February 2017 News

February 2017

2-6-17 Nelson County Times. Atlantic Coast Pipeline granted access to survey 29 Nelson properties. “More than a year after lawsuits were filed, a judge on Monday ruled Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC will be allowed to survey land belonging to 29 Nelson County landowners without their permission. After hours of arguments Monday afternoon, Nelson County Circuit Court Judge Michael Garrett ruled Virginia law allows ACP to enter the defendants’ properties for surveying purposes…. Garrett’s ruling was based on his interpretation of the word ‘and’ in the section of the Virginia Code that reads in part: ‘Any firm, corporation, company, or partnership, organized for the bona fide purpose of operating as a natural gas company … may make such … surveys for its proposed line or location of its works as are necessary (i) to satisfy any regulatory requirements and (ii) for the selection of the most advantageous location or route, the improvement or straightening of its line or works, changes of location or construction, or providing additional facilities …’ Lawyers for the 29 landowners argued ‘and’ should be strictly interpreted as ‘conjunctive,’ meaning ACP would be required to comply with both the ‘satisfy any regulatory requirements’ and the ‘selection of the most advantageous location or route …’ portions of the code. Garrett, however, said he believes the code says natural gas companies can survey without landowners’ permission as long as they do so for at least one of the two purposes. ‘Lawyers and judges painfully take time to examine legislative intent,’ Garrett said, citing a past case he was ‘tangentially’ involved with that also dealt with a part of the Code of Virginia. That case, he said, was determined on a comma. ‘We thought that’s what it would come down to,’ said Chuck Lollar, a defense attorney representing several Nelson landowners, ‘and we were hoping he would read ‘and’ to mean ‘a-n-d,’ just like you learned in elementary school.’… Mike Derdeyn, an attorney representing several of the defendants, argued if Garrett ruled both portions of the code had to be satisfied, ACP would have had to do more to prove surveys are needed to satisfy requirements of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review process. Nelson County Supervisor Connie Brennan and others in the courtroom were somewhat perplexed by the enormity of such a small word in the statute. ‘It is hard for us non-lawyers to embrace the fact that very important matters, such as the one at hand, are decided on whether ‘and’ and ‘or’ are conjunctive or disjunctive in the pertinent statute. But there it is,’ Brennan said. Before issuing his ruling, Garrett said he understands the significance of his decision and ‘feels for’ all landowners involved.’This is not an issue I have not thought a great deal about,’ he said. Garrett also denied a motion by Lollar and defense attorney Ben Perdue that sought to keep Atlantic Coast Pipeline surveyors from entering their clients’ properties until the Virginia Supreme Court hands down its rulings in other ACP surveying appeals, which have not been scheduled yet.”

2-6-17 Richmond TImes-Dispatch (opinion). Main on pipeline. “Your Jan. 27 Op/Ed page contained twin columns, both extolling the job-creation benefits of new fossil fuel infrastructure. One column was supporting the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline to carry natural gas from fracking operations in West Virginia across Virginia to the coast of North Carolina. The other supported both the Keystone pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada down through the American heartland and the Dakota Access Pipeline, famous for its threat to the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Certainly, building new infrastructure creates short-term construction jobs, but if jobs are our main concern, this country — and especially Virginia — has plenty of aging infrastructure in pressing need of repair. Rebuilding and strengthening bridges, roads, and transit systems will put more people to work over longer periods and create lasting benefits for everyone. By contrast, profits from new gas and oil pipelines will go to a handful of corporations like Dominion Resources and TransCanada, while the costs will be borne by people living along the route. In the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the costs will also fall on electricity ratepayers, who will be stuck paying for the new gas plants Dominion Virginia Power is building to ensure its parent company has enough gas demand to keep the pipeline filled. None of this includes the cost to all of us from locking ourselves into further fossil fuel dependency when we are already suffering the consequences of putting too much carbon and methane pollution into the atmosphere. We have the tools to wean ourselves off fossil fuels while creating vastly more jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles. But we won’t get there as long as we allow fossil fuel companies to pretend they’re doing us a favor. They’re not.”

2-5-17 Nelson County Times. Pipeline fight spurs creation of new protest songs. “Dominion Resources has said that all comments from opponents as well as proponents of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be collected and taken under review. The same thing apparently goes for songs that are written specifically about the pipeline. Concerns about the pipeline have spurred the creation of at least two original songs. At Dominion’s second local open house last month, local groups in opposition banded together to sing ‘We Don’t Want Your Pipeline’ by Augusta residents Robin and Linda Williams. ‘This song just sort of spilled out,’ Robin said. ‘Linda got the chorus right away and sang it to me, and we just went from there.’ Lines from the song read: ‘Sinkholes, explosions, gas line leaks; you hear it on the news almost every week. Dominion says ‘Don’t worry,’ but we don’t think it’s wise to be flirting with disaster with the pipeline.’ At the time the song was written, Robin said, the pipeline was proposed to run right down their road. But later, the route was moved. ‘Dominion is just on the wrong side of history on this thing and they’re too consumed with the prospect of short term profits to see it,’ he said. ‘We may not stop them, but they’ll know they’ve been in a scrap.’ Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said he knew of more than one song written regarding the project.”

2-1-17 Roanoke Times-Dispatch. Dominion-backed bill on burying power lines sails through Senate committee. “A bill that would require the State Corporation Commission to find that burying power lines in areas prone to service problems (and allowing utilities to recoup the cost from ratepayers) is ‘in the public interest’ sailed through a Senate committee Monday. It comes as a GOP gubernatorial candidate and Democratic senator both criticize the amount of control the state’s largest utility wields over the political process. About a year and a half ago, the State Corporation Commission put the brakes on a Dominion Virginia Power plan to bury 526 miles of distribution lines and recoup about $700 million from customers over 40 years. The commission, charged with regulating utilities, found that Dominion Virginia Power failed to demonstrate that its ‘strategic underground program’ was cost-effective ‘based on any reasonable criteria’ or that it was ‘reasonable, prudent and in the public interest.’ But legislation that sailed through the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Monday on a 14-0 vote and now heads to the full Senate may help the commission make up its mind in the future about the merits of similar projects. SB 1473 by Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, would declare that moving any investor-owned electric utility’s overhead ‘tap lines’ underground ‘is in the public interest. Tap lines are smaller lines that generally connect main feeders to the wires that go to individual homes or businesses, to improve reliability ‘is in the public interest.’ Saslaw’s bill would apply to lines that have a ten-year average of nine or more ‘unplanned outage events per mile.’ Dominion Virginia Power says it has about 4,000 miles of lines that meet the criteria in its 20,000 miles of tap lines. In deciding whether to allow utilities to charge customers for the cost from burying lines, the original draft of the bill directed the commission to presume that such projects ‘will provide local and system-wide benefits’ and that the new facilities are cost-beneficial and the associated expenses are ‘reasonably and prudently incurred.’ However, an amendment now makes that presumption ‘rebuttable.'”