Reviewing the SWCB’s Actions (or Lack Thereof)

Writing in the Virginia Mercury on March 5, 2019, Robert Zullo flatly states, “Citizen oversight of Virginia’s environmental regulations increasingly looks like a farce.” After an hours-long closed session on March 1, 2019, the Virginia State Water Control Board emerged with a unanimous decision to rescind its earlier call for a hearing on rescinding the Mountain Valley Pipeline certification. When called on to explain the decision, Board members fumbled through a few flimsy explanations and excuses before adjourning the meeting and fleeing the room behind a wall of state troopers. According to Zullo, “One audience member loudly pointed out that the cops would be more useful lined up at the base of mountains in southwest Virginia to stop the mud running off the pipeline job sites.”

Despite numerous well-documented Virginia violations and the prior poor compliance history of the construction contractor, continues unabated, MVP construction continues unabated, fouling private property and waterways with uncontrolled sediment.

Zullo says of the SWCB, “Their logic, evidently the best they could come up with despite so much time to get their story straight, went something like this:

  • We do not have the authority revoke the certification (which is odd, because the certification itself says “This certification is subject to revocation for failure to comply with the above conditions after a proper hearing.”)
  • If we did revoke the certification that we don’t have the authority to revoke, we would lose all the conditions that we placed in that certification (which are obviously doing a bang-up job of preventing environmental damage).
  • If we revoke the certification we don’t have the authority to revoke, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will disregard the action and allow construction to continue anyway.”

Zullo’s article concludes, “Between the water board debacle and Gov. Ralph Northam’s interference with the air board, removing two members seemingly to ensure that the board didn’t reject a crucial permit for a compressor station that is part of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citizen oversight of Virginia’s environmental agency and the regulations it enforces is looking increasingly like a sad farce. To perform their proper role, they need to be determined, independently well-versed on the issues and, perhaps most importantly, unafraid of upsetting the apple cart in a state where going along to get along when big business is involved is par for the course. Lately, they don’t seem up to the job.”

Read the full article here.

An editorial in the March 7, 2019, Roanoke Times says Something’s not right with water board, and, quoting Sokolow, asks:

  • “‘If Virginia had no authority to revoke its Section 401 permit once it issued it in December 2017, why did Mark Herring’s office approve of language in that permit expressly saying that Virginia could revoke the permit?’
  • “‘If it is so obvious that federal law prevents Virginia from revoking the MVP permit, why did it take Mark Herring 14 months to discover that the advice he gave in 2017 was not valid?’
  • And, finally: ‘Why have the board and Mark Herring not lifted a finger to do what they clearly do have the power to do, and issue a stop work order — or seek a court injunction to do so? If Virginia’s stop work statute does not apply to a situation where a pipeline company is under criminal investigation, has been sued by the state for more than 300 documented violations, and there is a record of ongoing violations, then when would it ever apply?'”

The editorial concludes, “Those seem good questions — which deserve good answers. Or even any answer.”