s process for reviewing and approving pipeline projects is facing a federal lawsuit that aims to establish what pipeline foes say would be a more-level playing field in how such applications are evaluated.  The lawsuit, filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, argues that FERC is too intertwined with the industry it regulates to make it capable of making fair decisions, and is infected with so much structural bias that the constitutional right of due process is being violated.  The group argues that FERC is unique among federal agencies because it recovers the full cost of its operations through fees assessed on the industry it monitors.”

3-8-16  Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Virginia Supreme Court Affirms Right to Survey Without Owner’s Permission.  “Now, in the wake of a Virginia Supreme Court decision Monday not to hear an appeal related to the surveying law, Mountain Valley contractors can return backed by court orders signed by Circuit Court Judge James Reynolds to survey two of Frith’s properties in Franklin County and the properties of three other county landowners who initially denied access to surveyors…. Efforts to overturn the relevant state law, 56-49.01, have been unsuccessful to date in cases heard in both federal and state courts. An attempt to repeal the law failed during this session of the General Assembly.  The law allows natural gas companies to enter private property without an owner’s permission as long as the company has followed notification procedures outlined in the statute, including certified letters declaring the company’s intent and identifying the dates of entry.”

3-8-16  The News Virginian.  Augusta Residents Get Close View of Pipeline Route.  “A large crowd filled the parking lot and the inside of Churchville Elementary Tuesday to learn more about a recent rerouting of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to avoid sensitive areas of the national forest in Virginia and West Virginia.  And while representatives of Dominion Resources were on hand to explain the changes, so was the public. They brought signs in protest of the natural gas pipeline and questions about the project.”

3-3-16  StateImpact NPR.  Delaware Riverkeeper Sues FERC, Alleging Bias and Corruption in Pipeline Cases.  “A Pennsylvania-based environmental group has stepped up its campaign against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a lawsuit accusing the agency of corruption and routine bias toward the natural gas industry’s applications to build pipelines.  Delaware Riverkeeper Network says the agency, which regulates interstate pipelines, is unable to make objective decisions about whether a pipeline should be built because it is the only federal agency that is funded by the industries it regulates, including the natural gas industry.  In the suit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the environmental group said FERC has approved every one of the natural gas pipeline applications that have come before it since 1986, and will not deny the projects because it recovers the full cost of its operations through the fees it charges to the industries it regulates.”

3-3-16  NJ Spotlight.  Environmental Group Sues Federal Agency for Alleged Conflict of Interest.  “Ratcheting up a fight against the expansion of natural-gas pipelines, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network yesterday filed a lawsuit against the federal agency that oversees construction of such projects.  In a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the group claimed that the review and approval process for pipeline projects by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is infected by structural bias.  The lawsuit is seeking fundamental changes to the agency that — the group asserts –would make it accountable and consistent with democratic governance. The lawsuit alleges the bias is based on the agency’s financial structure, which recovers the full cost of its operations through the charges and fees assessed on the industries it regulates.  ‘Because FERC gets its funding from the big companies it is supposed to be monitoring, it has become, perhaps inevitably, a corrupt, rogue agency,’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and the leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.”

3-3-16  Huffpost Green.  Protecting Our Rights Isn’t a Pipe Dream.  “Every month, inside the walls of glass and concrete of a Washington, DC, office building, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves major new pipeline projects, along with the expansion of existing projects, pipeline compressors, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities. They do this seemingly without question of their approvals’ impacts on citizens, the environment, or future generations. Imagine a government agency with power yet little to no accountability. You’ve just imagined FERC.  But there is a point at which people get fed up and finally fight back. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, ‘There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression.’ For many Americans, that time has come. And unless FERC ceases its ways, that moment will come for many more.”

3-2-16  The News Virginian.  Pipeline Opponents Rally Before Court Hearings on Surveys.  “Groups opposed to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline planned a protest outside the Nelson County Courthouse on Wednesday morning before a judge was set to hear several lawsuits concerning the right to survey land in the county.  Members of Friends of Nelson, a nonprofit, planned to rally at the courthouse at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, 45 minutes prior to the scheduled hearings in Nelson County Circuit Court…. ‘We are rallying today to raise awareness of the massive scale of Dominion’s bullying of property owners and residents,’ said Joanna Salidis, President of Friends of Nelson, in a news release. ‘Our entire community is deeply opposed to this project.’  She added the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which ultimately will approve or deny the project, mandates benefits of a pipeline must be proportional to the proposed impacts. Salidis said it has been ‘clearly shown that costs to our county are huge and far exceed the benefits.’  ‘Why should a landowner be forced to submit to the desires of a private company to assist that very same company in building the case to steal their land?’ said Richard Averitt, of Nellysford, who also has been sued by Dominion. ‘How many families have been forced, through the threat of lawsuit, to yield their rights for speculative routes that will perhaps be abandoned?’”

3-2-16  Nelson County Times.  No Decision in Pipeline Dispute Between Nelson Landowners and Dominion.  “Nelson County Circuit Court Judge Michael Garrett told a room full of lawyers, landowners and Dominion Resources employees he will hold off on a decision regarding whether or not a statute involved in the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is constitutional.  Garrett said he would make a decision in a letter or written opinion.  ‘This case is important to its litigants and to this community,’ he said.”

3-2-16  The Charlottesville Newsplex.  Nelson County Landowners in Court to Fight Pipeline Survey Lawsuits.  “Several people were in court in Nelson County Wednesday to fight lawsuits brought against by Dominion Resources and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  Protesters met outside the courthouse in Lovingston, calling Dominion a bully.  Dominion and the ACP have sued dozens of landowners in Nelson County to get access to their land so employees can survey for the proposed pipeline…. ‘We are going to fight this thing in every way that we can,’ said Averitt. ‘We think that until the time that Dominion can demonstrate both that there is a public need and that there’s no other way to build this pipeline without stealing the land of Virginia citizens, they have no right on my property and I don’t intend to let them there.'”

3-2-16  NBC 29.  Nelson Co. Judge Will Not Rule in Lawsuit Against Property Owners.  “A Nelson County Circuit Court judge says he will not make any ruling Wednesday in a lawsuit between dozens of landowners and Dominion Virginia Power.  Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, hired by Dominion, is suing 47 property owners in Nelson County to allow crews to survey land for the pipeline’s route.  Landowners in Nelson County want their voices heard by the power company trying to step foot on their property…. The group Friends of Nelson protested outside of a hearing in Nelson County Circuit Court.  ‘The surveys occur over a period of it can be months. There’s multiple crews that can come onto your property,’ said Joanna Salidis of Friends of Nelson…. ‘One of the things that we would really like is for them to prove need before that right to exclude people is taken away from property owners. That right now is not the case. There has been no process that shows that this pipeline is necessary,’ Salidis stated.”

3-1-16  News Leader.  Forest Service Seeks Public Comments on Pipeline.  “Public comments and an environmental review are what the U.S. Forest Service plans to use in order to determine if a 14.3-mile segment of the George Washington National Forest can be surveyed for a proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline…. ‘If the FERC determines the pipeline is needed, the Forest Service will make a separate determination whether to issue a right-of-way permit to construct, operate, and maintain a natural gas pipeline on National Forest System lands,’ Timm said in a press release. ‘The Forest Service will use the FERC’s environmental analysis and public process to inform our decision.’… The deadline for public comments is March 21.  Once it gathers both the public comments and review, the Forest Service plans to decide whether or not to issue a permit for the environmental and cultural resource surveys to be conducted on the George Washington National Forest.”

3-1-16  The News Virginian.  Forest Service Wants Pipeline Surveys; Group to Rally Against Pipeline Suits.  “The U.S. Forest Service said Monday that it is seeking comments on whether to allow surveys of a 14.3-mile portion of the George Washington National Forest for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline…. The deadline for comments is March 21, and comments can be mailed or hand delivered to the USDA Forest Service, Atlantic Coast Pipeline Survey Comments, 5162 Valleypointe Parkway, Roanoke, Va., 24019. The comments can be faxed to (540) 265-5145 or emailed to comments-southern-georgewashington-jefferson@fs.fed.us.  ‘The information gathered from these surveys are necessary to make future decisions on whether or not to allow the construction and operation of the proposed pipeline on the George Washington National Forest,” Job Timm, the acting forest supervisor, said.  Timm said if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grants the pipeline permit, the Forest Service will make a judgment whether to issue a right-of-way permit to construct and maintain a pipeline on national forest land.  Meanwhile, an activist organization in Nelson County, Friends of Nelson, said it would gather outside the Nelson County Courthouse in Lovingston at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning to rally for citizens who do not want their property surveyed for the pipeline by Dominion Resources…. Joanna Salidis, president of Friends of Nelson, said the rally ‘is to raise awareness of the massive scale of Dominion’s bullying of property owners and residents.’  She said property owners have made it clear ‘they do not want to negotiate with Dominion.’ She said property owners  ‘are not interested in hearing what the compensation is for an easement.’ And she further said the compensation ‘is so low.'”