SWCB Votes 4-3 to Approve ACP – Subject to Delays and Conditions

On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4 to 3 to approve certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, the approval does not immediately grant the 401 water permits requested by Dominion; it is subject to certain conditions and to information which must be provided by the ACP. The permit can’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by DEQ, including soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans. Although this is not an outright denial of the permits, it does not allow Dominion to move forward at this time.

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s weekly ABRA Update (December 14, 2017) describes the hearings as ” a two-day meeting that varied from moment to moment between serious presentations and deliberations and utter confusion exhibited by the staff of the Department of Environmental Quality. For those persons present for the proceedings, it was a regulatory roller coaster ride.”  The ABRA Update also says, “The final language of the Board’s action has at this writing not been posted on the DEQ webpage for the ACP project. But, according to information available at the meeting, the following appears to be the relevant operative language in the motion adopted by the Board:

This certificate shall be effective only following submission, review, and final approval as required by law of the Karst Mitigation Plan, Annual Standards and Specifications, Stormwater Plans, and Erosion and Sediment Control Plans, and a report to the Board and the public by DEQ on the adequacy of these materials. The Board may consider further actions on the Certification following the review of the DEQ report.” 

A statement from Chesapeake Climate Action Network says, “Bowing to unprecedented opposition from landowners and environmentalists, the Virginia State Water Control Board today threw a wrench in the plans of Governor Terry McAuliffe and Dominion Energy to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for fracked gas. The board voted 4-3 to approve the project under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, but dependent on a final review of several environmental studies. The vote delays Dominion’s plan to begin near-term construction of the 600-mile pipeline. The decision likely means this issue will be delayed into 2018 and into the administration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam, who has taken a less openly supportive stance on the pipeline due to environmental concerns.”

In the video below, Bill Hayden, spokesperson for the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality, struggles to answer questions from reporters on the status of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline after DEQ’s decision on December 12, 2017. When asked by reporters why the DEQ didn’t require full environmental studies from Dominion BEFORE the Water Control Board hearing today, he says, “I don’t know.” When asked how long the vote today could delay a start date for the ACP, he says at least “March or April.” That’s because the sedimentation study on the pipeline alone won’t be complete till then. He indicates that the SWCB left the door open to remand this permit for cause once the reports are completed. Dominion cannot start construction until all these reports are submitted and approved Obviously DEQ and Governor McAuliffe and Dominion were completely surprised by the delay vote today.