January 2019 News

January 2019

1-31-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: ACP can’t deliver on promises. “In the Jan. 24 issue of the Nelson County Times, we read that Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents and our neighbors who support the project share at least some of the same goals. Like the proponents, those who oppose the project also want a healthy county economy that provides good jobs and enables the young people who want to stay in Nelson to do so. However, we differ strongly about how to achieve those goals. We view the ACP as a threat to one of the state’s fastest growing rural economies. That growth is based primarily on tourism, which in our case rests largely on the emergence of the adult beverage industry — wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries. Those thriving businesses, which now employ many of Nelson’s young folks, chose to come here because of our beautiful environment and clean water. …. Building the ACP is not the right way to reach the goals its proponents seek. The ACP is an economic loser and environmental threat for Nelson County.”

1-31-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: Pipeline a thing of the past. “How nice it is to read of Nelson County residents who care about the future of their families and of Nelson County. too. However, a prosperous future means making changes … getting started building clean energy in Virginia. Pipelines are built to last 80 years, but our use of gas for heating and electricity will be gone way before then. And our clean energy future is both cheaper and creates more jobs than any other industries right now. …. So the truth is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will keep Virginia in the past. Let’s put that pipeline money into offshore wind and solar, maybe with some batteries too. Let’s be sure Virginia’s future includes a modern energy system.”

1-31-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: Dominion’s job-creation myths. “Dominion Power is at it again. Planting misleading stories seems to be their style. And people are believing it! Dominion is shouting “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” In a recent Nelson County Times article, it is implied that young people will stay in the county because the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring jobs here. Of course there would be jobs building the proposed pipeline, but these jobs would be filled by workers who travel the length of the line. Dominion brought in out-of-state workers to cut the trees at the entrance to Wintergreen and other nearby areas. This is an insult to our county loggers who are some of the best in the country and shows that Dominion really cares little about our local economy. …. The only job that I see Dominion creating in the county is someone working from home to write slanted, misleading stories of the wonder and goodness of Dominion Power as it continues to rape the planet. See through the myth.”

1-31-19 Utility Dive. FERC’s LaFleur to step down. “Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur will not seek a third term at the agency and will depart later in 2019, she announced on Twitter Thursday. LaFleur will serve out the remainder of her term until June 30, but could stay on the commission longer if the Senate does not confirm a successor by that time. Senate energy leaders said this month the White House had not yet floated potential replacements for LaFleur or former Commissioner Kevin McIntyre, who died Jan. 2. LaFleur was confirmed to FERC in 2010 after being tapped by President Barack Obama and was named acting chairman of the commission at the beginning of the Trump administration. In recent years, however, she had taken a harder line on accounting for the climate change impacts of natural gas infrastructure and clashed with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over electricity policy. LaFleur’s departure will mean FERC loses its longest-serving member and the only regulator with experience at an electric utility — New England’s National Grid. In a series of tweets Thursday morning, the veteran Democrat indicated she would have preferred to be nominated to a third term at the commission. …. In a phone call Thursday morning, LaFleur advisor Andrew Holleman said Senate leaders told the commissioner this week she would not be renominated, but he declined to detail the content of their conversations. ‘She got a call from Senate leadership this week informing her,’ Holleman said. ‘She said all along it wasn’t up to her, but when she was made aware, she thought she would make an announcement as soon as possible.’

1-30-19 Reuters. U.S. court stays ruling against Dominion Atlantic Coast natgas pipe. “A U.S. appeals court has stayed a previous court decision against Forest Service permits that allowed Dominion Energy Inc to build the $6.5-$7 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline across national forests and the Appalachian Trail. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday froze the previous decision by a three-judge panel until the full court decides whether it will rehear the case en banc. The appeals court panel had said in December that the U.S. Forest Service had ‘abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources’ when it issued the permits. …. Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien said on Wednesday the company remained confident it would complete the 600-mile (966-kilometer) pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, even though the timing is ‘somewhat fluid’ due in part to federal lawsuits.”

1-29-19 NBC29. Bill Limiting Atlantic Coast Pipeline Costs to Ratepayers Advancing. “A little-noticed piece of legislation advancing through the Virginia General Assembly could pose a serious threat to Dominion Energy’s planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The bill 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 pinch the bottom line of a project whose costs have already ballooned in the face of fierce opposition from environmentalists and land owners. The legislation passed out of a Dominion-friendly House committee 8-2 last week. It’s backed by an usual coalition of tea party conservatives and green groups.”

1-29-19 E&E News Energywire. Atlantic Coast asks court to clear ‘permanent obstacle’. “Developers of the Atlantic Coast pipeline have asked an appellate court to reconsider its decision to strike critical permits for the natural gas project. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month nixed a Forest Service approval for the 600-mile pipeline to cross two national forests and parts of the Appalachian Trail. Environmental opponents celebrated as the project’s backers, who had halted construction after the same court vacated a separate permit, reviewed their options (Greenwire, Dec. 13, 2018). The 4th Circuit’s finding that the Forest Service does not have the authority to grant a right of way along the Appalachian Trail introduced a ‘more permanent obstacle’ for the embattled Atlantic Coast project, attorneys for the developers argued yesterday.”

1-28-19 Roanoke Times. Environmental groups attack federal approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The good of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — a steady supply of needed natural gas — met the bad Monday, when opponents told a federal appeals court there’s really no public need for a project that is already polluting Southwest Virginia. In a sweeping attack, a coalition of environmental groups asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a federal agency’s approval of the 303-mile pipeline. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission green-lighted the pipeline in October 2017, it voted 2-1 that its public benefits will outweigh any adverse impacts. But in finding there was a market demand for the natural gas, FERC relied entirely on contracts between the pipeline’s owners and its shippers, which are all part of the same corporate structure. The complex affiliations of Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC were not the result of ‘arms-length negotiations’ that would have demonstrated a true market based on public need, the court was told by Ben Luckett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a nonprofit law firm that represented pipeline opponents during Monday’s oral arguments. Attorneys for FERC and Mountain Valley countered that the partners would never have invested in the $4.6 billion venture unless they were convinced it was worth the risk — an argument that seemed to resonate with the three-judge panel hearing the case.”

1-27-19 Wall St. Journal. Drillers Are Easing Off the Gas. “Some of the companies responsible for flooding the U.S. with natural gas are dialing back on drilling amid worries that supplies of the fuel are outpacing demand and potentially sending already depressed prices into a tailspin. …. Natural-gas prices have fallen by more than a third since heating-season highs reached in mid-November. A cold snap that left swaths of the country iced over and furnaces blasting during the recent holiday weekend did little to slow the decline. Gas futures for February delivery lost 8.8% last week, settling at $3.178 a million British thermal units on Friday. Many analysts have forecast further declines barring an especially frigid February. It took a superlative year of demand growth, courtesy of exports and electricity generators, to absorb record U.S. gas production last year. There are doubts, though, that enough new demand will materialize this year, even with several liquefied-natural-gas export facilities slated to open over the next 12 months.”

1-26-19 Roanoke Times. Appeals court set to review FERC’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The most important regulatory approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was flawed in more than a dozen ways, opponents say in a court case to be argued Monday [January 28, 2019]. A challenge of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision, which allowed construction of the deeply divisive project to move forward, runs the gamut of issues: Is there a public need for the natural gas to be shipped by the pipeline? Should the company building it have been allowed to seize private land through the laws of eminent domain? Did regulators fail to anticipate the environmental damage caused by burrowing a mammoth steel pipe over the mountains and through the streams of Southwest Virginia? Oral arguments on those and other questions are scheduled for Monday morning before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is expected to issue a written opinion within three to six months.”

1-25-19 Bay Journal. Atlantic Coast Pipeline on shakier ground as legal challenges add up. “A string of recent court decisions has left the future uncertain for a sprawling natural gas pipeline project cutting its way across some Chesapeake Bay states. Judges have reversed three federal permits that would have allowed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross national parks and trails or to impact endangered species, halting construction while Dominion Energy, the project’s backer, regroups to appeal. …. ‘The big picture here is that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is in trouble,’ said Greg Buppert, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center representing environmental organizations in several of the lawsuits. Now, the company ‘doesn’t have multiple required permits to proceed with this project.’ This spring, SELC attorneys and others will go for the project’s metaphorical jugular by challenging its baseline permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which set it into motion four years ago. They will argue that FERC’s singular requirement — that the project must have a signed contract with future natural gas recipients — does not go far enough. That’s because, in this case, subsidiaries of Dominion Energy are both building the pipeline and claiming demand for it as future customers. Because FERC has guaranteed a 15-percent return on investment for building the pipeline project, advocates say the company makes a profit from the process regardless of whether the infrastructure is actually needed. Will Cleveland, another SELC attorney, said that Dominion has justified the need to supply East Coast customers by ‘wildly overpredicting demand.'”

1-25-19 Washington Post. Breathing while black: A Dominion compressor station would disadvantage a historically black community in Virginia. “I have seen no reports of deliberate discrimination on the part of the DEQ or Dominion Energy. Some might argue that, all other things being equal, it makes sense to situate new pollution sources away from population centers and where air quality is relatively less degraded. But all things are not equal in this case. The implication that Union Hill’s air quality will not be harmed materially by the compressor station’s air pollution recalls an infamous 1991 World Bank memo signed by the group’s then-Chief Economist Lawrence Summers. The memo said, ‘I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.’ After the memo came under heavy fire, Summers backpedaled, saying the memo was intended as a ‘sardonic counterpoint,’ though he did not repudiate the memo’s microeconomic tenets. In essence, Summers’s memo endorsed increasing pollution in countries that have suffered centuries of colonialism. Substitute ‘historically black community’ for ‘countries’ and ‘slavery, Jim Crow, lynching and structural racism’ for ‘colonialism,’ and one can begin to understand outraged reactions at the implication that Union Hill won’t be hurt by more pollution. The lack of intent to discriminate does not change entrenched patterns that continue to disadvantage African Americans.

1-24-19 Bloomberg. Trump Eyes Action to Limit States’ Powers to Block Pipelines. “The Trump administration is considering taking steps to limit the ability of states to block interstate gas pipelines and other energy projects, according to three people familiar with the deliberations. The effort, possibly done through an executive order, is aimed chiefly at states in the Northeast U.S., where opposition to pipeline projects has helped prevent abundant shale gas in Pennsylvania and Ohio from reaching consumers in New York and other cities. …. But it’s not clear how much — if at all — an executive order could curtail states’ special powers under the statute. Industry officials said real change may require legislation to alter the statute itself, such as a bill advanced in 2018 by Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican.”

1-24-19 Washington Post. Bad news for environmental justice in Virginia. “Unless we change the obsolete policies that incentivize construction of unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure, communities like Union Hill remain at risk and electricity monopolies will continue to profit, despite the suffering of affected communities, and the costs of climate change inaction multiply.”

1-23-19 WFAE [NC]. Permit Delays Raise Concerns For Atlantic Coast Pipeline Owners. “Legal delays on key environmental permits for the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline are starting to hit home for the pipeline’s owners – and raise concerns among investors. Wall Street analysts have reduced their ratings on the shares of both Dominion Energy, the lead developer of the pipeline, and co-owner Duke Energy. And Dominion said earlier this month that while it still expects the pipeline to get built, it won’t contribute to profits as soon as predicted. …. Duke hasn’t said how the delay might affect profits. A spokeswoman says the company is disappointed and will give an update during its quarterly earnings conference call with analysts on Feb. 14. Dominion also promises a financial update when it reports earnings Feb. 1.”

1-23-19 Virginia Mercury. In wake of compressor station vote, Northam’s order reconstitutes environmental justice advisory council. “After a vote on what had become Virginia’s most high-profile environmental justice issue — the contentious natural gas compressor station proposed for Buckingham County by Dominion Energy as part of its Atlantic Coast Pipeline — Gov. Ralph Northam is reconstituting an advisory council that urged him last year to halt the project. The former members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice were invited to apply to serve on the new body, called the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, in an email from Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler. A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality says the old council’s legal authority had ‘expired,’ which is consistent with what council members had heard from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.”

1-22-19 Virginia Mercury. Six senators vote against Northam’s pick to lead environmental agency. “Gov. Ralph Northam disappointed some members of his transition team and left environmental groups seething last year when he reappointed David Paylor to his longtime job as director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Business interests, including the state’s big utilities, chief among them Dominion Energy, like Paylor’s light touch with the regulatory powers his office wields. Conservationists loath his agency’s deference to polluters, from the utilities to poultry farms and industrial emitters. On Monday, that debate spilled onto the Senate floor. Six senators, three Republicans and three Democrats, cast a vote to pull Paylor’s reappointment out of a list of gubernatorial appointments for Senate confirmation. Sen David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, led the unsuccessful charge. As is customary in the Senate, though, there was no mention of Paylor’s name or floor debate on the appointment. ‘The governor is entitled to his appointments and I have voted to confirm every other appointment,’ Suetterlein said in a statement to the Mercury. ‘Unfortunately, I could not vote to confirm the head of DEQ because his relationship with the utilities and his actions have greatly diminished Virginians’ confidence.’ Joining him were Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield; Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria; Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.”

1-22-19 Roanoke Times. U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear challenge of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which a group of landowners argued that their property was illegally taken through eminent domain laws for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In October, about a dozen landowners along the pipeline’s route asked the high court to reverse the dismissal of their lawsuit, heard in Roanoke’s federal court, that challenged the way developers of the natural gas pipeline were allowed to obtain forced easements through their property. In an order filed Tuesday, the Supreme Court did not explain why it is not taking the case. Mia Yugo, one of three Roanoke attorneys who asked the court to consider the appeal, said it would have been ‘extremely rare’ for the case to have actually made it to the floor of the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court agrees to hear oral arguments and render a decision in only about 80 of the approximately 8,000 cases that get filed each year. Among the constitutional questions raised by the lawsuit was whether eminent domain — a power normally invoked by governmental bodies for projects such as highways and power lines — should be awarded to a private company in pursuit of profits.”

1-22-19 S&P Global. Trump administration seeks to pull back more Atlantic Coast Pipeline permits facing challenge. “The Trump administration is seeking to pull back another permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is facing a legal challenge — a US Army Corps of Engineers authorization governing water crossings in parts of West Virginia. The Trump administration is seeking to pull back another permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is facing a legal challenge — a US Army Corps of Engineers authorization governing water crossings in parts of West Virginia. Both actions highlight the difficulties in the 4th Circuit for federal agency permits for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d project, one of several meant to move Appalachian gas to Mid-Atlantic markets. Still, one analyst suggested the requests for remand could help speed the regulatory process along, keeping control of the timeline with the agencies, rather than the court. ‘While both requests came from the government, they are both positive developments for the project because it likely means the time period to a sustainable affirmative decision will be shortened,’ said LawIQ Director of Research Gary Kruse.”

1-22-19 Roanoke Times. Roanoke attorneys seek criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Crews building the Mountain Valley Pipeline may have violated civil and criminal laws by continuing construction in streams and wetlands after a permit was suspended, two Roanoke attorneys say in asking for a federal investigation. Charlie Williams and Tom Bondurant told The Roanoke Times this week that they have shared with the Environmental Protection Agency a ‘substantial body of evidence’ gathered by Preserve Bent Mountain, an organization they represent. After reviewing photographs and other documentation from the group, which spent weeks monitoring pipeline construction, Williams and Bondurant asked the EPA in a Nov. 26 letter to conduct a formal investigation. ‘We concluded there was enough evidence of violations of criminal law, particularly the Clean Water Act, that we could make a good- faith submission to the EPA,’ said Williams, who specializes in environmental law at the firm of Gentry Locke.”

1-21-19 Blue Virginia. What David Paylor Knows: New Air Pollution Board Appointee Was Planning to Vote on Union Hill Compressor Station. “When the board voted on January 8, it also announced – without explanation – that the new members would not be voting. No one claimed that the new members had recused themselves. They simply ‘would not be participating.’ Now, according to documents produced under the Freedom of Information Act and published here for the first time, it turns out that at least one of the new board members wanted to participate in the Union Hill compressor station review. In fact, she actually asked – in writing – to participate. In an email to the Governor’s office dated November 17, new Air Board member Gail Bush wrote ‘I’m looking forward to a thorough orientation on overall process and the current pipeline/compressor station issue.’ When she wrote her email on November 17, Bush already was a full-fledged member of the Air Board. Two days earlier, she had been informed by the Governor’s office that ‘you have been appointed to serve a four year term beginning 7/1/2018….’ …. It is not clear exactly who decided that Bush and her fellow new appointee Kajal Kapur would not be allowed to vote on the Union Hill permit. Nor is it apparent what role Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor, whose agency oversees the Air Board, played in that process.”

1-21-19 Yahoo.com. Enbridge gas pipeline explosion causes fireball in Ohio. “An explosion of an Enbridge Inc natural gas pipeline in Ohio on Monday created a fireball of flame and damaged homes, prompting the evacuation of nearby residents. The explosion occurred on Enbridge’s Texas Eastern pipeline system and appeared to have destroyed two homes, said Chasity Schmelzenbach, emergency management director for Noble County, Ohio. ‘We got reports flames were shooting (up) 80 feet to 200 feet (25-60 meters),’ Schmelzenbach said. ‘You could see it upwards of 10-15 miles (16-24 km) away. Lots of people thought it was in their backyard because it does appear large.’ Enbridge later said that two people were injured and two structures damaged in the incident, which occurred at 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT). It said the fire had been contained, but that residents near the incident had been evacuated.”

1-21-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. U.S. Park Service voluntarily withdraws permit for key pipeline crossing. “[T]he appeals court threw out the initial permit for the project in August for failing to show whether it would be consistent with the parkway’s purpose. The agency issued a new permit in September that the Sierra Club and Virginia Wilderness Committee quickly challenged in the 4th Circuit. But the park service said both permits ‘were predicated in part on the existence of a valid Forest Service permit’ for the project to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail on land in the George Washington National Forest. After the 4th Circuit vacated the Forest Service permit, the park service asked the court to delay further legal proceedings so that the agency can decide how to proceed. ‘That motion remains pending before the court,’ the park service said last week. ‘Due to the lapse in appropriations to the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior, briefing in this petition has been suspended pending further order of the court.’

1-21-19 Daily Progress. Letter: Northam inconsistent on environment. “I applaud Gov. Ralph Northam for his State of the Commonwealth speech in which he recognized that improperly stored ‘coal ash can ruin water quality and create environmental disasters’ (Northam backs bill that forces Dominion to remove coal ash, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 4). What I don’t understand is why the governor waited so long to hold Dominion responsible for this environmental mess, which has been a problem for decades. And Gov. Northam still avoids commenting on the large natural gas pipeline that Dominion and its consortium are planning to build in order to export fracked gas from West Virginia. …. If you believe that fracking gas is an environmentally safe practice and that huge natural gas pipelines do not present eminent dangers, then you are not paying attention.”

1-20-19 Virginian-Pilot. Virginia investor working to curb Dominion’s influence. “Rich people using their wealth to try to influence politics is nothing new, but not many launch multimillion-dollar crusades against their local electric company. That’s just what Charlottesville investor and Democratic donor Michael Bills is doing in Virginia, where’s he’s taking on Dominion Energy, the state’s largest electric utility and most politically powerful corporation. It’s a David versus Goliath story, if both of them had a bunch of money. Dominion has had a major say in writing Virginia energy l