February 2019 News

February 2019

2-28-19 Daily Progress. As pipeline stalls, county funds considered for Biscuit Run Park. “With final approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in limbo, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is considering funding a portion of Biscuit Run Park with county money. During a budget work session on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors discussed the county’s proposed capital improvement plan for the next five years, which did not initially include funding for Biscuit Run Park. In early 2018, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the county Board of Supervisors announced a 99-year lease between the county and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation for the land at no cost, other than those needed to maintain the Biscuit Run property. The state entered into a memorandum of agreement with Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, which includes Dominion Energy, in late 2017 for mitigation of forest fragmentation impacts of the ACP. About $57.85 million is allocated to six organizations, including $5 million to the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation to be distributed to Albemarle for ‘infrastructure investments and administrative support at Biscuit Run State Park.’ The agreement states that once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a final notice to proceed, the funds will be transferred to the fund managers. That notice has not yet been issued. …. ‘There is a state obligation to help us now that the initial funding is not going to be available in the time period that we thought it was,’ Supervisor Rick Randolph said. He said in the meantime, the county needs to do alternative planning.”

2-28-19 NJSpotlight. Plan to Convert BL England Plant to Natural Gas Is Dead on Arrival. “After nearly a decade of bitter fighting, RC Cape May Holdings raises white flag over proposal to build natural-gas pipeline in Pinelands. The plan to convert the BL England power plant to natural gas, one of the most controversial projects proposed in the Pinelands, is dead – at least for now. RC Cape May Holdings, LLC has decided to withdraw its proposed plan to repower the unit, marking a huge victory for conservation groups that have waged a long battle to block the project, which they say undermines the core protections of the more than 1 million-acre preserve. The proposed project, to convert a former coal-powered unit in northern Cape May County to natural gas, triggered one of the most contentious fights in recent years. Four former governors opposed building a pipeline to ship natural gas to the facility through 22 miles of the Pinelands. The company notified the Appellate Division, where the case is under litigation, that it does not plan to repower the BL England facility, which used to include coal-fired plants in Upper Township. The project, tied up in litigation for nine years, would have traversed 22 miles of the Pinelands, a 1 million-acre preserve set aside more than four decades ago. ‘This is a huge victory for the Pinelands,’ said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which had fought the project in court for years. ‘It was a terrible idea.'”

2-28-19 Roanoke Times. MVP asks state board to discontinue process aimed at stopping pipeline construction. “In a Feb. 12 letter to state regulators, an attorney for the Mountain Valley Pipeline asked the State Water Control Board to discontinue a process it started last year that could lead to the revocation of a water quality certification for project, which has been cited repeatedly for violating environmental standards. The water board is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the details of a future revocation hearing.”

2-28-19 Virginia Mercury. A failure to act by the water board on Mountain Valley Pipeline will allow more violations. “MVP is hanging all its hopes on the argument that it has already invested so much money into the construction of the pipeline that it is too late for construction to be stopped. However, the water quality certification issued by the board may be revoked at any time, as the permit applies to ‘all proposed upland land-disturbing activities associated with the construction, operation, maintenance, and repair of the pipeline.’ MVP will abandon the pipeline in place at the end of its useful life, and will not return the right-of-way to its natural state. If the board fails to act now, it guarantees the current water quality violations will continue to occur in perpetuity.”

2-28-19 Roanoke Times.   Letter: Virginians deserve well-funded DEQ “Mr. Paylor’s remarks concerning citizens’ truthfulness make us question his integrity, honesty and ability to lead a state agency. Virginians deserve a well-funded Department of Environmental Quality fully staffed with public servants who view citizens as their partners, not their enemies.”

2-28-19 Roanoke Star. Bills to Protect Landowners in Pipeline Cases Fail. “Landowners fighting to keep their property from being taken by pipeline building companies will continue footing the legal bills after two bills failed in the House. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said he introduced the bills to give landowners who don’t want pipeline construction on their land a fair chance against Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Southern Gas and other companies involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. SB 1404 would have required pipeline companies to pick the costs incurred by homeowners in eminent domain legal battles. SB 1403 sought to amend state law and require the entities acquiring the property to pay all costs of court proceedings. It also would have required pipeline companies to provide compensation for homeowners. The compensation would have been at least 25 percent more than the company’s initial offer for the land. The House denied Petersen’s request to have changes to his bills restored to their original form. House amendments would have made the bill effective only on proceedings that started before July 1 of this year. Both bills failed as introduced. The senator plans to try again in the General Assembly’s 2020 session.”

2-28-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch.  William Limpert column: Pipelines put health and environment at risk – and we don’t need them anyway.  “We’ve all seen those TV ads where you hear ‘But wait, there’s more.’ As the State Water Control Board reconsiders the Water Quality Certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the hopefully the AtIantic Coast pipeline I’ve got to add ‘But wait, there’s more’ regarding the pipelines, and government culpability. The ‘more”‘is more public risk. Both pipelines would disproportionately impact environmental justice communities like Union Hill, take property, drastically reduce property values, threaten public safety, put drinking water at risk, pollute streams, clearcut and fragment forests, scar our landscape, and exacerbate climate change, all for projects that we don’t need. But wait, there’s more.”

2-27-19 Blue Virginia. Water Control Board Must Assess Impact of Variance 006 on Mountain Valley Pipeline Erosion and Sedimentation Plans. “On August 21, 2018, a divided Virginia State Water Control Board (SWCB) voted not to consider revoking Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)’s Section 401 water permit in Virginia. Now, with the SWCB scheduled to meet this Friday, they need to revisit that decision for a number of reasons, including the potentially dramatic impacts of Variance 006, a project-wide variance allowed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on September 26, 2018. When WCB members voted back in August, they did not know that the FERC was secretly weakening the project’s erosion and sedimentation control standards, hiding their actions from state regulators and the public. We now know that by May 2018, MVP had admitted to FERC that their theoretical desktop erosion and sedimentation analysis did not take site-specific constructability issues (elevations, terrain, and workspace) into account. …. By keeping correspondence secret, FERC denied information that would have informed decisions by FERC commissioners, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Virginia State Water Control Board. Surely it would have mattered if decision makers had known that the MVP was unable to construct the project under the terms of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). When the Water Control Board voted on August 21, 2018, the members did not know that MVP could not meet water quality standards. Nor did they know that MVP and the FERC planned to dramatically reduce the required standards by issuing a project-wide variance in September. Virginia’s State Water Control Board meets again, this Friday (March 1), to review the permissions it has given to the MVP. At the very least, State Water Control Board members should vote to withdraw approval of MVP’s Erosion and Sedimentation plan, so that they can review the impacts caused by the much looser standards allowed by FERC’s Variance 006.”

2-27-19 Roanoke Times. Munley: Northam should intervene on pipelines. “In announcing his ‘redemption tour,’ Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam stated: ‘Virginia needs someone…who has empathy, courage and a moral compass.’ May Northam begin by ending a toxic, noisy ACP compressor station targeted for African-American Union Hill, then hear many grievances long-borne by Virginia’s African-Americans. Genuine listening would be a transformation for Northam who has been stone-deaf to loud outcries over pipeline injustices. He wants forgiveness while his pipelines destroy water and land resources for regions and generations of Virginians. …. To quote Northam’s fired Virginia Air Pollution Board member, Rebecca Rubin, ‘If you cannot lead with the environment and justice in this day and age, then you cannot lead at all!’ Gov. Northam – are you listening? Courageous actions would speak even louder.”

2-26-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dominion and partners in pipeline seek new paths around 4th Circuit, including U.S. Supreme Court. “Dominion Energy and its partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are looking for new ways around the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, including a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Richmond-based energy company, the lead partner in the project, said Tuesday that it “expects an appeal” to the Supreme Court within 90 days to challenge a 4th Circuit decision.”

2-25-19 Argus Media.  Atlantic Coast gas pipeline loses permit appeal.  “A federal appeals court will not reconsider a decision that the developer of the $7bn Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline has warned would ‘imperil’ pipeline construction from Georgia to Maine. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, in a short order today, declined requests to reconsider its decision throwing out a key federal permit allowing the 1.4 Bcf/d (40mn m ³/d) project to cut a path through two national forests and a major hiking trail. The order said no judges on the court had requested a poll on whether to grant a rehearing.”

2-25-19 Roanoke Times. Editorial: How quickly will water board act? “In January, analysts with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. LLC briefed their clients – and in the process issued some warnings about the two pipelines being routed through Virginia. …. What’s important is that a top industry analyst just said the two pipelines may be getting too expensive to complete. Now, all this is just one analyst’s opinion – although presumably investors pay good money for her expertise – and the key word here is ‘may.’ Nonetheless, Salisbury went on to talk about how the rising cost of the two pipelines will make their gas less competitive compared to gas from other basins: ‘To us this suggests that we are nearing the end of the buildout period, and even that possibly only one of these projects will ultimately get done.’ If you’re against the pipelines, these words are ones you have longed to hear. Well, sort of. Pipeline opponents would like to see both pipelines stopped, not just one. Still, this is a telling signal of how pipeline opponents might prevail – by dragging things out so long through the courts and regulatory bureaucracy that the project is no longer feasible. Is this possible? Here we have at least one Wall Street analyst who thinks so.”

2-25-19 Roanoke Times. Bowers and Limpert: Water board should revoke MVP certificate. “The State Water Control Board announced Dec. 13 that they would reconsider rescinding the Water Quality Certificate (WQC) for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). That was more than two months ago. The Board should promptly revoke the WQC. After more than 300 violations documented by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) were used in a lawsuit by Attorney General Herring, it is obvious that the certification is flawed. The certification was approved based on DEQ’s assurance that there would be no water quality violations from the project. Three hundred violations is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more violations that were not documented in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. …. If the Atlantic Coast Pipeline starts construction in Virginia, the board should also consider revoking the WQC for that project as well. DEQ has approved the same flawed design erosion control plans for the ACP over similar extreme terrain as the MVP. Aerial surveillance of the ACP in West Virginia shows ongoing violations and water pollution. We can expect massive pollution from the ACP unless that WQC is revoked as well.”

2-24-19 Roanoke Times. Letter: Construction of the MVP must stop. “The Department of Environmental Quality’s oversight of the pipeline was not lax. It systematically disregarded the evidence. The State Water Control Board was lied to by DEQ’s chairman, David Paylor. We, the many people observing the damage and the blatant disregard for the standards the pipeline was required to follow, had sent many reports with hundreds of documenting photos showing flagrant violations with controls missing and mud running into streams. …. If the crimes that we can see have been systematically ignored, how can we trust that all the pipe and the welding is safe, that they are more capable of building in karst than they are at preventing erosion, that this thing cannot pollute our water supplies and that it cannot blow the town of Newport off the map? Construction of the MVP must stop until all of this is sorted out.”

2-22-19 NBC29. Charlottesville Nonprofit Files Lawsuit Against National Park Service. “An environmental nonprofit in Charlottesville has filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service about how it handled records related to its decisions on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit after it says the National Park Service has had an ‘unreasonable delay in responding to record requests.’ The law center says it requested the documents through the Freedom of Information Act back in December of 2017.”

2-21-19 Virginia Mercury. The Northam regime’s abuse of power must stop. “In siding with corporate interests against the better judgment of affected communities and citizens and ignoring key environmental issues, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has revealed a fact pattern in its efforts to suppress justice in the commonwealth. Actions taken by the Northam administration involving the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board vis-à-vis the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station constitute a clear abuse of power, with the fate of a largely African-American community hanging in the balance.” Article by Rebecca Rubin, former member of the State Air Pollution Control Board.

2-20-19 Courthouse News Service. Full Fourth Circuit Urged to Stop Pipeline Land Grab. “Landowners impacted by the construction of a natural gas pipeline through the Appalachian Mountains filed an appeal late Tuesday asking the en banc Fourth Circuit to reconsider a three-judge panel’s approval of a “take first, pay later” approach to eminent domain. The Fourth Circuit’s 2004 ruling in East Tennessee Natural Gas Co. v. Sage created a loophole under the Natural Gas Act allowing companies to take land and begin construction prior to compensation being paid out for the property. This precedent, landowners argue, has shifted the balance of power in eminent domain claims in favor of gas companies and violates the separation of powers doctrine. The Sage ruling was cited two weeks ago by a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel that lifted an injunction blocking construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the path of many landowners. Now the landowners are asking the Fourth Circuit to rehear the case en banc and overturn the 15-year-old precedent, in the hopes of evening the playing field.”

2-20-19 Roanoke Times. Court dismisses challenges to MVP’s federal government approval. “An appellate court made short work Tuesday of a sweeping challenge of the federal government’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, dismissing 16 claims made by opponents. ‘None of the challenges succeeds,’ a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia wrote in a five-page order. In perhaps the most comprehensive legal attack on the controversial pipeline, opponents had hoped to find a fatal flaw in the key approval it received from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2017. The determination by FERC that there was a public need for the natural gas to be transported through the 303-mile pipeline opened the gate for a series of other approvals by state and federal agencies. Although several of the permits have since been suspended, Mountain Valley construction crews have been able to continue work over the past year with FERC’s ultimate authority intact. ‘It is unfortunate the Court failed to give substantive consideration to our many concerns,’ several members of community groups who were part of the legal challenge said Tuesday in a joint statement. ‘We are disappointed but undeterred.’ …. Although maintaining FERC’s approval Tuesday was a victory for Mountain Valley, the company still must maneuver the rest of a regulatory and legal obstacle course before it can meet its goal of completing the pipeline by the end of the year.”

2-20-19 Washington Post. Al Gore, civil rights leader William Barber call on Northam to seek forgiveness through action. “The little front porch seemed like a pulpit as the Rev. William Barber II outlined a path to redemption for Virginia’s troubled governor, Ralph Northam. ‘What he should do more than resign is he should get the resolve to be serious and take on this project,’ Barber said, looking toward the nearby stand of pine trees where Dominion Energy plans to build a major natural gas pipeline pumping station in the middle of a historic African American community. ‘He could lead the nation. He could lead the South.’ Beside the civil rights leader stood another high-profile activist, former vice president Al Gore, who nodded in agreement. The pair was touring the rural community of Union Hill on Tuesday afternoon to draw attention to the case against the pumping station, which is part of the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Northam’s shame over a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page could be put to positive use, said Gore, a fellow Democrat. ‘If it resulted in Governor Northam saying, ‘I’ve seen the light, I’m going to change the policy,’ then God intends it for good,’ he said. This is Northam’s place now in the national dialogue. As long as he responds to calls to resign with promises to seek racial reconciliation, pressure will mount for him to act and prove he means it.”

2-20-19 WVTF. Gore Lambasts Dominion’s Plans for Union Hill.  “It was a combination protest, spiritual revival and celebration as about 800 people packed the gym at a middle school in Buckingham County last night to hear from environmental activist Al Gore and political activist William Barber. They had come to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and construction of a massive compressor station in the historic black community called Union Hill. If Al Gore was the evening’s big star, the Reverend William Barber was quite a warm up act. He attacked Dominion – the company planning a massive compressor station in a poor, rural community founded by freed Virginia slaves, and said companies often refer to places like Union Hill as LULUs – short for Local Unwanted Land Use.”

2-20-19 Virginia Mercury. Civil rights leader, former vice president take aim at Northam, Dominion during visit to Buckingham County. “‘It is an outrageous proposal environmentally in terms of environmental injustice; in terms of it being an economic rip-off to the energy ratepayers of Virginia and in terms of global warming, of course,’ Gore said in an interview before the event. Barber took more direct shots at Dominion, asking at one point during a meeting at Union Grove Baptist Church if there were any Dominion employees present. ‘In Hebrew, dominion does not mean destruction,’ Barber said later in the evening. ‘In Hebrew, dominion means responsibility. Dominion is God’s instruction for community and taking care of the land and all that is in it.’ …. ‘I did take note of (Northam’s) statement that he was going to dedicate the rest of his term to racial reconciliation,’ Gore said. ‘This community is a wonderful opportunity for him to give meaning to those words and actually show that he’s intent on doing it even if it makes one his largest financial supporters unhappy. That’s where the rubber meets the road.’ Barber had a similar message for Northam, who was not at the event. ‘The real racism you must prove you’re against is systemic racism,’ Barber said. ‘Gov. Northam, if you want to be a great governor, if you want to help lead the nation, the first thing you got to do is stop by Union Hill.'”

2-19-19 US News. Al Gore Meets With Residents Fighting Gas Pipeline Station. “Former Vice President Al Gore urged residents of a historic African-American community in Virginia on Tuesday to continue their fight against a plan to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station in their neighborhood. Gore and social justice advocate the Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, a rural community about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Richmond that was founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. The visit by Gore and Barber – part of an environmental justice tour – came weeks after a racial scandal rocked state government when both Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Gore told residents that the proposal to build the compressor station in the African-American community is a ‘vivid example of environmental racism.’ ‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,’ Gore said. He said Northam should fulfill his promise for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project. ‘This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, “I’ve seen the light,”; Gore said. During a raucous meeting before more than 700 people at Buckingham Middle School, Barber said Dominion Energy – the lead developer of the pipeline – is “practicing sin” by proposing to build the compressor station in Union Hill. ‘I want to say tonight that any governor or legislator, Democrat or Republican … that has chosen Dominion over this community is scandalous,’ Barber said.”

2-19-19 Washington Post. Al Gore meets with residents fighting gas pipeline station. “Former Vice President Al Gore urged residents of a historic African-American community in Virginia on Tuesday to continue their fight against a plan to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station in their neighborhood. Gore and social justice advocate the Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, a rural community about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Richmond that was founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. The visit by Gore and Barber – part of an environmental justice tour – came weeks after a racial scandal rocked state government when both Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Gore told residents that the proposal to build the compressor station in the African-American community is a ‘vivid example of environmental racism.’ ‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,’ Gore said. He said Northam should fulfill his promise for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project. ‘This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, “I’ve seen the light,”‘ Gore said.”

2-19-18 WTVR6. Al Gore warns that Dominion compressor station will bring ‘single largest increase in global warming pollution’   “Former Vice President Al Gore stopped in Central Virginia Tuesday night as part of what he calls an ‘Environmental Justice Tour.’ Gore visited Union Hill in Buckingham County to highlight what he calls the connection between poverty, racism and ecological devastation. Union Hill is a historically black community, and is the proposed site of a controversial compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Gore says the compressor will be harmful to the environment. ‘This compressor station and this pipeline would be the single largest increase in global warming pollution from the state of Virginia ever,’ Gore said.”

2-19-19 NBC29. Al Gore Among Guest Speakers Opposing Pipeline Construction in Buckingham County. “Rev. Barber II says Governor Ralph Northam should change his views on the pipeline and stop accepting money from Dominion Energy. ‘He could stop this tomorrow, but it would require him to say, “I choose the people of Virginia over a corporation,”‘ Barber said. Gore also stated that if Northam wanted to make up for all of the controversy surrounding the blackface scandal, Buckingham County would be a good place to start. ‘In the aftermath of those pictures – of that picture being shown – the governor said he wants to dedicate his remaining time as governor to racial reconciliation,’ Gore said. ‘Well, here is the premiere place to do that.'”

2-19-19 Daily Progress. Union Hill visit by Gore, Barber seeks to put Northam on spot. “Gov. Ralph Northam can’t escape the spotlight as former Vice President Al Gore and the Rev. William J. Barber II bring a racial and environmental crusade Tuesday to a little community in Buckingham County with a big natural gas pipeline planned at its doorstep. Barber, a national civil rights leader from North Carolina, said Monday that Northam’s challenge is about more than overcoming a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page or his admission that he once blackened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest. It’s about changing public policy in Virginia, he said, beginning with state permits granted for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a natural gas compressor station in Union Hill, a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. ‘The governor has turned his back on this community,’ Barber, former president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in an interview. ‘If he wants to do a reconciliation tour, he should first go to Union Hill.’ The message is the same from Gore, a Nobel laureate who has made the fight against fossil fuels and climate change the focus of his political work since narrowly losing the presidential election in 2000. ‘It’s such a great opportunity for the governor to really show he means what he says and is re-examining the racial impacts of Virginia’s policies,’ the former vice president said in an interview Monday.”

2-19-19 Bloomberg. Ralph Northam’s Racial Reckoning Could Spell Trouble for Pipe Project. “Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racial reckoning could spell more trouble for Dominion Energy Inc.’s $7 billion-plus Atlantic Coast gas pipeline, with one of its facilities sited in an historically African American community. While the 600-mile (966-kilometer) project is facing several setbacks, one element, a planned compressor station, is drawing particularly heated backlash for its proposed location in Union Hill, a community west of Richmond that was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. Environmental groups and social activists are hoping to capitalize on the attention generated by the state’s political turmoil to further their efforts to block the project. And now former U.S. Vice President and outspoken fossil fuel critic Al Gore is slated to attend an event on Tuesday meant to draw attention to environmental justice issues surrounding the project. …. No one could be reached at Northam’s office for comment. Dominion didn’t respond to a request for comment.”

2-19-19 WVTF. Criminal Investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline Underway. “Two Roanoke lawyers have been documenting work rule violations on the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction project. They shared their findings with government officials and, last week, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia launched a criminal investigation into the matter.”

2-18-19 WVNews. 4th Circuit hearing on Atlantic Coast Pipeline not expected until May. “A hearing that could impact the future of Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has been pushed back at least two months, according to a spokesman. …. ‘The Fourth Circuit court has moved our case from its March docket due to delays associated with the government shutdown and we now expect to be heard in the next court session scheduled for May,’ Neddenien [ACP spokesman] said. …. ‘The Fourth Circuit has regular court weeks where they schedule arguments,’ [DJ Gerken, SELC attorney] said. ‘So it hasn’t actually been scheduled. They have told the lawyers that it is tentatively scheduled for May; we don’t have a specific date. It’s not definitively scheduled for May, but they have told lawyers to hold availability for that court week.’ If the court is unable to hold the hearing in May, the next available court week is in September, Gerken said.”

2-18-19 Rocky Mount Telegram.  Pipeline hits new setbacks.  “Moody’s Investors Service has changed its rating of the [Atlantic Coast Pipeline] project to credit negative due to the project’s latest increases in costs and delays in construction. ‘As cost estimates continue to rise and as the completion date is pushed further out, Dominion’s path for financial improvement is starting to look more uncertain,’ said Moody’s Vice President Ryan Wobbrock. When investors begin to sour on big construction projects, the collapse comes into view, said Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Warn, a Durham-based environmental watchdog group. ‘This project is $3 billion over budget yet construction had barely begun when it’s been halted for many months,’ Warren said. ‘My guess: 30 percent chance it’ll ever be completed.'”

2-17-19 Medium. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring Seeks Reconciliation After His Blackface Scandal: So Why Would He Defend Environmental Racism in Buckingham County? “Right now, Virginia is having a long overdue conversation about its ugly past and its unreconstructed present. And Mark Herring has a choice to make. On one side stands Dominion, which is perpetrating this act of environmental racism, headed by a CEO who spent taxpayer dollars glorifying the Confederacy, represented by a litigation group the head of which is begging Northam not to quit over his own scandals. On the other side stand the good people of Union Hill, an historic African American community that has champions inside Virginia and across the country, including Al Gore and Rev. Barber, but which is desperately in need of someone in Virginia who can actually stop the compressor station in its tracks. In 2014, Mark Herring took a stand for marriage equality and thereby cast his lot on the right side of history. In 2019, he is faced with a similar choice with far reaching consequences. We will soon find out if his deeds match his words of regret. Whether Mark Herring heeds the calls for him to resign or decides to stick it out, one thing is clear. The road to reconciliation runs through Union Hill.”

2-15-19 Washington Post. Letter: A good place for Northam to start his ‘reconciliation tour’   “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced that he is going on a “reconciliation tour” that will take him around Virginia to engage in conversations about race and healing [“Is redemption for racism possible in Virginia?,” Metro, Feb. 10]. The historically black community of Union Hill is only about an hour from the governor’s mansion. It is also the proposed site of a loud and potentially dangerous compressor station that would serve the Dominion Energy-backed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. …. On Feb. 19, former vice president Al Gore and the Rev. William Barber II, leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, will be at Union Hill to talk about what is happening there and why that compressor station should be stopped. So come to Union Hill, Mr. Northam. Join us on the 19th. As Mr. Barber put it on Twitter, ‘if Northam can’t begin w/ protecting the African-American Union Hill community from present day environmental racism, then his claim to desire reconciliation is hollow. Action must precede reconciliation.'”

2-15-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline is underway, federal filing shows. “One of the companies building the Mountain Valley Pipeline has confirmed that the project is facing a criminal investigation into possible violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal laws. EQM Midstream Partners, the lead company in the joint venture, made the disclosure in an annual report filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Since construction of the buried natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia started last year, crews have repeatedly run afoul of regulations meant to keep muddy runoff from contaminating nearby streams and rivers. Although Mountain Valley has been named in enforcement actions brought by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mark Herring, this week’s filing is the first confirmation of a criminal investigation. On Jan. 7, EQM received a letter from the U.S. attorney’s office in Roanoke stating that it and the Environmental Protection Agency were looking into both criminal and civil violations related to pipeline construction, according to the SEC filing.”

2-15-19 Virginia Mercury. Growth in data centers overpowers Virginia’s renewable energy gains. “[T]hese data centers come with a dark downside: they are energy hogs, and the fossil fuel energy they consume is driving climate change. A new report from Greenpeace called Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley describes the magnitude of the problem: ‘Not including government data centers, we estimate the potential electricity demand of both existing data centers and those under development in Virginia to be approaching 4.5 gigawatts, or roughly the same power output as nine large (500-megawatt) coal power plants.’ As these data center operations continue to grow, they are providing the excuse for utilities, primarily Dominion Energy Virginia, to build new fracked-gas infrastructure, including gas-generating plants and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Though these developments cannot be put to a complete halt, the need of the hour demands a sustainable solution. Either companies and governments can invest in sustainable data centers (where expertise of Walt Coulston and his likes could be helpful) or can make a complete move to a renewable source of energy to run those centers. In fact, many of these same tech companies have publicly committed to using renewable energy, and in some cases they have invested heavily in solar and wind power in other states. With the exception of Apple, however, all these data center operators are falling far short in meeting their Virginia energy demand with renewables. Intentionally or not, that makes them complicit in Dominion’s fossil-fuel expansion.”

2-14-19 S&P Global. Duke blames Q4 earnings drop on higher asset expenses, storm costs.  Delays will push up costs for ACP pipeline.  “On its earnings call, Duke executives expressed concern over litigation and permit delays of one of its biggest projects, the planned 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Analysts were told that the company hopes it can resume construction of the line in the fall when it will pursue a phased schedule, with the first phase of the line in service by late 2020 and the second in 2021. The estimated cost of the pipeline has risen to $7.8 billion from $7 billion, Duke Energy chairman and CEO Lynn Good told the analysts.”

2-14-19 Market Watch. Increased use of natural gas exposes U.S. to cyber attacks, FERC chairman says. “A Senate hearing on Thursday focused on the threats to energy infrastructure from hackers, including to natural gas pipelines. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ hearing follows the U.S. intelligence community’s publication of worldwide threats, which include the ability of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea to disrupt critical infrastructure. Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, discussed the need for bolstering the U.S.’s ability to defend against cyber attacks that could paralyze access to power. ‘I am concerned that, because of our nation’s growing use of natural gas for power generation, a successful cyber-attack on the natural gas pipeline system could have a significant impact on the electric grid,’ he said.”

2-14-19 Roanoke Times. Board to discuss revocation of Mountain Valley Pipeline permit at March 1 meeting. “A state board will meet March 1 to discuss a permit revocation process that could shape the future of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The special meeting of the State Water Control Board was recently scheduled after it voted 4-3 in December to hold a hearing on whether to rescind its earlier water quality certification for the natural gas pipeline, based on environmental damage that has come to light since construction began. Details on when the hearing will take place, and the format it will take, will be addressed at the meeting. …. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 1021 Koger Center Blvd., Richmond.”

2-13-18 Virginia Mercury. Where’s the pipeline hearing you promised? “On Dec. 13, the State Water Control Board passed a motion requiring that a hearing be held to consider whether the water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline should be revoked. It is now more than eight weeks later and still no date for the hearing has been announced. Meanwhile, Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to inflict the same kinds of severe damage on state waters and residents that prompted the state’s lawsuit against MVP and the board’s vote to reconsider the water quality certification. …. Leadership from the board is needed now more than ever. We now call on the board to meet as soon as possible to make clear with a vote that DEQ and the attorney general act immediately to stop work and prevent damage that is certain to result from continued construction by MVP. Furthermore, the board must ensure that the hearing, once scheduled, allows citizens to properly represent their interests in a public venue. It is important to stress that the authority for the notice and hearing process lies with the board; DEQ is merely tasked with carrying out the board’s order.”

2-13-19 The Appalachian Voice. Legal Troubles Escalate for Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. “Developers of the fracked-gas Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines face mounting pressure from the onslaught of delays and cancelled permits. Construction is still on hold along the entirety of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline due to numerous court cases, save for places where the company says it is needed to prevent environmental degradation. Construction is also halted in numerous places along Mountain Valley’s route.” An excellent summary of the ACP and MVP status as of its writing.

2-12-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dominion Energy pledges 50 percent cut in methane by 2030, but pipeline opponents unswayed. “Dominion Energy is pledging to cut methane emissions from its natural gas systems in half over the next decade, but environmentalists say that cancelling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the best way to achieve the goal. The Richmond-based energy company unveiled the commitment on Tuesday and compared the proposed 50-percent methane reduction to ‘taking 2.3 million cars off the road for a year or planting nearly 180 million new trees’ in the quest to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. ‘With this initiative, we are transforming the way we do business to build a more sustainable future for the planet, our customers, and our industry,’ said Diane Leopold, president and CEO of Dominion’s gas infrastructure group. But the initiative didn’t impress one of Dominion’s critics, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which opposes the construction of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline through three states. ‘Nice try,’ said Harrison Wallace, the group’s Virginia director. ‘The best way for Dominion to reduce methane emissions is to abandon its plans to build its controversial and unnecessary $7.5 billion pipeline.'”

2-12-19 Virginia Mercury. If only: Northam’s missed chances to lead on race as governor. “If only the governor had been presented the opportunity to weigh in forcefully on behalf of a marginalized African-American community staring down the prospect of a giant, polluting industrial project planned for their rural area. If only members of his own party and a gubernatorial advisory council had begged him to champion what had become the most controversial environmental justice case in Virginia. If only someone on his staff had told him it was a really bad idea to pull two members off the State Air Pollution Control Board as it was weighing a permit for that same industrial facility – Dominion Energy’s Buckingham compressor station. If only someone had told him it was tone-deaf to express concern about a Dominion compressor station in Maryland that might mar the view from Mount Vernon but clam up about the one in Virginia being planned for a former slave plantation in a community founded by freedmen that the state agency he oversees had authority over. You get the point.”

2-12-19 News Leader. Whitescarver: Time for Dominion to cut its losses on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Delays and mounting costs plague Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The fracked gas pipeline, originally scheduled to be fully operational by 2018, is now delayed until 2021. Dominion says the cost, which will be funded by its captive ratepayers, is now at least $7.5 billion -$3 to $5 billion more than its original price tag. Crippled by countless lawsuits, vacated and denied permits, and violations of the law, the ACP has, for the time being, been stopped once again. It’s time for Dominion’s shareholders to stop the bleeding for good. The record shows that the ACP was ill conceived, poorly planned, and is draining the company’s resources. How much burden can the corporation expect to extract from its ratepayers? …. When will Dominion realize that there is a myriad of opposition across all spectrums of our communities who will not give up? Landowners, governmental leaders, environmental groups, property rights advocates, environmental justice groups, and countless others are all aligned against this corporate bully. Legal challenges will continue to mount. It is time for this unwanted pipeline to go away. There are better ways to spend $7.5 billion.”

2-11-19 Public News Service. Need for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Falls. “The demand the huge Atlantic Coast Pipeline was intended to meet is disappearing, according to documents from the corporations behind the project. Dominion and Duke Energy own almost all of the pipeline, as well as the electric utilities it would supply with natural gas. When applying for a federal permit, they argued it was needed to meet rising electricity demand in North Carolina and coastal Virginia. But Cathy Kunkel, an energy analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said utility filings in those states now show the outlook has changed dramatically – in part because of competition from cheap, renewable energy. ‘Dominion is not projecting any increase in natural-gas demand until 2032,’ Kunkel said. ‘Duke is still planning to build some natural-gas plants, but most of that has shifted to the late 2020s.'”

2-11-19 Fayetteville Observer [NC]. Natural-gas pipeline gets a needed second look. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has hit a big and expensive snag. Cost estimates for the proposed 600-mile natural-gas pipeline have ballooned from $4.5 billion to $7 billion. That’s raising questions about whether the pipeline will ever be built. The pipeline is a project of Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Company Gas. It will begin near the fracking fields in West Virginia and run through Virginia then across eastern North Carolina, roughly following the path of I-95 down to Pembroke. The pitch for the pipeline is that it will bring plentiful supplies of inexpensive natural gas to regions that have little gas availability. The builders tout the pipeline as a potent driver of industrial development in parts of this state that desperately need an economic boost. But in truth, most of the gas is already spoken for, destined for present and future gas-operated power plants owned by Duke Energy. The pipeline’s owners will also be, by far, its biggest customers. That means that Duke’s electricity consumers may also end up paying for much of the pipeline’s construction costs, and the impact on rates may be one factor in the utilities’ decision to put the project on hold at least for a few months. …. There are also large questions about the need for the pipeline, since alternative energy sources, especially solar, have advanced far more rapidly than most utilities expected. Solar battery technology now can keep the power flowing continuously and solar installations are rapidly becoming the cheapest form of electrical generation. While none of the existing energy alternatives is ready to completely supplant fossil fuels, that day is coming faster than expected. While the pipeline’s sponsors are stopping to review their progress and prognosis, it would be wise for government agencies to do the same.”

2-10-19 Roanoke Times. Can the pipeline be stopped? State board ponders its next move on MVP. “Wading back into what could become a legal quagmire, the State Water Control Board may soon decide whether to revoke its earlier approval for a natural gas pipeline under construction in Southwest Virginia. The unusual proceeding was initiated in December, when the board voted 4-3 to reconsider a water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. When it first issued the certification in 2017, the board determined there was a reasonable assurance that work on the buried pipeline would not contaminate nearby streams and wetlands. Since then, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has found more than 300 violations of erosion and sediment control measures. What will happen next seems as clear as the muddy water that frequently flows from construction sites. If the board were to reverse its earlier position, ‘it doesn’t necessarily kill the project, although it’s possible that it could,’ said Jill Fraley, an associate professor at the Washington and Lee School of Law who specializes in environmental law.”

2-8-19 Augusta Free Press. Union Hill community challenges Virginia Air Board Decision. “The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Friends of Buckingham, has challenged the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s decision to approve Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Buckingham Coun ty compressor station. ‘The Air Board has refused to address the disproportionate harm that our community will have to bear as a result of the construction of this polluting compressor station,’ said John W. Laury of Friends of Buckingham. ‘The members of our community should not have our health put at risk for a project that wasn’t properly vetted for environmental justice or air quality concerns.’ The Air Board and the Department of Environmental Quality did not meet their obligations under state and federal laws to consider less polluting alternatives and the best available pollution controls for minimizing pollution from the proposed compressor station.”

2-7-19 DeSmog. Are Investors Finally Waking up to North America’s Fracked Gas Crisis? “The fracked gas industry’s long borrowing binge may finally be hitting a hard reality: paying back investors. Enabled by rising debt, shale companies have been achieving record fracked oil and gas production, while promising investors a big future payoff. But over a decade into the ‘fracking miracle,’ investors are showing signs they’re worried that payoff will never come – and as a result, loans are drying up.”

2-7-19 Fayetteville Observer. Our View: Is this a pause or a crash for gas pipeline? “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has hit a big and expensive snag. Cost estimates for the proposed 600-mile natural-gas pipeline have ballooned. A price tag originally pegged at about $4.5 billion has now soared to as much as $7 billion. That’s serious money – a big enough cost increase that it’s raising questions about whether the pipeline will ever be built.”

2-6-19 Lexology. Environmental Groups Request Congressional Hearing on FERC Approval of Interstate Gas Pipelines. “On January 29, 2019, over 180 environmental organizations (“Environmental Groups”) wrote a letter to members of Congress requesting a congressional hearing into the approval process for interstate gas pipelines. The Environmental Groups argue that FERC approves nearly all proposed pipelines, abuses its eminent domain authority, and relies on erroneous data when evaluating whether to allow pipeline companies to begin construction. The Environmental Groups detail a litany of alleged misuses of FERC’s Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) authority in their request for a congressional hearing.” The groups’ request is here.

2-5-19 Roanoke Times. Appeals court allows quick-take of land for Mountain Valley Pipeline. “An appeals court has upheld the “take first, pay later” approach to building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, in which the company condemned private property in the project’s path before paying opposing landowners for their losses. The ruling Tuesday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a blow to pipeline foes, who have long decried the use of eminent domain to take parts of family farms and rural homeplaces to make way for a 303-mile natural gas pipeline. In their appeal, the landowners did not contest the laws that allowed Mountain Valley to obtain forced easements through nearly 300 parcels in Southwest Virginia. But they challenged a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon, who granted Mountain Valley immediate possession of the disputed land before deciding how much each property owner should be compensated.”

2-5-19 WTOP. Fire at pipeline construction site under arson investigation. “Authorities say heavy equipment has been set on fire at a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site in Virginia. News outlets cite a statement from the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office as saying that a caller reported a vehicle on fire Saturday night in the Smith Mountain community. No one was injured. The statement says officers at the scene discovered the vehicle was a piece of earth-moving equipment located on the site of the pipeline construction right of way. There was about $500,000 in damage to the Caterpillar PL87 pipe layer. No other equipment was damaged by the fire. The sheriff’s office says fire marshals have concluded that the blaze was intentionally set and are investigating it as arson.”

2-5-19 Outdoors. The Pipeline vs. The Trail: How the A.T. Saved the South – for now. “What happens when a massive $6 billion pipeline tries to cross an iconic footpath? In a modern-day David vs. Goliath showdown, the trail wins.
The pipeline was supposed to be a done deal. Dominion Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities, already had all of the permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. They had even begun clearing its planned route, which stretches 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. Then, to everyone’s surprise, they were stopped in their tracks last month by a narrow ribbon of trail. The A.T. may have just saved the South from a 600-mile, $6 billion blunder-at least for now-and helped change the course of our energy future. How did it happen?”

2-5-19 Reuters. Public use and private profit: U.S. landowners question forced purchases. “‘Eminent domain cases have always been messy, but the 2005 [Kelo] opinion upended the situation and made it messier,’ said Tyler Broker, a legal commentator. ‘Before, you could at least point to a beautiful park that everyone has access to, but now it’s the government taking private property and giving it to a private entity. That seems to rub people more the wrong way,’ he said. And while landowners are supposed to be compensated at market rates for the land they lose, Broker and others said this rarely happens. Eminent domain, he said, has deviated so far from its original purpose that it’s not attached any more – it’s a tool for cronyism. And that’s where the increase in resentment comes in.’ Since the Kelo decision, states have passed laws limiting the use of eminent domain in this way – including Virginia, according to Yugo. But the permitting of cross-state pipelines goes through the federal government, and thus is not subject to state law.”

2-5-19 Sierra. States’ Rights? Not When It Comes to Pipeline Permitting. “The Trump administration appears poised to launch an effort to limit states’ powers to regulate energy projects like pipelines-but it will likely find itself in yet another legal battle if it does so. The administration is reportedly considering whether to issue an executive order to make an end run around states’ ability to effectively block infrastructure projects that pass through their jurisdictions. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act allows states to block a project if they find it will endanger its waterways, and since Trump took office, some states have made use of this provision.”

2-4-19 Kallanish Energy. Atlantic Coast Pipeline delayed to 2021, costs also rising. “Dominion Energy reported last week the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline (Acp) will be delayed going into service due to continuing environmental lawsuits and permitting problems and that the price tag for the project has increased, Kallanish Energy reports. The company said the completion date for the pipeline is early 2021, although partial service could begin in late 2020. The cost will be between $7.0 billion and $7.5 billion, excluding financing. It had previously estimated the pipeline’s cost at between $6.5 billion and $7.0 billion, excluding financing. Dominion said it currently expects the now-halted construction could begin again on the pipeline’s full route in the third quarter of 2019. The 600-mile pipeline had originally been slated to begin service in late 2019. Construction started in the spring of 2018. [Note: Dominion’s original cost estimate was $4.5-5 billion.]

2-3-19 Roanoke Times. Kellam: DEQ’s oversight of pipeline is lax. “A Paylor-led DEQ failed to prevent the water quality and property impacts that occurred throughout 2018, and now the governor, attorney general and water board must act to protect citizens and address the continuing and substantial water quality and property impacts from the MVP. Just as decisions made behind closed doors make public participation meaningless, so too is the board’s water quality certification meaningless absent an exercise of stop work authority.”

2-2-19 Daily Progress. Union Hill residents see link between Northam’s racist photo and pipeline decisions. “Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photo speaks to a broader trend of racism and environmental injustice, members of the Union Hill community in Buckingham County said at a press conference Saturday. Held at the offices of Appalachian Voices in downtown Charlottesville, four members of the Union Hill community sat quietly around a wooden table, reflecting on their efforts combating environmental racism and Northam’s connection to it. …. “When these things flare up, it’s hard to just move away from it because you have to look at the individual’s record,” [Paul] Wilson said. “It really makes you wonder when you look over his record and his life how much of that kind of thinking was reflected in the decisions that he made.”

2-1-19 Washington Post. Bill to restrict Dominion pipeline costs. “Legislation that could pose a serious threat to the bottom line of Dominion Energy’s planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to advance in the Virginia General Assembly. The bill passed a key House committee Thursday with bipartisan support despite heavy lobbying by Dominion. The legislation would add new restrictions on Dominion’s ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations. That could reduce the potential revenues of a project whose costs have already ballooned in the face of fierce opposition from environmentalists and land owners.”

2-1-19 Seeking Alpha. Dominion Energy Announces Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year 2018 Earnings, Provides Atlantic Coast Pipeline Update. “The company currently expects that construction could recommence on the full route during the third quarter of 2019 with partial in-service in late 2020 and full in-service in early 2021. Based on that schedule, the company now expects the project cost to be between $7.0 and $7.5 billion, excluding financing costs. Similarly, the company currently expects the Supply Header project to enter commercial service in late 2020 at a project cost of $650 to $700 million.”