Category Archives: Press Releases

Supreme Court Overturns Fourth Circuit Ruling

On Monday June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the Cowpasture v. Forest Service case, reversing the decision of the Fourth Circuit that the Forest Service did not have authority to grant permission for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The vote was 7-2, with Justice Thomas writing the decision and Justices Kagen and Sotomayor dissenting. By reversing the Fourth Circuit ruling, the Court’s opinion says that federal law allows the U.S. Forest Service to grant developers of the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline a right-of-way across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Although Dominion will undoubtedly proclaim the Court’s ruling as a great victory, the fact remains that the ACP still faces numerous legal challenges, and lacks at least seven permits that it needs to move forward.  Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said “This is not a done deal. The project still has a lot of obstacles in front of it.”

In a Friends of Nelson press release, Doug Wellman, the group’s president, said, “While we are disappointed by the Forest Service v. Cowpasture decision, the great majority of the legal challenges to the Pipeline have been successful. As a result, the Pipeline lacks at least eight permits that it needs to move forward. We will continue to fight the Pipeline with every ounce of our energy to stop its destructive path through Nelson County and many other communities.”

Ernie Reed, formerly president of Friends of Nelson and currently a member of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, called attention to one of the current challenges facing the ACP: “We are focused on last Thursday’s announcement that the Forest Service has been forced to draft a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the ACP project. The George Washington National Forest, dozens of citizen groups and an amazing legal team still stand in the way of the ACP.”

In a press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Program Director D.J. Gerken says, “While today’s decision was not what we hoped for, it addresses only one of the many problems faced by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This is not a viable project. It is still missing many required authorizations, including the Forest Service permit at issue in today’s case, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon consider the mounting evidence that we never needed this pipeline to supply power. It’s time for these developers to move on and reinvest the billions of dollars planned for this boondoggle into the renewable energy that Virginia and North Carolina customers want and deserve.”

As the SELC press release further notes, “The Supreme Court’s decision comes at the same time that the purported need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, proposed in 2014, is receiving renewed scrutiny, as states are steering their energy economies away from fossil fuels. In March, Dominion Energy told Virginia regulators that the build out of new gas-fired power plants is no longer ‘viable’ in the state, and the Virginia Clean Economy Act signed into law in April requires that the utility shut down all of its existing gas plants by 2045. North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants of 70% over 2005 levels by 2030 and total carbon neutrality by 2050. …. [T]he exorbitant price tag for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to climb because of Dominion’s insistence on a harmful and risky route. Under these circumstances and at a time when the region is moving rapidly to 100% renewable energy, it’s unreasonable to expect customers to pay for this obsolete $8 billion fracked gas pipeline.”

The SELC press release lists some of the permits in question for the ACP:

  • Endangered Species Act permit (Biological Opinion) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Special use permit and right-of-way grant from the U.S. Forest Service
  • Right-of-way permit from the National Park Service
  • Virginia air pollution permit for the Union Hill compressor station
  • Four Clean Water Act authorizations from the Corps of Engineers for Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina
  • The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s central permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is under review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and arguments are expected later this year. The case will determine if FERC correctly determined that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was needed to fuel gas-fired power plants when it approved the project in 2017.

Read the Supreme Court opinion here.

Read the Friends of Nelson press release here.

Read the Southern Environmental Law Center’s press release here.

Status of legal challenges to ACP permits and certifications (as of June 16)

Media coverage, discussing various aspects of the decision and its ramifications:

Fossil Fueled Foolery

Press release from the NAACP, April Fool’s Day 2019:

BALTIMORE (April 1, 2019) On April Fools’ Day, the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Department is releasing, “Fossil Fueled Foolery: An Illustrated Primer on the Top 10 Manipulation Tactics of the Fossil Fuel Industry.” Read the report here.

The report takes aim at the well-documented strategies and tactics employed by fossil fuel companies, lobbyists and advocates to manipulate communities, policy makers, and academia in ways perpetuating polluting practices that harm communities and the environment.

“One of the most duplicitous strategies of the fossil fuel industry is manipulating messaging which feigns concern for the welfare of low income and communities of color. This is a self-serving effort to maintain their wealth,” says Kathy Egland, Chair of the NAACP National Board Committee on Environmental and Climate Justice. “The unmitigated gall, to use as pawns the very demographics that they have caused such disproportionate harm through their polluting practices, reflects the low levels to which they will sink. Greed has no moral or ethical bounds, and we will continue to expose their foolery in seeking to deceive our communities,” she added.

For Jacqueline Patterson, Senior Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, the key goal of this report is to empower NAACP branches, members and elected officials to understand the disingenuous ways in which this industry promotes policies dangerous to our communities and the planet.

“In releasing this paper, our central aim is to ensure that our branches, chapters, and state conferences are fully aware of the practices employed by too many in the fossil fuel industry, to attempt to entice them to act against the interests of the communities we serve,” said Patterson. “We also lift up the many examples where our local leaders see these machinations for what they are, resist, and lead in the transition to a new, sustainable and just energy economy,” she added.

Please download the report here.

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.

Statement from Union Hill Community

A powerful statement from the Union Hill community of Buckingham County, VA after their press conference on Saturday February 2, 2019, following Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to stay in office.

“For us who live or work in Union Hill, Buckingham, Virginia, the revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam engaged in racist behavior in medical school over thirty years ago are less troubling than his most recent actions, inactions, and silence about environmental racism related to the massive fracked gas compressor station to be built in Union Hill.

“When Gov. Northam removed two of the 5 Air Pollution Control Boards in the middle of a decision about that compressor station air permit after they raised questions of environmental [in]justice for that siting — his actions spoke loudly about his unwillingness to make donor sacrifices for his PAC required to make racial justice a reality in Virginia.

“His support of the actions of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to push through the controversial air permit for Union Hill speaks loudly that he is not committed to racial justice in our state. For, the VDEQ spokesman publicly erased the existence of Union Hill’s African American majority and labeled its history of “no significance.” That history is of former slaves building a freedmen community on plantations lands where they were once enslaved. And, whose present day residents are their descendants threatened by the carcinogenic cocktail of most harmful air emissions of Virginia’s ACP compressor station.

“Tellingly, Gov. Northam not only ignored the unanimous decision by his Advisory Council on Environmental Justice for him to issue a moratorium on the ACP and MVP pipelines until environmental justice reviews were taken, but disbanded that body of citizen experts to create a “new” EJ council with seats for the very corporate polluters whose toxic emissions were the reason for the EJ council formation.

“We ask you to consider the direct lines we see between the actions of a young man and his actions and silence when elected to the most powerful office in Virginia. It is not a matter of Democrat or Republican in state that was the capital of the Confederacy. It is a question of making the hard, ethical choices to do the daily work of restorative justice toward racial justice in Virginia.

“The following spokespersons for Union Hill are willing to speak with reporters today:

“Rev. Pastor Paul Wilson, pastor of Union Grove MIssionary Baptist Church and leader of the movement to stop the environmental injustice of the compressor station
Cell: (804) 356-4288

“Mr. John W. Laury, Union Hill farmer, veteran, Union Grove deacon, and freedman family descendant in Union Hill
Cell: (434) 390-7650

“Mrs. Ruby Laury, Union Hill, Friends of Buckingham steering committee member and Concern for the New Generation member
Cell: (434) 390-4824

“Dr. Lakshmi Fjord, anthropologist, Friends of Buckingham Steering Committee, principal researcher, Union Hill Community Study and History
Cell: (510) 684-1403”

See press coverage in the Daily Progress on February 2, 2019.

ACP’s Floodplain Variance Request Denied

On December 3, 2018, on a 3-2 vote, the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals denied four of Dominion’s applications for the variances to the County’s flood plain ordinance needed to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline across flood plains in Nelson. The other seven of the original eleven applications were dismissed in January 2018, and ACP will have to submit new applications for them.

The Nelson County Zoning Ordinance specifically includes “Structures or facilities that produce, use, store, or transport highly volatile, flammable, explosive, toxic, and/or water-reactive materials” in the list of “critical facilities [that] are prohibited from being constructed or operated within a SFHA [Special Floodplain Hazard Area] unless a Variance is granted.” (Article 10.15F on p. 87)

Friends of Nelson issued the following press release on December 4, 2018:

Friends of Nelson commends the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals for its 3-2 vote to deny the applications for variances that would allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross four floodplains along its route through Nelson. These four applications were deferred by Dominion earlier this year. ACP had originally filed applications for 11 floodplain sites, but easement agreements at that time were only in place for the 4 sites applied for and heard by the BZA on Dec. 3.

Board of Zoning Appeals’ member Gifford Childs, made the motion to deny, expressing concerns that the ACP’s application did not offer sufficient detail and assurances that these areas would be protected during construction.

Friends of Nelson agrees and remains very concerned about the inevitable negative impacts to our water, to surrounding properties, and the long-term damage to the fragile ecosystems that exist naturally in floodplain areas. We are convinced that the ACP’s plans do not meet the standards required by Nelson County’s current floodplain ordinance. The preferred route chosen by the ACP through 11 floodplain areas in Nelson is the highest number in any jurisdiction in Virginia, and begs the question of any earnest effort on the ACP’s part to avoid areas that will increase risks associated with large natural gas transmission pipelines. One of the major causes of pipeline “failures” is soil movement and the industry, as well as key agencies, recommend avoiding areas prone to flooding when selecting pipeline routes.

Friends of Nelson will continue to monitor the ACP’s applications on the remaining floodplain sites and is most grateful to the residents who commented during the public hearing.

See press coverage by the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Spruce Creek Camp: Report on Final Weekend

Oct. 22nd, 2018, For Immediate Release
Contact: Jill Averitt 434-262-3417,

Spruce Creek Camp Weekend 3: Camptivists Gather on Land Threatened by ACP

Activists opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) invited the public to camp on property in its path the first three weekends in October to learn why Nelson County residents are fighting to prevent its construction.

During the final weekend of camp, attendees heard talks and presentations from a number of Nelson County citizen experts, toured local properties that would be affected by the pipeline, and participated in workshops and discussions.

Host landowner and anti-pipeline activist Richard Averitt described the camp property and his family’s plans to build an eco-resort there. He led a tour of the site and showed the group the deleterious effects the ACP would have on the Spruce Creek waterbody. He also showed a slide presentation he recently gave to a Congressional hearing on how this destructive project has affected his family both on camp land and where his family has residences.

Charlie Hickox, Friends of Nelson board member, presented a brief history of Nelson and described the devastating effects Hurricane Camille had on the county, due to the intense rain and landslides that resulted in 124 Nelson citizens losing their lives. He emphasized that the unstable soils on our steep slopes, coupled with extreme precipitation events (brought on by climate change) have a high probability of failing again during or after construction of a 42” diameter pipeline. Such integrity failure would most likely result in explosions and fire due to the volatile nature of natural gas put under 1400 + psi pressure.

Joyce Burton, Friends of Nelson land owner liaison, described how individual properties in the immediate vicinity would be impacted by the pipeline. Effects include contamination of drinking water, wetland and stream bed degradation, ridgetop and old growth tree removal, the economic impact on a newly built country inn, and in one case, elimination of an entire residence due to the proximity of the ACP pipe to its septic and water systems.

In the afternoon Joyce hiked with camptivists up Robert’s Mountain to see just how steep one of these ridges that the pipeline is proposed to go though actually is. Participants got to see firsthand the narrow slope that would be significantly “reduced” in height.

Mike Tabony, local resident, school lecturer, and frequent writer of letters to the editor to local newspapers, gave a detailed slide presentation on Climate Change and Global Warming. One point he made was that increasing global temperatures result in catastrophic sea level rise with major implications for Virginia’s coast line, especially in the heavily populated Norfolk/Hampton Roads area where one segment of the ACP is proposed to end.

Lara Gastinger, an internationally recognized botanical illustrator and lead illustrator of the book, Flora of Virginia, presented a workshop on illustrating and journaling plants. Participants walked the Averitt’s property collecting plant materials and then sketched and painted them using fine point pens and watercolors.

Weston Mathews, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, Virginia and co-director of the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice (IACJ), gave an insightful talk on the necessity for action and collaboration beyond borders of Nelson County, expanding the notion of what it means to relate to someone as a neighbor. His IACJ organization generously funds Native Americans under duress due to climate events, bail for arrested protesters, and supports many other environmental justice organizations and activities.

Ben Cunningham from the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) presented and demonstrated the Pipeline CSI mapping application and made a request for volunteers to monitor and report violations of erosion controls and water quality protections found during pipeline construction.

Doug Wellman, vice president of Friends of Nelson, discussed local alternatives to gas and coal power generation. Roof top solar projects exist in the county on residences, schools and community centers. There are also solar alternative projects being done by the utilities and electric coops themselves, as well as many nearby commercial projects. The energy source profile is changing but many laws and regulations still need to catch up. Sadly, off-shore wind, a stable energy source in many European countries, is just now beginning to be implemented in Virginia. Doug reminded us that energy conservation remains an effective strategy, especially for low income residents who would directly benefit from paying smaller utility bills.

Ernie Reed, former president of Friends of Nelson and current member of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, showed the group a recent Powerpoint presentation he made to Sweet Briar students. Later he discussed how the attendees could influence decision makers and the media in this fight, and the importance of continuing to mount legal challenges. He advocated having as many tools as possible to fight pipelines in order to preserve our environment and property rights.

Susan McSwain, a Nelson County master naturalist, led the group on a nature walk where she identified native and invasive plants.

The weekend camping events brought together people from Oregon, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland, as well as from many cities and counties in Virginia. Participants learned about Nelson County, its history, natural resources, beauty, susceptibility to landslides, and the vulnerabilities to its tourism businesses. Campers were briefed by our knowledgeable citizen task force on the lack of property rights, legal matters now in the courts, the deleterious effects of pipelines on local flora and fauna, and, finally, on the reasons why this project is totally unnecessary. Natural gas demand in the Commonwealth is flat and alternatives such as solar, offshore wind and conservation have become much more attractive and competitive. As Nelson has stated from the beginning of this struggle: No Pipeline.