August 2019 News

August 2019

8-31-19 Lynchburg News & Advance. Letter: Amherst caved to Dominion. “I am writing in response to The News & Advance’s Aug. 15 article, ‘Amherst council approves lease to ACP.’ This is disappointing news to hear that Amherst will support Dominion Energy in its crusade to destroy our environment. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a colossal waste of time and money. It is incredibly unpopular project and costs Virginians land, money and resources for clean energy. By allowing Dominion to set up in Amherst, the town is compliant with the power companies efforts to undermine a clean energy future.”

8-31-19 Washington Post. Editorial: Even the fossil-fuel industry doesn’t like the EPA’s methane rollback. “Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency moved Thursday to lift limits on potent greenhouse gas emissions from the drilling and transportation of natural gas, a major fuel source for electric power plants, heating systems and industrial processes. Not only would this be bad for the environment, but also it might well do more harm than good for the fossil-fuel industry. …. [I]ndustry should have welcomed President Barack Obama’s moves to require methane emissions control in natural gas production and transportation, rules that came into force in 2016. In fact, several major fossil-fuel players have embraced the regulations. For relatively inexpensive upgrades and procedures that enable natural gas producers to capture and sell more product, the rules allowed the industry to argue that methane leakage across the industry would be minimized and that natural gas could be, at least for a time, part of a serious climate strategy. Yet others opposed the new rules. This is no surprise, given recent research on methane leakage, which found massive leaks from relatively few “superemitters” in the business. The regulations would have hit bad actors hardest; the bad actors did not like that. And the Trump administration just sided with them. The EPA’s proposal would substantially weaken the Obama-era rules and keep natural gas’s reputation tarnished — all to save the industry a mere $17 million to $19 million a year. It is counterproductive in every conceivable sense.”

8-29-19 S&P Global. Green groups say no high court review needed on Atlantic Coast Pipeline hurdle. “Environmental groups weighed in against US Supreme Court action to free up the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline, countering assertions that an appeals court ruling left unchecked could have widespread implications for eastern US energy projects. …. Disputing that sense of urgency for the Supreme Court to hear the case, environmental groups in a brief to the Supreme Court Wednesday noted that there are three remaining bases for the 4th Circuit judgment that threaten to make a Supreme Court decision irrelevant to the pipeline.”

8-29-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dominion claimed excess profits of $277 million in 2018, according to SCC report. “Dominion Energy claimed excess profits of $277.3 million in 2018, a return of 13.47%, topping the 9.2% approved by regulators for most of Dominion’s spending, according to an update on the state of electric regulation published Thursday. The report compiled by the State Corporation Commission also shows that typical residential bills of Dominion Energy customers in Virginia have increased 26% since 2007 — from $90.59 to $113.76 — but are down $2.76 from last year. …. According to Thursday’s report, the combined overearnings from 2017 and 2018 that would qualify for customer refunds amount to $379.7 million — though that’s not what Dominion is planning to do. In explaining Thursday’s excess earning figures, Dominion Energy spokeswoman Audrey Cannon said the company has ‘already identified more than $750 million to spend on our offshore wind pilot and smart meters,’ that will improve energy generation and delivery. Environmental and consumer advocacy groups criticized the regulatory system and business model that they say overcharges ratepayers without hope for a refund.”

8-29-19 WV Public Radio. As Pipeline Construction Booms, Citizens Take Inspections Into Their Own Hands. “‘Pipeline construction releases a lot of sediment and sediment-laden water — muddy water — into what would otherwise be clear and pristine streams,’ said Autumn Crowe, senior scientist with West Virginia Rivers. ‘That sediment, when it gets into the water body, it has multiple negative impacts on aquatic life and water quality.’ West Virginia Rivers collects the complaints and submits them to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The group worked with WVDEP’s enforcement department to develop the training materials. Crowe said citizen monitoring, including this most recent ‘violations blitz,’ fills an enforcement gap in West Virginia. ‘What the vio-blitz was showing us is that there were multiple issues along the entire route that were not being addressed,’ she said. ‘And if not for our volunteers, a lot of those issues would have gone unnoticed.'”

8-29-19 New York Times.  E.P.A. to Roll Back Regulations on Methane, a Potent Greenhouse Gas. “The Trump administration is set to announce on Thursday that it intends to sharply curtail the regulation of methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change, according to an industry official with knowledge of the plan. The Environmental Protection Agency, in a proposed rule, will aim to eliminate federal government requirements that the oil and gas industry put in place technology to inspect for and repair methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. The proposed rollback is particularly notable because major oil and gas companies have, in fact, opposed it, just as some other industries have opposed the Trump administration’s other major moves to dismantle climate change and other environmental rules put in place by President Barack Obama.”

8-29-19 Politico. A step too far for the Appalachian Trail. “Dominion Energy wants to run a massive pipeline across America’s treasured Appalachian National Scenic Trail and some of the least developed wildlands remaining in the East. This isn’t just a bad idea, it’s an unprecedented one. Dominion, the Virginia-based power giant that serves customers in 18 states, wants to do something that has never been done in the half century since the iconic hiking path was enshrined in law: force a pipeline across the Appalachian Trail on federal land managed by the Forest Service. To get its way, the company must persuade lawmakers to overturn a federal court decision and change a law that has protected important parts of the trail for almost 50 years. Congress should say no. …. Dominion’s pipeline would permanently affect the trail experience on these protected federal lands, carving up a largely forested mountain landscape with a cleared right-of-way the width of a multi-lane highway. To achieve its goal, Dominion has courted Trump appointees eager to promote the administration’s energy-at-any-cost agenda.”

8-28-19 Virginia Mercury. Federal agency reopens review of key permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The federal agency tasked with overseeing natural gas pipeline construction reopened the review process Wednesday for a key permit underpinning the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline. In a letter dated Aug. 28, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it will ‘reinitiate consultation’ to assess the project’s impacts on four endangered or threatened species. The move follows an Aug. 15 decision by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, the developer behind the project, to voluntarily suspend all construction activities that could negatively harm two freshwater fish species, the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, as well as the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat. Reinitiating consultation does not on its own stop work on the project, but it does open the possibility that the permit — which is essential to the completion of work — will be withdrawn or that regulators will impose significant new restrictions on the project.”

8-27-19 Sierra. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Risky and Costly . . . and Unnecessary. “Dominion Energy is determined to complete the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which if built would carry more than a billion cubic feet of fracked gas 600 miles from the mountains of Appalachia to North Carolina and the Virginia coast daily. But so far, Dominion and its partners are batting 0 for 4 when it comes to securing key construction permits for the project. A string of court decisions have stopped construction on the ACP, and the pipeline’s backers are hemorrhaging cash. Adding insult to injury, some energy analysts say it might not even be necessary. …. The serial setbacks have cost Dominion, which is building the pipeline with Duke Energy and Southern Company, money and its reputation. Each week that goes by without felling a tree or digging a trench costs up to $20 million. The project is now estimated to cost almost $8 billion—more than 50 percent higher than originally thought—with full operation pushed back to 2021. In February, Moody’s Investor Service changed its rating of the ACP to “credit negative,” citing the project’s ballooning costs and delays.”

8-25-19 Power. FERC’s LaFleur Decries Partisanship and Politicization. “‘I hate to see things going out along party lines,’ Cheryl LaFleur, outgoing commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), told POWER during an exclusive interview. ‘During my 35 years of watching FERC, that has not been the pattern.’ During the early years of the Obama administration, “we didn’t think of ourselves as [partisan],” she said. The first whiff of partisan politics she detected was in the second Obama administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ambitious agenda to clean up coal plant pollution through the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan. Congressional Republicans tried to use FERC and reliability issues to foil Obama’s plans, but the commission avoided an inter-agency collision. …. LaFleur said she hopes the administration moves swiftly to fill the two vacancies on the five-member commission. One Republican seat is vacant along with LaFleur’s Democratic seat, leaving a bare three-member quorum. If any one of the current members recuses himself during a proceeding, the commission will be unable to decide the case.”

8-25-19 Blue Virginia. Failure of Our Regulatory, Political and Legal Systems on Stark Display with Mountain Valley Pipeline Debacle in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “The failure of our regulatory, political and legal systems is on spectacular display in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, with the destructive, fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) now forced onto its landscape. This environmental calamity called MVP is a 100-mile destruction zone, whose completion is mightily challenged not only by steep mountains, dogged opposition and several endangered species, but also by the U.S. natural gas glut created by the industry itself, as pipelines race to convey fracked gas to coastal LNG markets. That race is creating an oversupply. Now, low natural gas prices, paired with a historically-expensive/way-over-budget MVP, spells unmarketability for its gas. Yet construction accelerates trying to outpace justice. The devastating result of Virginia corruption’s baby, MVP, is now on display from the air, mountaintops, valleys, local roads, I-81, rural homes, communities, farms, streams and rivers and the imminent danger of spectacular gas explosions escorts all those places.”

8-24-19 Roanoke Times. Report outlines improvements for an underfunded, struggling DEQ. “Virginia’s environmental agency has a daunting to-do list: dealing with climate change, offsetting regulatory rollbacks at the federal level, cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and monitoring work on the largest natural gas pipeline ever built in the state, to name just a few. Yet the Department of Environmental Quality is being asked to do more with less state funding, fewer employees, and an outdated set of regulations. That’s according to a report issued by Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. In April 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam commissioned the report as part of an executive order that called for the ‘revitalization’ of DEQ.”

8-24-19 Blue Virginia. Mountain Valley Pipeline, EQT Not Having a Good Day…Week…Month…Year…etc. “Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just told MVP, LLC that it has seven days (by 8/29) to convince the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals not to shoot them down on a motion for a stay, filed yesterday, by a coalition of environmental groups led by Sierra Club, CCAN and Defenders of Wildlife.”

8-22-19 Virginia Mercury. Why the Mountain Valley Pipeline is uniquely risky. “On Aug. 8, Mountain Valley Pipeline requested ’emergency authorization’ from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to repair an eight-acre landslide that ‘has progressed to the point where a residence directly downslope is unsafe to be occupied.’ Unfortunately, events like this are almost expected; MVP chose to route, and FERC chose to approve, this titanic 42-inch diameter, 303-mile pipeline across several hundred of miles of ‘high landslide potential’ areas. While MVP is not the first pipeline to cross unstable terrain, nor the first pipeline to be located in landslide-prone Appalachia, is MVP actually any different from previously built pipelines? The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.'”

8-21-19 Energy News Network. In North Carolina, novel legal maneuver deployed against Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “With the Atlantic Coast Pipeline mired in federal lawsuits and its construction stalled indefinitely, North Carolina environmental advocates are attempting a novel legal maneuver to stop the gas project from ever coming to the Tar Heel State. Friends of the Earth and the North Carolina Climate Solutions Coalition have filed a petition with the administration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, asking officials to revoke a key water quality certificate they issued for the pipeline early last year. The filing rests on a little-known administrative rule that allows state officials to cancel the certificate if the conditions around its approval change, or if the information justifying it turns out to be wrong. Petitioners say a revocation is warranted because — among other reasons — developers vastly understated the project’s environmental footprint, especially at its proposed terminus in Robeson County. A request like this hasn’t been made recently, if ever, and no one knows quite how it will proceed. At a minimum, it will reignite debate over the pipeline’s impacts in Robeson, one of the poorest and most racially diverse counties in the country. At its most successful, the petition could kill the project altogether.”

8-20-19 Energy News Network. Rural Virginia activist, 75, vows to ‘keep on fighting’ Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “It was the lyrical, three-note song of the whippoorwill that lured Ella Rose back home to retire in rural Buckingham County seven years ago. Now, she fears the bird’s mesmerizing call will be drowned out — and its natural habitat ruined — if Dominion Energy proceeds with construction of a natural gas pipeline compressor station it has permission to build roughly one-third of a mile from the house that has become her haven. …. The thought of losing that serenity prompted the 75-year-old to find her voice and articulate the threats Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline poses to this tiny rural community settled after the Civil War by free blacks and former slaves.

8-19-19 The Intercept. Oil Lobbyist Touts Success in Effort to Criminalize Pipeline Protests, Leaked Recording Shows. “The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a powerful lobbying group that represents major chemical plants and oil refineries, including Valero Energy, Koch Industries, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Marathon Petroleum, has flexed its muscle over environmental and energy policy for decades. Despite its reach, AFPM channels dark money and influence with little scrutiny. The group is now leveraging its political power to criminalize protests of oil and gas infrastructure. In an audio recording obtained by The Intercept, the group concedes that it has been playing a role behind the scenes in crafting laws recently passed in states across the country to criminalize oil and gas pipeline protests, in response to protests over the Dakota Access pipeline. The laws make it a crime to trespass on public land used for “critical infrastructure,” impose a fine or prison time for violators, and hold protesters responsible for damage incurred during the protest. Many of the laws also carry heavy fines to groups and individuals who support such demonstrations.”

8-19-19 Kallanish Energy. Agency finds Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction problem. “The troubled Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline has run into even more troubles, Kallanish Energy reports. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (Phmsa) has cited the pipeline, which originates in the Appalachian Basin, for ‘unsafe construction practices at work sites.’ The company failed to follow written specifications or standards in ditching and laying pipe, the agency said. Dominion Energy Transmission was ordered to correct the problems. The problems were discovered last December during federal inspections, but the agency released a four-page warning letter to the pipeline on July 25, E&E News reported. …. The letter to Dominion Energy Transmission warned of probable pipeline violations. It cites instances of the pipeline being placed within ‘a rock-laden ditch,’ which poses a risk. Another pipeline section was ‘abutting rock-laden trench walls’ and close to boulders that could cause pipeline problems in the future. The pipeline ditch was too narrow in another case to allow easy access for inspections and work.”

8-16-19 Richmond Times Dispatch. With Hurricane Camille in mind, Nelson County worries about potential steep price for pipeline. “The scope of Nelson’s vulnerability has become clearer in the early stages of a new federally funded study by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy that has already identified more than 5,900 landslides and debris flows, almost all caused by Camille. About 4,800 sites identified by the study represent debris flows —each a narrow flood of mud, rock, trees and other debris that moves quickly and crushes anything in its path. ‘They’re very dangerous,’ said Anne Carter Witt, a state geohazards geologist who is directing the study, focused on mapping landslide hazards in western Nelson and Albemarle counties. ‘Everything coming down Davis Creek was pretty much an enormous debris flow.’ …. [A] study by Blackburn Consulting Services relied on field testing of geology and slopes that focused on three areas vulnerable to landslides…. The pipeline company’s plans for reducing the threat of landslides ‘do not appear to fully take into account the potentially dangerous conditions that the project poses to Nelson’s slopes and residents,’ Blackburn states in the report, which raises concerns about the effect of removing trees, excavating soil and blasting rock on already unstable mountain ridges. …. Friends of Nelson estimates that the pipeline route passes through or near 60 debris flows and 10 debris slides documented from Camille in a new state study. …. Mervin J. Bartholomew, a North Carolina geologist who wrote a 1977 state guide to the geology of thearea that includes Reeds Gap, warned federal regulators more than two years ago that the planned pipeline route ‘is inadvisable and the risk of failure is high.'”

8-15-19 Progressive Pulse. Several members of Lumbee tribe, climate coalition ask DEQ to revoke Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit; EPA proposes to clamp down on states’ authority. “While the Trump administration proposed rules to strip states of some authority to reject natural gas pipelines, opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline petitioned state regulators to revoke the water quality permit for the controversial project. ‘We asked the department to consider the new information in the petition today,’ said Donna Chavis, a member of the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County and Friends of the Earth, during a press conference at the legislature. ‘The cumulative impacts are worse than previously thought. We urge DEQ to reconsider its decision. We believe they want to do what is right.’ …. he petitioners, including the NC Climate Coalition, say ACP and FERC made math errors and failed to disclose ACP’s possible extension into South Carolina, also known as “segmentation.” ACP also failed to evaluate the cumulative impacts of nine natural gas projects on the Lumbee community, according to the petition. And since DEQ issued the 401 permit, there have been court rulings directing regulators to also consider the effects of energy projects on climate change. Ryan Emanuel, a hydrologist and Lumbee, said the ACP and FERC both erred in their environmental justice analysis because they compared the demographics of the affected census tracts with the rest of the county average, rather than the state.”

8-15-19 Think Progress. Appalachian pipelines face new setbacks amid renewed national scrutiny. “Two controversial pipeline projects in the South and Appalachia have hit new stumbling blocks regarding safety concerns and legal challenges that could further delay construction. Both the Atlantic Coast pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley pipeline (MVP) have faced numerous setbacks and ongoing opposition from locals, even as developers have pushed ahead. But the latest complications come amid a resurgence of anti-pipeline sentiment, as some Democratic presidential contenders take aim at fossil fuel infrastructure more generally and national concern over climate change mounts. This week it was revealed that a ‘warning letter’ was sent by federal inspectors last month to Dominion Energy, the lead company behind the ACP, warning that the pipeline’s work sites in parts of West Virginia are unsafe. As E&E reported Thursday, the four-page document says that during a December inspection, they found workers laying parts of the pipeline in rock-lined ditches, posing a safety hazard. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sternly rebuked Dominion, stating that the pipeline’s positioning could leave it ‘susceptible to potential stresses and/or damage’ in the case of movement, as is common during hydrostatic testing (done to examine potential leaks and structural integrity). Moreover, the pipe was found to be in close proximity to unsupported boulders, which could impact the pipeline should they shift.”

8-15-19 Roanoke Times. Mountain Valley suspends work on pipeline. “Developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have voluntarily suspended work on parts of the embattled project, three days after a lawsuit raised questions about its impact on endangered species. In a letter Thursday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Mountain Valley said the suspension covers ‘new activities’ that could pose a threat to the lives of endangered bats and fish, or potentially destroy their habitat. Less clear was how much of the 303-mile natural gas pipeline will be affected. …. Most work will be halted on a 75-mile stretch, along watersheds in the counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin, and Pittsylvania. Another 20 miles, including some streams and rivers in West Virginia, are also included. Mountain Valley also said it would cease tree-felling in areas populated by endangered bats. But with the exception of a wooded slope in Montgomery County — where two tree-sitters have been blocking work on the pipeline since last September — nearly all of the trees the company had planned to cut are already gone. ‘It’s a little disingenuous for them to say they’re taking these precautions,’ said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that filed Monday’s legal challenge. ‘Because, guess what, they’ve already cut down all the trees that had Indiana bats in them.'”

8-14-19 News & Advance. Amherst council approves lease to Atlantic Coast Pipeline for storage yard, staging hub. “The controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is set to have a temporary home in Amherst for a storage yard and gathering spot for pipeline workers through a land lease arrangement Amherst Town Council approved Wednesday. Council voted unanimously after a public hearing to lease to Dominion Energy about 49 acres within the L. Barnes Brockman, Sr. Business and Industrial Park on U.S. 60 in Amherst. The Richmond-based company heading the pipeline is set to use the site at the end of Brockman Park Drive for a period of two years with possible extensions. According to the lease, Dominion Energy can use the leased property seven days a week, 24 hours a day throughout the two year-period for purposes that include storage of materials, a pipe yard, temporary offices, a staging area for pipeline workers, a parking area and any other activities or uses “reasonably associated” with the company’s activities.”

8-14-19 Roanoke Times. Ewing: Which side are you on?  “David Butterworth’s defense of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (“Pipeline protests are hurting workers,” Aug. 5 commentary) tears a destructive path through the truth in the same way that his beloved pipeline is destroying family farms, wooded hillsides, and mountain streams across Southwest Virginia. His misleading, false, and reckless criticism of protesters serves the interests of the corporate investors whose pursuit of profits ignores the realities of climate change, defies environmental standards, and endangers the citizens of Virginia. At the core of the stop the pipeline protests is a recurring question in American — and especially Appalachian — labor activism: Which side are you on? …. Everyone living in Southwest Virginia must ask this question: Are you on the side of an out-of-state corporation that’s destroying the local environment to serve the interests of investors, all while contributing to climate change? Or are you on the side of community members and environmental activists trying to stop this wanton act of destruction?”

8-14-19 American Prospect. Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline?  “The lawsuit over this section of the Appalachian Trail could determine the fate of some of the largest natural gas deposits in North America. In a landmark decision last December, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond axed the project—for now. That court found that the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is part of the National Park System, blocking federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. The astonishing decision upended the U.S. natural gas industry and also jeopardizes other pipeline projects with proposed routes across the trail. Whether the pipeline construction ever goes forward ultimately hinges on the question of who has authority over the Appalachian Trail.”

8-13-19 NBC29. Groups Ask NC Regulators to Revoke 2018 Atlantic Coast Pipeline Permit.  “Environmental groups that promote renewable energy want North Carolina regulators to cancel a key state water quality permit issued to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Leaders of the North Carolina Climate Solutions Coalition and Friends of the Earth announced Tuesday their petition with the Department of Environmental Quality asking that the January 2018 permit be revoked.”

8-13-19 WRAL. Environmental activists seek reversal of NC permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  “Environmental activists called on Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration Tuesday to reconsider a key permit issued for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The North Carolina Climate Solutions Coalition and Friends of the Earth filed a petition with the state Department of Environmental Quality to revoke the permit the agency issued last year to the pipeline’s developers under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The groups say the facts that were presented in the application for the permit were incorrect and are no longer accurate. …. ‘We don’t’ always get a chance to have do-overs, and this is a major do-over,’ Donna Chavis, a Lumbee activist from Pembroke and a member of Friends of the Earth, said during a news conference to announce the petition. ‘It’s a do-over that affects not just an individual … it’s a do-over that affects all North Carolinians – I would even say all people in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, specifically and the climate in general.'”

8-13-19 E&E News. Va. widow leads eminent domain fight at Supreme Court.  “Givens and a host of other residents living along the 300-mile Mountain Valley project have joined calls for federal courts to address a quirk in the pipeline eminent domain process that enables pipeline developers to gain access to private property before paying to use the land. Their plea is now before the Supreme Court, which will decide this fall whether to take up the case. Givens, whose name sits atop a long list of property holders on the Supreme Court challenge, has battled the pipeline on several fronts. She has attended court hearings. She has participated in protests. She has learned the ins and outs of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which authorizes gas transport projects. While she vehemently opposes Mountain Valley on all fronts, Givens’ Supreme Court battle aligns her with more conservative landowners and legal minds who also say pipeline developers do not have the right to immediate possession, or ‘quick take,’ of private property.”

8-12-19 PV Magazine. Dominion is polling its customers for pro-monopoly arguments. “Under pressure by both corporations who want other options to buy renewables and a new coalition seeking to break its monopoly, Dominion is trying out some arguments with questionable factual basis. …. Those who have seen the repeated debunking of utility claims that there is a “cost shift” onto other customers who use solar know that there is nothing new about utilities using inaccurate arguments to control conditions and maximize their profit. But Dominion has even more reason to be concerned. The utility’s polling comes amid increasing calls by both corporations that want access to solar on their own terms, and an array of political, environmental and anti-poverty groups spanning the political spectrum that are seeking to break up the utility and provide full retail choice to consumers.”

8-12-19 Roanoke Times. Mountain Valley Pipeline faces new legal challenge, this one over endangered species. “Foes of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have filed another legal attack, this one over the pipeline’s impact on endangered species such as the Roanoke logperch. The petition, filed Monday, asks a federal appeals court in Richmond to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine its earlier opinion that burrowing a 42-inch diameter pipe across rugged mountain slopes and through unspoiled streams will not significantly harm the threatened fish, bats and plants that live there. At the same time, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups sent a letter to the service requesting it immediately stay its permits pending legal review — a move that could bring work on the beleaguered project to a standstill.”

8-12-19 Chron. Interior rolls back endangered species protections, in boon for oil companies. “The Trump administration rolled back longstanding federal protections for wildlife under threat of extinction Monday, in a move that could expand oil and gas drilling and other development across America’s wilderness. More than 40 years after Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the changes were necessary to make more efficient and transparent a bureaucratic process that oil companies, ranchers and other industries have long complained about. …. Attorneys General in California and Massachusetts, along with conservation groups, said they plan to file lawsuits challenging the legality of such moves when the Trump administration files the final rule in the federal register in the weeks ahead. ‘These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife,’ Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, said in a statement. ‘For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end.'”

8-12-19 Virginia Business Daily. Military stands behind Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. “A group of high-ranking military members have appealed to Congress members, pointing out in a letter the importance of the ACP to military installations on the coast, including Naval Station Norfolk, Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune, U.S. Army Fort Bragg, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. …. The letter points out that only one pipeline currently transports gas to the eastern region of the mid-Atlantic and it is already at full capacity. Were it to come under attack, this would cause intense disruption of military response. ‘Clearly ACP will serve the strategic interests of our armed forces,’ the letter states. ‘We urge you to be resolute and unwavering in your support of U.S. military readiness and thus resilient energy supplies.'”

8-12-19 Utility Dive. EPA moves to streamline permitting for power plant expansions, gas pipelines. “EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Friday also announced a proposal to change the process through which states give Section 401 certifications for projects under the Clean Water Act (CWA), limiting state regulatory considerations for natural gas infrastructure. The proposed CWA rule was expected following an April executive order from President Donald Trump. …. Environmental groups also decried Wheeler’s proposal on the CWA and several states are expected to oppose that proposal as well, with both groups alleging the related executive order is an infringement on state’s rights. ‘We saw bipartisan opposition from the states when Trump issued the related executive order earlier this year,’ Emily Sansel, spokesperson for the League of Conservation Voters, told Utility Dive.”

8-9-19 Inside Climate News. EPA Plans to Rewrite Clean Water Act Rules to Fast-Track Pipelines.  “The Trump administration is proposing changes to federal regulations that could fast-track the approval of natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure. Environmental advocates say the move will weaken the ability of states and tribes to protect their waters. The proposed changes to Clean Water Act permitting rules, announced Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would limit the amount of time states and tribes can take to review new project proposals to a “reasonable period” of no more than one year, with the definition of “reasonable period” left to federal agencies to determine and the clock starting from the inital request for a permit, with no pauses or restarts. It also would limit states to considering only water quality and allow the federal government to override states’ decisions to deny permits for projects in some situations. ‘This proposed rule change would hobble the most important tool that states have to protect significant waters, from prized trout streams to essential drinking water sources,’ said Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation. …. Once finalized, the proposed changes face inevitable legal challenges.”

8-9-19 Definition of Insanity: Mountain Valley Pipeline Asks for “Emergency Authorization” to Prevent a Life Threatening Landslide. “In a chilling passage in yesterday’s letter [to FERC], MVP made this stunning revelation: ‘The progression of the slide caused additional area outside the limits of disturbance to destabilize, uprooted numerous large trees, has the potential to impact an aquatic resource, and has progressed to the point where a residence directly downslope is unsafe to be occupied. Mountain Valley Pipeline must stabilize the slide before it causes damage or injury to the landowners and resources located down-slope of the slide.’ …. How many landslides is too many? How many workers or landowners will have to be hurt? How many residences will have to be made ‘unsafe to be occupied.’ This is not complicated. It’s an emergency.”

8-8-19 Nelson County Times. Atlantic Coast Pipeline could see more court action. “Both sides of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline debate are bracing for another potential trip to court, this time the United States Supreme Court. In December 2018, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Forest Service had no legal authority to grant a right-of-way for the ACP to cross United States Forest Service lands and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. In June, Dominion Energy responded by filing an appeal, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Fourth Circuit Court’s ruling. The Southern Environmental Law Center plans to submit an opposition paper, in the hopes that the Supreme Court will decide to not hear Dominion’s appeal. In the meantime Dominion has voluntarily stopped work on the Virginia portion of the pipeline, a proposed $7 billion, 600-mile natural-gas pipeline to be built through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Both sides are confident.”

8-8-19 News Leader. Letters: Ky. pipeline explosion highlights what could happen here. “Augusta County got an urgent wake-up call last week from Kentucky. On Aug. 1 there was a huge explosion from a gas pipeline in Jackson City, which killed one person and sent five to the hospital. Anyone concerned about the proposed pipeline for our county should look up the video photos of that terrifying event to see what all too easily could happen to us. The Kentucky pipeline was 30” in diameter. By comparison, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be 42” in diameter, which would carry twice the volume of gas.”

8-8-19 Wall St. Journal. The Leaks That Threaten the Clean Image of Natural Gas. “Energy companies are producing record volumes of natural gas, thanks in part to the U.S. fracking boom. They have ambitious plans to make the cleaner-burning fuel a big part of the global energy mix for decades to come by sending tankers of liquefied gas around the world. But growing public concern over leaks and intentional releases of gas and its primary component, methane, threaten to derail the dominance of gas in the new energy world order. Methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. That makes it particularly harmful to the environment when it is discharged into the atmosphere. In the U.S. alone, the methane that leaks or is released from oil and gas operations annually is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 69 million cars, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis using conversion formulas from the Environmental Protection Agency and emissions estimates for 2015 published last year in the journal Science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body, says methane is even more potent than the estimates the EPA uses. By its calculation the annual releases would be equal to those of about 94 million cars, or roughly a third of the nation’s registered vehicles.”

8-7-19 GreenTechMedia. Dominion Energy Plans to Build 4 Storage Pilots and Study Them for 5 Years. “The utility asked regulators for permission last week to build four battery storage facilities as pilots to test the technology’s functionality. After expected completion in 2020, Dominion will study the operations for five years. That’s a marked advance from Dominion’s position in its original 2018 integrated resource plan, which acknowledged the existence of battery storage but proposed no actions to take advantage of it. ‘The Company continues to monitor advancements in other energy storage technologies, such as batteries and flywheels,’ the IRP stated, while calling for at least 3,664 megawatts of combustion turbine capacity by 2033. Since then, Dominion has had more time to process Virginia’s Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018, which authorized up to 30 megawatts of utility storage pilots. It was not a mandate, but conveyed legislators’ belief that storage has a role to play in the future of the grid. In May, data center giants including Apple, AWS and Microsoft wrote an open letter chiding Dominion for neglecting solar power and energy storage in favor of natural-gas capacity. Those companies wield economic clout when choosing where to site new data centers, which consume ample amounts of electricity.”

8-7-19 Roanoke Times. MVP tries again to remove 2 tree-sitters who have blocked work on the pipeline for nearly a year. “Mountain Valley filed a request Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court for a temporary injunction to have the protesters extracted from two trees they have occupied on a wooded slope near Elliston for nearly a year. On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon denied a similar request on the grounds that the company had improperly gone after the two unidentified protesters as part of an eminent domain case used to take private land for the controversial pipeline. …. Mountain Valley asked a circuit court judge to order the tree-sitters to come down, and if they refuse, to ‘direct law enforcement to take all necessary action to remove defendants from the tree stands and easements.’ The request for an injunction also seeks fines of $400,000 each against the two current tree-sitters, three others who have previously occupied the stands and 11 members of a ground team that has provided food, water and support from a nearby camp.”

8-7-19 Cato Institute. Don’t Abuse Property Rights to Build Pipelines. “The demand for American energy independence and expansion of the natural gas industry have led to a marked increase in the construction of new gas pipelines. The Natural Gas Act empowers the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to delegate to private pipeline companies the power to take private property to build these pipelines, so long as they pay the just compensation due under the Fifth Amendment. Not content with the power to begin construction after judicially authorized transfer of title, however, these companies have claimed the equivalent of government power—not mere delegated authority—by taking property before any adjudication by means of preliminary injunctions, with even fewer owner protections than statutory ‘quick takes’ (expedited title transfers).”

8-6-19 WDBJ7. Pipeline opponents urge regulators to expand stop work order. “Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline say a recent stop work order in Montgomery County should be extended to the entire project. Last week, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality halted work on a two-mile section, because it lacked appropriate erosion and sediment controls. During a news conference Tuesday in Roanoke, a coalition of groups said they have documented similar problems in many different locations. Russell Chisholm is Co-Chair of the POWHR Coalition. ‘We’re expected to take their word for what’s happening out there along the route, that things are going to be okay, when that’s simply not true,’ Chisholm told WDBJ7. ‘And until we know that they can do that, they should shut the whole thing down.'”

8-6-19 AP News. Regulators partially deny Dominion request for bill hike. “Virginia regulators have rejected Dominion Energy’s request to make its customers pay for long-term upgrades at power plants the company knew had a short working life. The State Corporation Commission issued a ruling Monday partially denying the state’s largest electric utility’s request to increase customers’ bills to pay for environmental compliance projects at certain power plants. The SCC said Dominion decided in 2015 to spend $18 million on long-term upgrades at two power stations in Chesterfield County the company expected to retire or retrofit within five years. Dominion permanently retired the two units earlier this year.”

8-5-19 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Too much rain is messing with pipeline operators’ infrastructure plans. “The problem is evolving faster than environmental regulations. Those don’t prescribe how companies should control rainwater and erosion, but rather establish “the guidelines for best management practices during construction and post construction,” said Lauren Fraley, a spokeswoman for the DEP. Costa Samaras, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said companies building energy infrastructure have to adhere to safety standards, but very few of the standards have been updated to account for how the climate is changing. As a result, most new infrastructure isn’t designed to withstand the conditions it will face decades from now.”

8-5-19 Politico. How McConnell’s coal guy is helping Trump remake federal energy policy. “Add the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the list of technocratic regulatory agencies thrown into turmoil as President Donald Trump’s appointees seek to steer its agenda. Current and former regulators, staffers and industry officials say Trump and his chosen chairman, former Mitch McConnell aide Neil Chatterjee, have politicized an independent agency typically known for nonpartisan rulemaking on issues including natural gas pipelines and regional power markets. The dissension has made it difficult to retain staff, fill a vacant commissioner post and issue rulings on critical issues facing the nation’s electricity supply.”

8-5-19 Utility Dive. Dominion’s 100% renewables tariff could kill Virginia’s retail choice ambitions. “Dominion Energy, the state’s dominant utility, in May filed an application with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for approval of its 100% renewable energy tariff. If approved, that tariff offering would prevent other retail electricity providers from competing in the market to give large and residential customers a 100% renewable option. Policy watchers say this fight between Dominion and the CSPs [competitive service provider] highlights a larger tension in the state — whether Virginia should move toward a competitive retail choice market, something customer advocates, environmentalists, corporate customers and others are advocating for.

8-4-19 Virginia Mercury. ‘Getting in the way:’ Inside the standoff over the Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The roar of construction echoed through the hollow, as a bulldozer pushed dirt on an impossibly steep slope hundreds of feet up the ridge. At the bottom of the slope, a makeshift fence and stack of pallets marked a boundary — the edge of a support camp for tree-sitters who for 10 months have blocked the path up the other side of the hollow. These are the battle lines on the ground in the fight over the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile natural gas transmission line intended to transport gas from the fracking fields of northern West Virginia through the rugged terrain of eastern Appalachia to a compressor station in southern Virginia’s Pittsylvania County.” [Review article on MVP and efforts to stop it]

8-4-19 News & Advance. Editorial: Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Is It Still a Viable Project? “Right now, the odds that the pipeline will be built are still in Dominion’s favor. It’s one of the most powerful corporations in the state and has the political backing of both Democratic and Republican officials in Richmond. But with the rising costs, the courtroom setbacks and still-growing grassroots opposition to the project, you have to wonder if, at some point, the project simply becomes politically and financially unviable. That tipping point may be closer than you think.”

8-2-19 Roanoke Times. Regulators stop work on 2 miles of Mountain Valley Pipeline in Montgomery County. “Virginia regulators ordered Friday that all work cease on construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline along a 2-mile section of the route in eastern Montgomery County. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, in stopping work on the project for the first time, cited lapses in compliance with an approved erosion and sediment control plan. Agency director David Paylor said in a news release that his agency is ‘appalled’ by findings during a Thursday inspection. …. Paylor’s reaction was to evidence ‘that construction priorities and deadline pressures would ever rise above the proper and appropriate use of erosion control measures,’ the government’s statement said.”

8-2-19 Breaking News: Federal Court Refuses Mountain Valley Pipeline Request to Remove Tree Sitters in Virginia. “In another stunning defeat for Mountain Valley Pipeline, a federal district court judge has denied the pipeline company’s request for an order removing tree sitters in southwest Virginia. Judge Elizabeth Dillon, in a fourteen page opinion, ruled that MVP had no right to add the tree sitters — who have been occupying trees in Elliston, Virginia for almost one year — as parties to an eminent domain case against the owners of the land on which the trees are located. Dillon noted that there was no evidence that the landowners were acting in concert with the tree sitters. She also noted that this is a condemnation proceeding to determine how much the landowners would be paid by MVP in return for the destruction of the land wrought by construction. The tree sitters, Dillon noted, are not seeking compensation. Rather, Dillon noted, ‘the tree-sitters clearly seem to be protesting the pipeline as a whole.'”

8-2-19 E&E News. Federal judge rebukes FERC’s ‘Kafkaesque regime’. “A federal appellate court today upheld another Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval for a natural gas project — but not without a sharply worded judicial critique. Judge Patricia Millett said she was bound by U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit precedent to join her colleagues in rejecting a challenge by environmentalists and landowners to the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. In the same breath, she urged further review of a ‘Kafkaesque regime’ by which FERC can trap landowners in ‘administrative limbo’ while allowing pipeline developers to move full speed ahead. ‘In cases involving private property rights, the Commission has transformed this court’s decisions upholding its tolling orders into a bureaucratic purgatory that only Dante could love,’ Millett, an Obama appointee, wrote in her concurring opinion. ‘While I acknowledge that circuit precedent currently forecloses the Homeowners’ constitutional challenge to the tolling orders, this case starkly illustrates why a second look by us or by the Commission is overdue,’ she wrote.”

8-2-19 Washington Post. Letter: There’s nothing safe about pipelines. “Dominion Energy’s pipelines are needless projects that will only hurt Virginians economically. They’re not for us; they’re a vehicle for powerful fossil fuel interests to pilfer money from us while giving nothing in return. Dominion’s pipeline would be no more safe from landslides than TransCanada’s was in 2018 when it exploded in West Virginia just months after completion. On Thursday, a similar Enbridge pipeline exploded in Kentucky, killing one person and setting six homes on fire. Virginia farmers are seeing their water contaminated and their land ripped out from under them. Fracked gas pipelines are only a ‘safer’ mode of transportation of “natural gas” in the way that rubbing rat poison on your skin is better for you than rubbing it in your eye or swallowing it.”

8-1-19 WV News. Environmental group requests order halting Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction. “Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline is potentially facing another setback. Following a ruling from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday that vacated the biological opinion and incidental take statement issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking for an order ‘halting all construction’ of the pipeline project. The request, attributed to Greg Buppert, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Virginia Office, urges the commission to stop work for four reasons.”

8-1-19  Mountain Valley Pipeline Contractor Has a History of Killing its Own Workers. “We knew Mountain Valley Pipeline would always put profit ahead of people. We knew it the day they hired the contractor to build this corporate boondoggle, a Wisconsin based company called Precision Pipeline that was investigated for environmental violations on previous pipelines it had built. We knew that Precision Pipeline’s track record was so bad that it was sued by Dominion Energy — yes, that Dominion Energy — for causing 50 landslides on a 55 mile pipeline it built for Dominion. Fifty landslides. Precision Pipeline clearly does not care about the environment or the rights of people whose land they are desecrating. And, as it turns out, they don’t even care about their own workers. In fact, Precision Pipeline has left a trail of mayhem in its path. Mayhem to its own workers.”

8-1-19 CBS News. Deadly Kentucky gas pipeline explosion, fire felt “like an atomic bomb went off”  “A regional gas pipeline ruptured early Thursday in Kentucky, causing a massive explosion that killed one person, hospitalized five others, destroyed railroad tracks and forced the evacuation of dozens of people from a nearby mobile home park, authorities said. …. The 30-inch-wide pipeline moves natural gas under high pressure, so the rupture at about 1 a.m. caused a tremendous amount of damage in the immediate area, authorities said. Hours later, firefighters doused the flames, after trucks repeatedly refilled their tanks and returned to the scene. …. Emergency managers said the rupture involved the Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline, which is owned and operated by Enbridge. The pipeline stretches more than 9,000 miles, from the Mexican border in Texas to New York City. A statement from the company based in Calgary, Canada, said ‘Enbridge is aware of and is responding to a rupture on the Texas Eastern system in Lincoln County.'”