Fossil Fuel Divestment II

In a January 1, 2018, post we discussed the news release from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announcing that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels and an almost simultaneous statement from the comptroller of the city of New York that the city was actively investigating methods for “ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil-fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy.” The NY state pension fund totals two hundred billion dollars, making it one of the twenty largest pools of money on Earth, and the city’s pension funds add up to a hundred and ninety billion dollars, also in the top twenty.

On January 11, 2018, The Guardian reported that on January 10 New York City leaders, “at a press conference in a neighborhood damaged over five years ago by Hurricane Sandy, announced that the city was divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels, and added for good measure that they were suing the five biggest oil companies for damages. Our planet’s most important city was now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial. …. Smart money has been pouring into renewables; dumb money has stuck with fossil fuel, even as it underperformed markets for the last half-decade. Just two months ago Norway’s vast sovereign wealth fund began to divest, which was a pretty good signal: if even an oil industry stalwart thought the game was up, they were probably right.”

In addition to divesting $5 billion in their funds from fossil fuels, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had just filed a lawsuit against major five fossil fuel firms – BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell – for their contributions to climate change, saying they “knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits.”

According to a January 10 Guardian article, “Court documents state that New York has suffered from flooding and erosion due to climate change and because of looming future threats it is seeking to ‘shift the costs of protecting the city from climate change impacts back on to the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat.’ The court filing claims that just 100 fossil fuel producers are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution, with the five targeted companies the largest contributors. The case will also point to evidence that firms such as Exxon knew of the impact of climate change for decades, only to downplay and even deny this in public. New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is investigating Exxon over this alleged deception.”

Writing in The Intercept on January 11, 2018, Naomi Klein says, “Now, with New York City’s lawsuit for climate damages, the market is confronting the prospect of a cascade of similar legal actions — cities, towns, and countries all suing the industry for billions or even (combined) trillions of dollars in damages caused by sea-level rise and extreme weather events. The more suits that get filed, the more the market will have to factor in the possibility of fossil fuel companies having to pay out huge settlements in the near to medium term, much as the tobacco companies were forced to in past decades. As that threat becomes more credible, with more players taking New York City’s lead, the investor case for dumping these stocks as overly high risk will be strengthened, thereby lending a potent new tool to the fossil fuel divestment movement. A virtuous cycle. Oh, and the more we are able to hit the industry in the pocketbook, the less likely costly new drilling and pipeline projects will be to go ahead….”

FERC Denies Constitution Pipeline Petition

On January 11, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Constitution Pipeline’s petition asking FERC to find that New York state wrongly denied the project a key permit.

In April 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation denied Constitution Pipeline a water quality permit, which is required for the project to progress. Constitution challenged the DEC denial and in August 2017, a U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the company’s argument that the DEC was “arbitrary and capricious” in denying a water quality permit. One of Constitution’s argument to FERC was that the NY DEC failed to give its decision within a reasonable amount of time, but FERC said New York had made its decision within a reasonable amount of time — within one year of the pipeline’s most recent appeal. Constitution Pipeline has 30 days from the January 11 FERC order to appeal and then FERC has 30 days from an appeal request to act.

Despite being repeatedly denied permits in New York, Constitution Pipeline has all its permits in Pennsylvania, and there, despite objections of property owners, trees have already been cleared in preparation for construction.  Here’s a re-post of an article from September 2017 that spells out the mess early tree-cutting has caused for Pennsylvania landowners on the Constitution pipeline route. Half the sugar maple trees (550 of them!) on one family’s maple sugar farm a few miles from the NY border were cut – and then the pipeline was blocked by neighboring New York. 

Read the news report from WAMC on the January 2018 decision.
Read the press release on the NY Attorney General’s filing in 2016.
Read about the August 2017 decision by the US Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

January 18, 2018 update from Kallanish Energy:  Constitution Pipeline files petition with U.S. Supreme Court. “Constitution Pipeline Co. is taking its fight with New York state to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kallanish Energy reports. The project sponsors, in a Tuesday statement, said, ‘We continue to believe that this federally-approved project has been unjustly prohibited from construction.’ The $1 billion, 121-mile natural gas pipeline is a joint project of Williams Cos., Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and WGL Holdings. The company has petitioned the nation’s highest court to review the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Last Aug. 18, that court denied Constitution’s challenge after the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation denied the company’s application for water-quality certification. A rehearing request was denied by the appeals court on Oct. 19. On Jan. 11, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission upheld the New York decision, even though FERC had approved the project.”

ACP Construction Yard in Augusta County

At their January 4, 2018, meeting the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals considered Dominion’s application for the required permit to use a 34 acre site in Churchville, currently zoned as agricultural, for two years as a storage yard for ACP construction materials, equipment, fuel and worker trailers. At least 400 workers would be coming and going from the site each day, 6 days a week, and large trucks and equipment would be traveling between the site and the proposed pipeline construction site 10-20 miles away. The property in question is on winding Rt. 42, designated as a Scenic Highway.

About Special Use Permits, the Augusta County General Code says, “No Special Use Permit shall be issued without consideration that, in addition to conformity with any standards set forth in this chapter for Special Use Permit uses, the following general standards will be met either by the proposal made in the application or by the proposal as modified or amended and made part of the Special Use Permit:

  • 1. Conformity with Comprehensive Plan and policies. The proposal as submitted or as modified shall conform to the Comprehensive Plan of the county or to specific elements of such plan, and to official policies adopted in relation thereto, including the purposes of this chapter.
  • 2. Impact on neighborhood. The proposal as submitted or as modified shall not have undue adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”

The Augusta County Comprehensive Plan states, “Agriculture will continue to be the predominant land use in the county and a major part of the economy. The county’s scenic beauty and natural environment will be preserved, with farms, forests, mountains, rivers and streams providing the framework and context for development in the urban areas, and continuing to define the landscape in the rural areas.”

More than 250 people turned out at the BZA meeting to speak against the application, including Ryan Blosser, whose adjacent 4-acre organic farm is downhill, downwind, and downstream from the proposed yard, meaning it no longer would be possible for him to maintain his organic status and the organic CSAs which are his family’s livelihood. When the BZA members asked Dominion if they had discussed their plans with the Blossers, the answer (not surprisingly) was “No.” When they were asked if they were planning on compensating the Blossers for the hardship they were imposing upon them, the answer (again not surprisingly) was “No.” Dominion representatives initially stated at the meeting that they have “no responsibility” to their neighbors. The BZA tabled any decision on the matter and will consider it again at their next regular meeting on February 1 at 1:30.

Read the News Virginian coverage of the meeting here, and read Ryan Blosser’s impassioned letter to the editor here. A Facebook page, Augusta County Standoff, is following the issue. A petition page asks the Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals to turn down the application. You may send email opposing the application to Sandra Bunch (Secretary), sbunch@co.augusta.va.us.

The YouTube video below is a 20-second time lapse of a Rover Pipeline construction yard over a three year period, 2014-2017.

North Carolina Delays ACP Again

Southeast Energy News reported on January 10, 2018, that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been delayed – again – by North Carolina regulators.

“North Carolina regulators Wednesday announced the latest round of setbacks for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline — delaying a decision on the project’s clean water certificate until as late as February and postponing several other environmental permits. Virginia-based Dominion Resources had hoped to break ground last year on the $5.5 billion pipeline, slated to transport natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and the Tar Heel state. Duke Energy, which seeks fuel for its gas-fired power plants, is the venture’s second major investor. The feds approved the project in October, and just a few regulatory hurdles remain in the Virginias. But in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has moved more slowly — soliciting nearly 24,000 citizen comments on the pipeline and repeatedly asking for more information about its impact on air and water quality. So far, regulators here have issued only one of several licenses Dominion needs to begin construction.”

The article lists the status of five tests the pipeline must pass to become reality in North Carolina: tests on air quality, rivers and streams, sedimentation and erosion, polluted runoff, and environmental justice.

Read the full article here.

Legislators Introduce Pipeline Legislation

Delegate Chris Hurst, Delegate Sam Rasoul, and Senator John Edwards held a joint press conference on January 11, 2018, to discuss legislation they’ve introduced to the 2018 Virginia General Assembly aimed at protecting water quality and landowner rights from the construction of fracked-gas pipelines, such as the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. The bills would require the Department of Environmental Quality to perform robust water permitting and impact review, and restrict the ability of pipeline companies to access private property,

The bills are (click on the links to see the full bill):

  • HB 1187 (Curtails the ability of a natural gas company to enter upon real property for the purpose of conducting surveys and other tests for its proposed line or the location of facilities) and HB 1188 (Requires the operator of any natural gas pipeline of a certain size, prior to operation, to commission an independent test of the quality of ground water for each property in the right-of-way and to file a gas discharge contingency plan that is approved by the State Water Control Board (the Board), introduced by Delegate Chris Hurst)
  • HB 1141 (Directs the State Water Control Board (the Board), regarding interstate natural gas pipeline projects, to (i) require both a Virginia Water Protection Permit and an Individual Water Quality Certification under § 401 of the federal Clean Water Act; (ii) review water body crossings, construction through karst terrain, and plans for control of erosion, sediment, and stormwater; (iii) prohibit any land-disturbing activity, including tree felling, prior to the issuance of a Water Quality Certification; and (iv) require horizontal directional drilling for certain crossings of large water bodies) and HB 1294 (Requires any company that plans to construct an interstate natural gas pipeline in Virginia to post a performance bond with the State Water Control Board (the Board) in an amount sufficient to ensure that the Board could address and remediate any adverse water quality impact that arises out of the construction) introduced by Delegate Sam Rasoul
  • SB 324 (Curtails the ability of a natural gas company to enter upon real property for the purpose of conducting surveys and other tests for its proposed line or the location of facilities – a companion to HB 1187 above) introduced by Senator John Edwards.

Brief Radio Piece: Dominion and Scana

A 3-minute radio spot on WTJU on January 9, 2018, discusses Dominion’s purchase of Scana, and South Carolina’s potential as a market for and extension of the ACP, continuing from the NC-SC border to Elba Island near Savannah, where there is a massive gas export facility. Remember that not only has Dominion repeatedly and publicly denied that any of the gas is for export, they wrote it into the Purpose and Need section of their FERC application.