Forest Service Joins Dominion to Challenge 4th Circuit Decision

ABRA Update 217 from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance reports that on February 11, 2019, the US Forest Service (NFS) filed a petition for review of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in December vacating the NFS permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) had previously filed a challenge to the decision, on January 28. The NFS petition states:

. . . the Forest Service seeks rehearing of the panel’s holding that National Forest System land traversed by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail “is land in the National Park System.” Slip op. 52. That holding presents “a question of exceptional importance,” Fed. R. App. P. 35(a)(2), because it may preclude the construction of infrastructure for any pipeline across all federal lands traversed by the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail in states within the jurisdiction of this Court, and because it contradicts the plain language of the National Trails System Act and the agencies’ consistent practice over eighty years of Appalachian Trail management. The panel’s holding also calls into question the validity of dozens of Forest Service permits for electrical transmission lines, telecommunications sites, municipal water facilities, roads, and grazing areas.

Reaching this issue was unnecessary to the judgment. The Forest Service seeks rehearing to preclude the above-described holding from having precedential effect— with disruptive consequences for the many operations of the Forest Service and the Park Service in this Circuit.

The NFS petition, like the previously one filed by ACP, LLC, requests that all fifteen members of the Fourth Circuit hear the appeal. At this writing, the Court has not yet acted on either petition.

News You May Have Missed

 


There’s been a lot going on – here are some news items from our In the News page you may have missed (many additional interesting news articles on that page):

The Moral Call for Ecological Justice in Buckingham


Tuesday February 19, 2019, 6:00-8:00 pm, Buckingham Middle School, 1184 High School Road, Buckingham, VA 23921.

If unable to attend in person please join in via the links below: 
 
The event will be livestreamed here on the Repairers of the Breach Facebook page:
 
For those who want to watch online but not on Facebook, it will also be livestreamed on this page: https://livestream.com/accounts/5188266/events/8566311
 

Join Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and former Vice President Al Gore for a program on “The Moral Call for Ecological Justice in Buckingham.” The public is invited to this free evening event, where Buckingham residents and other Virginians will share stories of the impacts of environmental injustice, and scientific experts will discuss the health threats and ecological devastation of the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline and compressor station. As we celebrate Black History Month, we recognize how poverty, racism and ecological concerns are connected, and that we cannot address just one without addressing the others.

The event is FREE, but please REGISTER HERE so organizers can plan appropriately.

Questions?  Contact info@friendsofbuckinghamva.org

Rev. Dr. Barber is President of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Former Vice President Gore is the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit devoted to solving the climate crisis.

Where’s the Promised Hearing?

Writing in the Virginia Mercury on February 13, 2019, members of the POWHR Coalition ask, “Where’s the pipeline hearing you promised?”

The State Water Control Board passed a motion on December 13, 2018, requiring a hearing on whether the water quality certificate for the Mountain Valley Pipeline should be revoked. But eight weeks later, no hearing date has been announced and the MVP continues to inflict damage.

“MVP’s ongoing pattern of violations disproves the assertion that formed the basis for certification, that compliance with water quality standards was reasonably assured. Every day that passes without a stop work order from the commonwealth undermines the board’s intention to reconsider the question of reasonable assurance. The Department of Environmental Quality’s refusal to issue stop-work orders where harm continues and imminent threats to water quality now exist betrays the state’s duty to use its full authority to protect our resources.”

The authors call on the Board to:

  • meet as soon as possible
  • vote that DEQ and the attorney general act immediately to stop work and prevent even further damage
  • provide an opportunity for meaningful citizen input. “In this case, participation by citizens is especially necessary to ensure that the interests of the public and the environment are represented. Recent disclosures by a former board member show that DEQ Director David Paylor is hostile to citizens.”

“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.”

Read the full article here.

On February 14, 2019, a meeting was announced for March 1, 2019, to discuss details on when the actual hearing will take place, and the format it will take.  The Water Board meeting to discuss a time and process for the actual hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 1021 Koger Center Blvd., Richmond.

Crossing the Appalachian Trail

Many have worried that Dominion Energy would make a concerted effort to convince Congress to grant permission for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found the Forest Service did not possess the right to allow the crossing. At this time (February 11, 2019), there is no Dominion amendment attached to any piece of pending legislation in the Congress. However, it now appears it would be useful and important to express concerns to relevant members of Congress.

If you are worried about this unwarranted attempt by Dominion, we urge you to contact your Representative within the next several days. Ask the Representative to contact Congressional leadership to make clear their ACP concerns and opposition, including opposition to the idea of Congress stepping in to help the ACP sidestep fundamental permitting problems that are currently being sorted out in the normal regulatory process and in the courts, and opposition to and concerns about ACP in general. Many of these members have voiced concerns about or outright opposition to ACP in the past; others are new to Congress.

This congressional “fix” is a problem because it would:

  • Imply a congressional endorsement for the ACP, stacking the deck for building the ACP as proposed, on its current route.
  • Set the wrong example for special congressional exceptions to the federal law that otherwise disallows pipelines across national parks.
  • Limit the otherwise-required further analysis of alternatives to the ACP.
  • Leave decisions about key ACP permits entirely in the hands of federal agencies, which already have short-changed public and environmental review of ACP permits.

As a resource for your communication, see this set of talking points, with supporting citations, with detailed information about the fundamental lack of need for the ACP, and about the Fourth Circuit’s Forest Service decision and the Appalachian Trail.

SELC Challenges Virginia Air Board Decision

In a press release on February 8, 2019, the Southern Environmental Law Center announced their challenge of the Air Pollution Control Board on behalf of the Union Hill Community. The press release states:

Today the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of its client the Friends of Buckingham, challenged the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s decision to approve Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Buckingham County 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.

“The backdrop to the board’s decision about the compressor station is the mounting evidence that customers in Virginia do not need the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to meet their energy needs,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “When a project like this pipeline goes forward without a full and transparent evaluation of its public necessity, it unfairly puts communities like Union Hill in harm’s way.”

Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is already stymied because a federal court has vacated or put on hold multiple required permits for failing to comply with applicable law and federal agencies have themselves revoked other permits.