January 2019 News

January 2019

1-31-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: ACP can’t deliver on promises. “In the Jan. 24 issue of the Nelson County Times, we read that Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents and our neighbors who support the project share at least some of the same goals. Like the proponents, those who oppose the project also want a healthy county economy that provides good jobs and enables the young people who want to stay in Nelson to do so. However, we differ strongly about how to achieve those goals. We view the ACP as a threat to one of the state’s fastest growing rural economies. That growth is based primarily on tourism, which in our case rests largely on the emergence of the adult beverage industry — wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries. Those thriving businesses, which now employ many of Nelson’s young folks, chose to come here because of our beautiful environment and clean water. …. Building the ACP is not the right way to reach the goals its proponents seek. The ACP is an economic loser and environmental threat for Nelson County.”

1-31-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: Pipeline a thing of the past. “How nice it is to read of Nelson County residents who care about the future of their families and of Nelson County. too. However, a prosperous future means making changes … getting started building clean energy in Virginia. Pipelines are built to last 80 years, but our use of gas for heating and electricity will be gone way before then. And our clean energy future is both cheaper and creates more jobs than any other industries right now. …. So the truth is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will keep Virginia in the past. Let’s put that pipeline money into offshore wind and solar, maybe with some batteries too. Let’s be sure Virginia’s future includes a modern energy system.”

1-31-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: Dominion’s job-creation myths. “Dominion Power is at it again. Planting misleading stories seems to be their style. And people are believing it! Dominion is shouting “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” In a recent Nelson County Times article, it is implied that young people will stay in the county because the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring jobs here. Of course there would be jobs building the proposed pipeline, but these jobs would be filled by workers who travel the length of the line. Dominion brought in out-of-state workers to cut the trees at the entrance to Wintergreen and other nearby areas. This is an insult to our county loggers who are some of the best in the country and shows that Dominion really cares little about our local economy. …. The only job that I see Dominion creating in the county is someone working from home to write slanted, misleading stories of the wonder and goodness of Dominion Power as it continues to rape the planet. See through the myth.”

1-31-19 Utility Dive. FERC’s LaFleur to step down. “Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur will not seek a third term at the agency and will depart later in 2019, she announced on Twitter Thursday. LaFleur will serve out the remainder of her term until June 30, but could stay on the commission longer if the Senate does not confirm a successor by that time. Senate energy leaders said this month the White House had not yet floated potential replacements for LaFleur or former Commissioner Kevin McIntyre, who died Jan. 2. LaFleur was confirmed to FERC in 2010 after being tapped by President Barack Obama and was named acting chairman of the commission at the beginning of the Trump administration. In recent years, however, she had taken a harder line on accounting for the climate change impacts of natural gas infrastructure and clashed with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over electricity policy. LaFleur’s departure will mean FERC loses its longest-serving member and the only regulator with experience at an electric utility — New England’s National Grid. In a series of tweets Thursday morning, the veteran Democrat indicated she would have preferred to be nominated to a third term at the commission. …. In a phone call Thursday morning, LaFleur advisor Andrew Holleman said Senate leaders told the commissioner this week she would not be renominated, but he declined to detail the content of their conversations. ‘She got a call from Senate leadership this week informing her,’ Holleman said. ‘She said all along it wasn’t up to her, but when she was made aware, she thought she would make an announcement as soon as possible.’

1-30-19 Reuters. U.S. court stays ruling against Dominion Atlantic Coast natgas pipe. “A U.S. appeals court has stayed a previous court decision against Forest Service permits that allowed Dominion Energy Inc to build the $6.5-$7 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline across national forests and the Appalachian Trail. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday froze the previous decision by a three-judge panel until the full court decides whether it will rehear the case en banc. The appeals court panel had said in December that the U.S. Forest Service had ‘abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources’ when it issued the permits. …. Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien said on Wednesday the company remained confident it would complete the 600-mile (966-kilometer) pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, even though the timing is ‘somewhat fluid’ due in part to federal lawsuits.”

1-29-19 NBC29. Bill Limiting Atlantic Coast Pipeline Costs to Ratepayers Advancing. “A little-noticed piece of legislation advancing through the Virginia General Assembly could pose a serious threat to Dominion Energy’s planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The bill would add new restrictions on Dominion’s ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations. That could pinch the bottom line of a project whose costs have already ballooned in the face of fierce opposition from environmentalists and land owners. The legislation passed out of a Dominion-friendly House committee 8-2 last week. It’s backed by an usual coalition of tea party conservatives and green groups.”

1-29-19 E&E News Energywire. Atlantic Coast asks court to clear ‘permanent obstacle’. “Developers of the Atlantic Coast pipeline have asked an appellate court to reconsider its decision to strike critical permits for the natural gas project. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month nixed a Forest Service approval for the 600-mile pipeline to cross two national forests and parts of the Appalachian Trail. Environmental opponents celebrated as the project’s backers, who had halted construction after the same court vacated a separate permit, reviewed their options (Greenwire, Dec. 13, 2018). The 4th Circuit’s finding that the Forest Service does not have the authority to grant a right of way along the Appalachian Trail introduced a ‘more permanent obstacle’ for the embattled Atlantic Coast project, attorneys for the developers argued yesterday.”

1-28-19 Roanoke Times. Environmental groups attack federal approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The good of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — a steady supply of needed natural gas — met the bad Monday, when opponents told a federal appeals court there’s really no public need for a project that is already polluting Southwest Virginia. In a sweeping attack, a coalition of environmental groups asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a federal agency’s approval of the 303-mile pipeline. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission green-lighted the pipeline in October 2017, it voted 2-1 that its public benefits will outweigh any adverse impacts. But in finding there was a market demand for the natural gas, FERC relied entirely on contracts between the pipeline’s owners and its shippers, which are all part of the same corporate structure. The complex affiliations of Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC were not the result of ‘arms-length negotiations’ that would have demonstrated a true market based on public need, the court was told by Ben Luckett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a nonprofit law firm that represented pipeline opponents during Monday’s oral arguments. Attorneys for FERC and Mountain Valley countered that the partners would never have invested in the $4.6 billion venture unless they were convinced it was worth the risk — an argument that seemed to resonate with the three-judge panel hearing the case.”

1-27-19 Wall St. Journal. Drillers Are Easing Off the Gas. “Some of the companies responsible for flooding the U.S. with natural gas are dialing back on drilling amid worries that supplies of the fuel are outpacing demand and potentially sending already depressed prices into a tailspin. …. Natural-gas prices have fallen by more than a third since heating-season highs reached in mid-November. A cold snap that left swaths of the country iced over and furnaces blasting during the recent holiday weekend did little to slow the decline. Gas futures for February delivery lost 8.8% last week, settling at $3.178 a million British thermal units on Friday. Many analysts have forecast further declines barring an especially frigid February. It took a superlative year of demand growth, courtesy of exports and electricity generators, to absorb record U.S. gas production last year. There are doubts, though, that enough new demand will materialize this year, even with several liquefied-natural-gas export facilities slated to open over the next 12 months.”

1-26-19 Roanoke Times. Appeals court set to review FERC’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The most important regulatory approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was flawed in more than a dozen ways, opponents say in a court case to be argued Monday [January 28, 2019]. A challenge of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision, which allowed construction of the deeply divisive project to move forward, runs the gamut of issues: Is there a public need for the natural gas to be shipped by the pipeline? Should the company building it have been allowed to seize private land through the laws of eminent domain? Did regulators fail to anticipate the environmental damage caused by burrowing a mammoth steel pipe over the mountains and through the streams of Southwest Virginia? Oral arguments on those and other questions are scheduled for Monday morning before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is expected to issue a written opinion within three to six months.”

1-25-19 Bay Journal. Atlantic Coast Pipeline on shakier ground as legal challenges add up. “A string of recent court decisions has left the future uncertain for a sprawling natural gas pipeline project cutting its way across some Chesapeake Bay states. Judges have reversed three federal permits that would have allowed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross national parks and trails or to impact endangered species, halting construction while Dominion Energy, the project’s backer, regroups to appeal. …. ‘The big picture here is that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is in trouble,’ said Greg Buppert, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center representing environmental organizations in several of the lawsuits. Now, the company ‘doesn’t have multiple required permits to proceed with this project.’ This spring, SELC attorneys and others will go for the project’s metaphorical jugular by challenging its baseline permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which set it into motion four years ago. They will argue that FERC’s singular requirement — that the project must have a signed contract with future natural gas recipients — does not go far enough. That’s because, in this case, subsidiaries of Dominion Energy are both building the pipeline and claiming demand for it as future customers. Because FERC has guaranteed a 15-percent return on investment for building the pipeline project, advocates say the company makes a profit from the process regardless of whether the infrastructure is actually needed. Will Cleveland, another SELC attorney, said that Dominion has justified the need to supply East Coast customers by ‘wildly overpredicting demand.'”

1-25-19 Washington Post. Breathing while black: A Dominion compressor station would disadvantage a historically black community in Virginia. “I have seen no reports of deliberate discrimination on the part of the DEQ or Dominion Energy. Some might argue that, all other things being equal, it makes sense to situate new pollution sources away from population centers and where air quality is relatively less degraded. But all things are not equal in this case. The implication that Union Hill’s air quality will not be harmed materially by the compressor station’s air pollution recalls an infamous 1991 World Bank memo signed by the group’s then-Chief Economist Lawrence Summers. The memo said, ‘I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.’ After the memo came under heavy fire, Summers backpedaled, saying the memo was intended as a ‘sardonic counterpoint,’ though he did not repudiate the memo’s microeconomic tenets. In essence, Summers’s memo endorsed increasing pollution in countries that have suffered centuries of colonialism. Substitute ‘historically black community’ for ‘countries’ and ‘slavery, Jim Crow, lynching and structural racism’ for ‘colonialism,’ and one can begin to understand outraged reactions at the implication that Union Hill won’t be hurt by more pollution. The lack of intent to discriminate does not change entrenched patterns that continue to disadvantage African Americans.

1-24-19 Bloomberg. Trump Eyes Action to Limit States’ Powers to Block Pipelines. “The Trump administration is considering taking steps to limit the ability of states to block interstate gas pipelines and other energy projects, according to three people familiar with the deliberations. The effort, possibly done through an executive order, is aimed chiefly at states in the Northeast U.S., where opposition to pipeline projects has helped prevent abundant shale gas in Pennsylvania and Ohio from reaching consumers in New York and other cities. …. But it’s not clear how much — if at all — an executive order could curtail states’ special powers under the statute. Industry officials said real change may require legislation to alter the statute itself, such as a bill advanced in 2018 by Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican.”

1-24-19 Washington Post. Bad news for environmental justice in Virginia. “Unless we change the obsolete policies that incentivize construction of unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure, communities like Union Hill remain at risk and electricity monopolies will continue to profit, despite the suffering of affected communities, and the costs of climate change inaction multiply.”

1-23-19 WFAE [NC]. Permit Delays Raise Concerns For Atlantic Coast Pipeline Owners. “Legal delays on key environmental permits for the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline are starting to hit home for the pipeline’s owners – and raise concerns among investors. Wall Street analysts have reduced their ratings on the shares of both Dominion Energy, the lead developer of the pipeline, and co-owner Duke Energy. And Dominion said earlier this month that while it still expects the pipeline to get built, it won’t contribute to profits as soon as predicted. …. Duke hasn’t said how the delay might affect profits. A spokeswoman says the company is disappointed and will give an update during its quarterly earnings conference call with analysts on Feb. 14. Dominion also promises a financial update when it reports earnings Feb. 1.”

1-23-19 Virginia Mercury. In wake of compressor station vote, Northam’s order reconstitutes environmental justice advisory council. “After a vote on what had become Virginia’s most high-profile environmental justice issue — the contentious natural gas compressor station proposed for Buckingham County by Dominion Energy as part of its Atlantic Coast Pipeline — Gov. Ralph Northam is reconstituting an advisory council that urged him last year to halt the project. The former members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice were invited to apply to serve on the new body, called the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, in an email from Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler. A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality says the old council’s legal authority had ‘expired,’ which is consistent with what council members had heard from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.”

1-22-19 Virginia Mercury. Six senators vote against Northam’s pick to lead environmental agency. “Gov. Ralph Northam disappointed some members of his transition team and left environmental groups seething last year when he reappointed David Paylor to his longtime job as director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Business interests, including the state’s big utilities, chief among them Dominion Energy, like Paylor’s light touch with the regulatory powers his office wields. Conservationists loath his agency’s deference to polluters, from the utilities to poultry farms and industrial emitters. On Monday, that debate spilled onto the Senate floor. Six senators, three Republicans and three Democrats, cast a vote to pull Paylor’s reappointment out of a list of gubernatorial appointments for Senate confirmation. Sen David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, led the unsuccessful charge. As is customary in the Senate, though, there was no mention of Paylor’s name or floor debate on the appointment. ‘The governor is entitled to his appointments and I have voted to confirm every other appointment,’ Suetterlein said in a statement to the Mercury. ‘Unfortunately, I could not vote to confirm the head of DEQ because his relationship with the utilities and his actions have greatly diminished Virginians’ confidence.’ Joining him were Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield; Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria; Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.”

1-22-19 Roanoke Times. U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear challenge of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which a group of landowners argued that their property was illegally taken through eminent domain laws for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In October, about a dozen landowners along the pipeline’s route asked the high court to reverse the dismissal of their lawsuit, heard in Roanoke’s federal court, that challenged the way developers of the natural gas pipeline were allowed to obtain forced easements through their property. In an order filed Tuesday, the Supreme Court did not explain why it is not taking the case. Mia Yugo, one of three Roanoke attorneys who asked the court to consider the appeal, said it would have been ‘extremely rare’ for the case to have actually made it to the floor of the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court agrees to hear oral arguments and render a decision in only about 80 of the approximately 8,000 cases that get filed each year. Among the constitutional questions raised by the lawsuit was whether eminent domain — a power normally invoked by governmental bodies for projects such as highways and power lines — should be awarded to a private company in pursuit of profits.”

1-22-19 S&P Global. Trump administration seeks to pull back more Atlantic Coast Pipeline permits facing challenge. “The Trump administration is seeking to pull back another permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is facing a legal challenge — a US Army Corps of Engineers authorization governing water crossings in parts of West Virginia. The Trump administration is seeking to pull back another permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is facing a legal challenge — a US Army Corps of Engineers authorization governing water crossings in parts of West Virginia. Both actions highlight the difficulties in the 4th Circuit for federal agency permits for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d project, one of several meant to move Appalachian gas to Mid-Atlantic markets. Still, one analyst suggested the requests for remand could help speed the regulatory process along, keeping control of the timeline with the agencies, rather than the court. ‘While both requests came from the government, they are both positive developments for the project because it likely means the time period to a sustainable affirmative decision will be shortened,’ said LawIQ Director of Research Gary Kruse.”

1-22-19 Roanoke Times. Roanoke attorneys seek criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Crews building the Mountain Valley Pipeline may have violated civil and criminal laws by continuing construction in streams and wetlands after a permit was suspended, two Roanoke attorneys say in asking for a federal investigation. Charlie Williams and Tom Bondurant told The Roanoke Times this week that they have shared with the Environmental Protection Agency a ‘substantial body of evidence’ gathered by Preserve Bent Mountain, an organization they represent. After reviewing photographs and other documentation from the group, which spent weeks monitoring pipeline construction, Williams and Bondurant asked the EPA in a Nov. 26 letter to conduct a formal investigation. ‘We concluded there was enough evidence of violations of criminal law, particularly the Clean Water Act, that we could make a good- faith submission to the EPA,’ said Williams, who specializes in environmental law at the firm of Gentry Locke.”

1-21-19 Blue Virginia. What David Paylor Knows: New Air Pollution Board Appointee Was Planning to Vote on Union Hill Compressor Station. “When the board voted on January 8, it also announced – without explanation – that the new members would not be voting. No one claimed that the new members had recused themselves. They simply ‘would not be participating.’ Now, according to documents produced under the Freedom of Information Act and published here for the first time, it turns out that at least one of the new board members wanted to participate in the Union Hill compressor station review. In fact, she actually asked – in writing – to participate. In an email to the Governor’s office dated November 17, new Air Board member Gail Bush wrote ‘I’m looking forward to a thorough orientation on overall process and the current pipeline/compressor station issue.’ When she wrote her email on November 17, Bush already was a full-fledged member of the Air Board. Two days earlier, she had been informed by the Governor’s office that ‘you have been appointed to serve a four year term beginning 7/1/2018….’ …. It is not clear exactly who decided that Bush and her fellow new appointee Kajal Kapur would not be allowed to vote on the Union Hill permit. Nor is it apparent what role Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor, whose agency oversees the Air Board, played in that process.”

1-21-19 Yahoo.com. Enbridge gas pipeline explosion causes fireball in Ohio. “An explosion of an Enbridge Inc natural gas pipeline in Ohio on Monday created a fireball of flame and damaged homes, prompting the evacuation of nearby residents. The explosion occurred on Enbridge’s Texas Eastern pipeline system and appeared to have destroyed two homes, said Chasity Schmelzenbach, emergency management director for Noble County, Ohio. ‘We got reports flames were shooting (up) 80 feet to 200 feet (25-60 meters),’ Schmelzenbach said. ‘You could see it upwards of 10-15 miles (16-24 km) away. Lots of people thought it was in their backyard because it does appear large.’ Enbridge later said that two people were injured and two structures damaged in the incident, which occurred at 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT). It said the fire had been contained, but that residents near the incident had been evacuated.”

1-21-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. U.S. Park Service voluntarily withdraws permit for key pipeline crossing. “[T]he appeals court threw out the initial permit for the project in August for failing to show whether it would be consistent with the parkway’s purpose. The agency issued a new permit in September that the Sierra Club and Virginia Wilderness Committee quickly challenged in the 4th Circuit. But the park service said both permits ‘were predicated in part on the existence of a valid Forest Service permit’ for the project to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail on land in the George Washington National Forest. After the 4th Circuit vacated the Forest Service permit, the park service asked the court to delay further legal proceedings so that the agency can decide how to proceed. ‘That motion remains pending before the court,’ the park service said last week. ‘Due to the lapse in appropriations to the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior, briefing in this petition has been suspended pending further order of the court.’

1-21-19 Daily Progress. Letter: Northam inconsistent on environment. “I applaud Gov. Ralph Northam for his State of the Commonwealth speech in which he recognized that improperly stored ‘coal ash can ruin water quality and create environmental disasters’ (Northam backs bill that forces Dominion to remove coal ash, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 4). What I don’t understand is why the governor waited so long to hold Dominion responsible for this environmental mess, which has been a problem for decades. And Gov. Northam still avoids commenting on the large natural gas pipeline that Dominion and its consortium are planning to build in order to export fracked gas from West Virginia. …. If you believe that fracking gas is an environmentally safe practice and that huge natural gas pipelines do not present eminent dangers, then you are not paying attention.”

1-20-19 Virginian-Pilot. Virginia investor working to curb Dominion’s influence. “Rich people using their wealth to try to influence politics is nothing new, but not many launch multimillion-dollar crusades against their local electric company. That’s just what Charlottesville investor and Democratic donor Michael Bills is doing in Virginia, where’s he’s taking on Dominion Energy, the state’s largest electric utility and most politically powerful corporation. It’s a David versus Goliath story, if both of them had a bunch of money. Dominion has had a major say in writing Virginia energy laws for years, helping shape a regulatory scheme Wall Street analysts have called one of the most utility-friendly in the country. Critics say Dominion has used its political muscle to overcharge customers by billions of dollars and stifle competition. Dominion says it’s an engaged corporate citizen with a strong record of providing reasonably priced, reliable power. Bills said Dominion has effectively captured the General Assembly to boost profits. The result, he said, isn’t just overpaid Dominion executives, unnecessarily high electric bills and bad environmental policy, but a deep rot in the democratic process. ‘The structural problem is that Dominion has insidious influence,’ Bills told The Associated Press. Bills is funding a group called Clean Virginia that plans to spend about $8 million to $10 million on a lobbying and public relations campaign over several years. Those efforts include running targeted ads in key lawmakers’ districts to counter Dominion’s sway.”

1-19-18 Roanoke Times. Letter: We don’t need pipelines. “In his op-ed on January 9th, state Senator Frank Wagner argued that Hampton Roads, and by extension, Virginia, ‘needs’ the Atlantic Coast Pipeline because the military needs more natural gas (‘Hampton Roads urgently needs the Atlantic Coast Pipeline‘). The evidence suggests otherwise: according to PJM, an electricity grid operator, Dominion has overestimated future gas needs for the region by 2,734 megawatts – -equivalent to the output of nearly two power plants. Rather than building for regional needs, it’s more likely Dominion is preparing to ship natural gas abroad to generate profits for shareholders. What the region definitely does not need is the extreme weather and rising sea levels that will result from the 30 million tons of methane emissions the ACP will generate. Regionally, sea levels have been predicted to rise as much as 7.2 feet by 2100, devastating the region’s economy and undermining national security. I believe Senator Wagner is well aware of the dangers of building the ACP. However, Dominion Energy is the largest industry donor to Wagner’s campaign coffers.”

1-18-19 S&P Global. Amid litigation, US National Park Service seeks chance to rethink permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “The Trump administration is seeking to pull back and rethink the US National Park Service permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, in further fallout from adverse US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rulings for the project. The action is another sign of how litigation over permits is complicating the path forward for the 1.5 Bcf/d, 600-mile project, meant to move Appalachian gas to Mid-Atlantic markets. Construction is on hold, at least until March, while the court reviews separate Fish and Wildlife Service authorizations. The NPS permit involves authorization for the pipeline to pass under the Blue Ridge Parkway. After the 4th Circuit vacated the initial permit in August, finding NPS failed to explain how the right-of-way did not conflict with the purpose of the scenic parkway, the agency reissued the permit in September. In an unopposed motion Thursday in litigation challenging the new permit, the Department of Justice asked to have the NPS permit voluntarily remanded to the agency. Among other things, environmental groups challenging the permit argue justification is lacking for a categorical exclusion to the National Environmental Policy Act that NPS used to support the decision. …. DOJ also noted that the permit rested in part on the US Forest Service right-of-way, which has since been struck by the court, to cross 680 feet of the George Washington National Forest.”

1-18-19 Virginia Mercury. Bill meant to level the playing field for pipeline takings passes Senate. “New legislation that would level the playing field for property owners in an eminent domain taking lawsuit sailed through the Senate on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, would eliminate provisions in the assessments of costs in eminent domain proceedings for some condemnors, such as public service companies like utilities. Property owners would not simply get ‘just compensation,’ but they’d also get costs of appraisal, expert witnesses and other expenses. It would apply to the two major pipeline projects — the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines — that are currently engaged in eminent domain litigation.”

1-18-19 Virginia Mercury. Former state board member was accused of ‘working for the opposition’ after raising concerns about pipeline construction damage. “Visiting the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction corridor in southwest Virginia was a promise I made to local residents while I was a member of the State Water Control Board. It was a promise that wasn’t kept until Jan. 2, when I toured many farms and residential lands impacted by the MVP construction activities. Unfortunately, it came after I was removed from the board by Gov. Ralph Northam. …. Based on what I observed along about 30 miles of MVP construction, it continues to be unclear to me why the DEQ has not instructed MVP to stop work in accordance with its authority.” [Former Water Board member’s article includes scathing criticism of DEQ Director David Paylor.]

1-17-19 Virginia Mercury. Your guide to clean energy and climate bills this session (blink and you might miss them). “Clean energy and climate action are mainstream concepts with the public these days, but at Virginia’s General Assembly they have yet to gain much traction. Last year saw one renewable energy bill after another die in committee, along with legislation mandating lower energy use through energy efficiency and climate measures like having Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. …. So clean energy advocates and climate activists are trying again, though the odds against them look as tough as ever. Republicans hold a bare majority of seats overall, but they dominate the powerful commerce and labor committees that hear most energy bills. And Republicans overall (though with some exceptions) are more hostile to clean energy legislation than Democrats and more willing to side with utilities against customers and competitors.”  [Article includes a detailed listing of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy transition bills (as of the date or writing).]

1-17-18 My Buchannon [WV]. ACP official: Work on natural gas pipeline won’t recommence prior to March. “Construction work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline won’t resume until March at the earliest due to a ruling handed down by a federal appeals court late last week, a representative with ACP told the Upshur County Commission Thursday. Mike Cozad, the community liaison for the natural gas pipeline told the commission Thursday that a motion for emergency clarification on a prior court ruling in December had been denied on Friday, Jan. 11. t Thursday’s meeting, Cozad appeared in front of the commission to request that they draft a letter in support of resuming construction on the approximately 600-mile-long, 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline that is designed to reach from Harrison County, West Virginia, to Robeson County, North Carolina. The commission agreed to draft the letter, which will be sent to state and federal lawmakers.”

1-17-19 Roanoke Times. Court filing asks judge to deny Mountain Valley’s request for injunction against tree-sitters. “A federal judge should not act as an ‘enforcer’ for the Mountain Valley Pipeline by using her power to remove two protesters from trees blocking the path of the controversial pipeline, supporters are arguing in court. U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon was asked in a brief filed Wednesday to deny Mountain Valley’s request for a preliminary injunction, which the company says it needs to evict two people identified in court records only as ‘Tree-sitter 1’ and ‘Tree-sitter 2.’ Since early September, two protesters have been living in tree stands about 50 feet above the forest floor on a steep mountainside in eastern Montgomery County, frustrating Mountain Valley’s efforts to complete tree-cutting. But Mountain Valley is ‘improperly seeking to enlist this Court to act as its enforcer in its dealings with persons opposing pipeline activities and construction,’ Roanoke attorney John Fishwick wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the tree-sitters.”

1-17-19 Virginia Mercury. State Corporation Commission rejects billions in Dominion grid spending. “Proving it still has some teeth left despite the General Assembly’s best efforts, the State Corporation Commission has rejected billions in proposed spending by Dominion Energy it had sought permission to recover from its customers under the sweeping utility regulations signed into law last year. …. Though the commission did approve about $155 million in spending on security features, including cyber security and conventional security measures like barriers at distribution substations, it rejected other proposed projects, including smart meters, grid hardening, “intelligent grid devices” and emerging technology, that would have cost a total of more than $5 billion including financing costs. ‘In summary, we agree that smart meters and other grid enhancements hold the promise for a true transformation of the grid and for the more efficient consumption of electricity, but spending billions of dollars of customers’ money on full deployment is reasonable and prudent only if the expenditure is accompanied by a sound and well-crafted plan to fulfill the promise that smart meter technology and other grid enhancements offer,’ the judges wrote.”

1-16-19 Virginia Mercury. After nearly year-long logjam, GOP ‘rams through’ State Corporation Commission pick with no Democratic support. “More than a year after Judge James Dimitri said he was stepping down from the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, insurance, banking and other business interests, Republicans in the General Assembly muscled through a surprise pick to fill the last remaining year of his term in a single day with zero Democratic support. The new judge is Judge Patricia West, a former chief deputy attorney general under Ken Cuccinelli, a former secretary of public safety under Gov. George Allen and a judge on the Virginia Beach Circuit Court. …. Virginia Democrats called her a ‘conspiracy theorist.’ ‘Most troubling of all for the citizens of Virginia, Patricia West has a long history of endorsing and promoting far-right, sexist, Islamophobic conspiracy theories,’ the party said in a statement.”

1-16-19 DeSmog.  Virginia Air Board Member Who Approved a Controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline Permit Has Links to a Dominion Gas Partner. “A member of a Virginia state permitting board who last week approved a highly controversial certification for Dominion’s planned Atlantic Coast pipeline has business ties to a company currently collaborating with Dominion on a related gas project, DeSmog has found. William (Trip) Ferguson joined three other Air Pollution Control Board members to unanimously approve a permit for Dominion’s Buckingham compressor station. …. Now, a DeSmog investigation raises questions about the degree of Ferguson’s impartiality when approving this project. Ferguson is senior vice president at Harvey Lindsay CRE, a prominent Virginia commercial and industrial real estate company. One of his clients is meat-processing giant Smithfield Foods, which recently partnered with Dominion to create a new energy business. In late November, six weeks before the air board’s vote, Dominion and Smithfield Foods announced the creation of a joint venture to produce natural gas from hog manure. With an investment of $250 million, the partnership established a company called Align Renewable Natural Gas to capture gas from pig waste and pump it into Dominion’s pipelines. At the time of the announcement, Dominion’s CEO Thomas Farrell specifically cited the construction of the Atlantic Coast pipeline as an incentive for the partnership since the gas produced from the manure will, in his words, ‘inevitably’ make its way through the pipeline, which will run near many of Smithfield Food’s Virginia hog lagoons.”

1-15-19 Charlotte Business Journal. Timing of federal case could add $1B to Atlantic Coast Pipeline costs. “Two recent federal court rulings could delay construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for up to a year and add as much as $1 billion more to costs already estimated at up to $7 billion. That could push completion of the 600-mile project — designed to transport natural gas from shale fields in the North and Midwest from West Virginia, through coastal Virginia and to eastern North Carolina — back to mid-2021. And that is only if the pipeline ultimately wins current court challenges. …. The court has declined to either narrow that December stay or to expedite the hearing on the case. Agreeing to either could have made it possible for construction to resume on the project after a brief pause. Dominion, which is in charge of construction, has warned that on the current court schedule, construction could be pushed back by as much as a year. And it says the construction halt is costing up to $20 million a week. Because of requirements in its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license, the pipeline could be prevented from clearing timber for construction of the pipeline until November, even if the court rules in its favor after the hearing that starts March 19. If that were to happen, the delays could add up to a $1 billion cost increase.”

1-15-19 Natural Gas Intel.  Supreme Court May Consider Challenge to MVP, Natural Gas Act. “The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this week whether it will hear a case challenging the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the constitutionality of parts of the Natural Gas Act (NGA). A group of Virginia landowners is challenging Congress and the authority delegated to FERC under the NGA. The group argues that private companies should not be allowed to seize private property for their financial gain, and natural gas pipelines should not be considered the sort of public use that justifies eminent domain. MVP invoked eminent domain to condemn landowner property. The landowners filed their petition with the Supreme Court after the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia dismissed the case and said it did not have jurisdiction over the constitutional questions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. Petitioners now want the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court’s judgment so that the district court may hear the arguments. Under the NGA, if a company receives a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it can acquire property rights by using eminent domain if a voluntary agreement with the landowner cannot be reached. The petitioners want the lower court to find that Congress’ delegation to FERC of the power of eminent domain is overly broad and unconstitutional; in violation of the nondelegation doctrine, which holds that Congress can’t impart its powers to a private organization; and more clearly define what constitutes the kind of public use eligible for eminent domain.”

1-15-19 Roanoke Times.  Letter: Stop work on MVP’s operation. “Mountain Valley Watch and the People’s Patrol have been doing the government’s work. Thanks to their high quality reports Attorney General Mark Herring filed charges against MVP for hundreds of environmental violations. MVP has also been operating unlawfully but there has been confusion on how to call law enforcement to report the violations. MVP is not allowed to do construction in the dark. One night there were workers on top of Fort Lewis mountain working in a foot of snow in the rain. This endangers the workers and creates doubt about the quality of work that can be accomplished under those conditions. A new U.S. Congress went into session on January 3. There should be congressional oversight about why law enforcement has not responded to protect the people and workers in southwest Virginia from MVP’s negligence. …. It’s time for our government to do their job starting with AG Mark Herring issuing an immediate stop work order and voiding the 401 permit. The courts have vacated several essential permits for the MVP leaving no reasonable assurance the project can be completed without irreparable harm to our environment and communities.”

1-14-19 WBTV [NC]. Documents reveal Cooper used ACP permit as leverage in deal between Duke and solar companies. “Documents released by the Cooper Administration last month show senior staff delayed signing off on a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline until Duke Energy, one of the pipeline’s major investors, reached a separate deal with solar companies that would, essentially, result in the utility giant purchasing more solar power. The decision by Cooper and senior staff to use the pipeline permit as leverage to force Duke into cutting a deal with the state’s solar industry is documented in text messages, emails and memos included in a 19,216-page document dump released by the administration days before Christmas.”

1-14-19 S&P Global. US appeals court will not ease stay for 1.5 Bcf/d ACP natural gas pipeline. “A federal appeals court said Friday it will not scale back a stay on a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, increasing prospects for delay of the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d project, designed to move Appalachian gas to Mid-Atlantic markets. …. ACP in early December suspended most construction after the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion as well as the incidental take statement setting limits on harm to protected species. To soften the blow, the pipeline company sought emergency clarification December 7 that the stay’s application was narrower than it appeared. The court on Friday rejected that request. The decision added to the late-December rejection of another ACP attempt to put the project back on pace – a request to expedite briefing and oral argument in the case. Amid regulatory challenges, Dominion previously postponed its in-service target from mid-2019 to mid-2020 for portions of the project, while a late-2019 target remained for some segments. In a December 14 motion, the company said delay of up to a year was ‘all but certain’ under the current oral argument schedule and ‘would exponentially increase’ project costs. Oral argument is tentatively scheduled for the court’s March 19-21 session, and the stay is in effect pending the litigation. If it was unable to complete tree felling by mid-March, ACP had told the court that time-of-year environmental restrictions on tree felling could make the additional delay inevitable.”

1-13-19 Nasdaq. Dominion Energy Issues Statement On Atlantic Coast Pipeline Ruling. “The statement was issued by Dominion Energy spokesperson Karl Neddenien in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s order, issued on Friday, January 11, 2019, that denied Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s motion for clarification on the court’s stay of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement. Karl Neddenien said, ‘We fully stand behind the Fish & Wildlife Service’s authorization for this project. We believe the agency thoroughly addressed the issues in this case in the revised Biological Opinion and new Incidental Take Statement in September. In developing this project over the last four years, we have taken extraordinary care to protect the sensitive species at issue in this case. We will vigorously defend the agency’s decisions and the measures we’ve taken to protect the species in oral arguments before the court in March.'”

1-11-19 Roanoke Times. Mountain Valley Pipeline files response to state’s lawsuit. “Widespread erosion during construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was caused by “extraordinary” rainfall and other uncontrollable forces of nature, attorneys for the company said Friday in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental regulators. In its first detailed reply to a legal enforcement action brought by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the State Water Control Board, the company asked a judge to dismiss some of the claims. But the 28-page filing in Henrico County Circuit Court also indicated that Mountain Valley is interested in a ‘potential negotiated resolution’ of a lawsuit that accuses it of violating environmental regulations more than 300 times. It was unclear to what degree a settlement has been discussed. …. Although the lawsuit does not seek an exact monetary amount, Herring said in an earlier statement that he will seek ‘the maximum allowable civil penalties and a court order to force MVP to comply with environmental laws and regulations.’ Penalties in the case could be as high as $32,500 per day for each violation.”

1-11-19 Essence. Black Women Are Leading The Way In Environmental Justice. “America’s pressing social challenges—affordable housing, health care, wage equity, police brutality and sexual assault, to name a few—are linked to the nation’s continued legacy of systemic inequality and racial discrimination against African Americans. Environmental justice is another of these social challenges, though not always as widely visible or understood. Black women nationwide are boldly leading a growing effort to heighten public awareness of how environmental issues like pollution and climate change affect African Americans and other people of color, and galvanizing the push for environmental justice in their communities. …. In Virginia, plans for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline include the threatened construction of a high-powered, emissions-spewing gas-compressor station in the historic majority-Black community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. Black female residents of Union Hill, such as Ruby Laury, have been among the loudest voices raised against the project. They say the compressor’s toxic emissions may lead to negative health outcomes for residents of their community, and disrupt agriculture and wildlife in the area.”

1-11-19 Charleston Gazette-Mail. Gazette editorial: Who are the real rogues? “A lobbyist for the natural gas industry told West Virginia legislators Tuesday that progress on a pipeline that stretches through the Mountain State was slowed because of ‘rogue environmental groups”’challenging the project in the federal court system. …. The suggestion to the Legislature offered up by lobbyist Bob Orndorff that the body pass a resolution condemning the environmental groups pursuing litigation is insulting. These groups trying to protect their rights are made up of actual West Virginians who want to preserve what they have and avoid being steamrolled by big industry. Their government should be watching out for them, but it’s not, so the only way to stand up for themselves is through the courts. Remember it’s the people who are the David in this scenario, not the Goliath.”

1-10-19 Nelson County Times. The revolution is coming. “The Jan. 3 letter to the editor (“Nelson, don’t obstruct progress”) promoting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. I do not know if the author has ties to Dominion Energy, but he indulges in the same sort of innuendo we’ve come to expect from the company in this fight. Those of us who have dedicated countless hours of our time as well as our personal money to this struggle are deeply insulted by someone who writes that we blindly “accept statements put forth by agenda groups whose funding is well hidden.” What a vile falsehood. I’ve met hundreds of Nelsonians who oppose the pipeline. We are anything but blind. We’ve been forced to become extraordinarily well- and self-educated on the issues involved, and we are. We have presented careful scientific studies that strongly counter the propaganda put forth by Dominion in pursuit of the profit to be made off of our pain. …. Our resistance is not the work of some shadowy, unnamed outside cabal. The trampling of the people’s rights is what caused our ancestors to rise up in 1776. This is our land, they said to their government, not something you can confiscate at your whim — and we will fight for it. The same spirit of resistance that birthed the American Revolution is manifesting again, right here, right now.”

1-10-19 Roanoke Times. Letter: Dominion Energy is source of smell. “It’s not hard to find the source of the smell you reference in your recent editorial (‘Something stinks: Something’s not right with a key regulatory board,’ Dec. 21). Everyone in Richmond knows that smell. That suspicious odor is Dominion Energy, whose corrosive influence in Virginia boiled to the surface in the recent ouster of two qualified but outspoken air board members who dared to ask the hard questions over Dominion’s unnecessary pipeline project. Dominion has one motive: money. When their revenue model is at all threatened, they pull out all of the stops with a militia of lobbyists and a propaganda machine that Vladamir Putin himself would envy. The end result? Vulnerable communities and our environment suffer while they profit handsomely.”

1-10-19 Nelson County Times. Dominion’s abuse of its customers. “I applaud Gov. Ralph Northam for his speech recognizing that improperly stored “coal ash can ruin water quality and create environmental disasters,” citing the 2014 Duke Power arsenic coal ash spill into the Neuse River in North Carolina (and again in 2018). …. Northam avoided in his prepared environmental speech comments regarding the two largest natural gas pipelines ever (42-inch diameter pipe) that Dominion Power is planning to build to export fracked gas from West Virginia — 600 miles long and 125 feet wide through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. …. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. And to quote Northam’s speech, “science is clear” that the burning of fossil fuels warms the planet and causes sea levels to rise: ‘The commonwealth can and must play a larger role in reducing that risk.’ I find his quote to be quite contrary to his actions.”

1-9-19 Grist. Historically black community could face a toxic facility for Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “The saga continues for the embattled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. On Tuesday, a Virginia board approved a controversial plan to build a natural gas compressor station in Union Hill, a historically black community in Buckingham County. The decision was met with uproar from opponents, who vowed to keep fighting in protests and in court. ‘It’s a real tragedy that the board that has been appointed to protect our air makes a decision that seals the fate and disregards the ongoing health and welfare of an entire community,’ said Chad Oba, chair of the Friends of Buckingham, an organization of Buckingham citizens, and a local resident that will be impacted by the decision. ‘This is just another example of institutionalized racial discrimination,’ she told Grist. …. Despite the board’s approval of the natural gas compression station, members of the Friends of Buckingham County say they too plan to keep fighting. ‘We have not given up,’ Oba added. ‘If anything, it’s given us more resolve.'”

1-9-19 NC Policy Watch. Document reveals effort to buy silence of American Indian tribes on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “A law firm specializing in cultural and historic preservation presented documents offering American Indian tribes along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route $1 million each for their tacit support of the controversial project, according to documents obtained by NC Policy Watch. Cultural Heritage Partners (CHP) approached the Lumbee and the Haliwa-Saponi in North Carolina with a confidential settlement agreement that would pay the tribes if they agreed not to oppose the natural gas project. According to a draft version of the document dated May 30, 2018, the tribes ‘would not petition any state or federal regulatory agency or court of law’ or ‘submit additional comment letters, protests or appeals’ regarding the ACP. The tribes also ‘would agree not to hinder or delay the development, construction or operation of the pipeline.’ Half of the $1 million would be paid up front — minus legal fees for CHP — with the balance being paid shortly before the pipeline would begin operating commercially. The amount of the commission could not be confirmed in the draft settlement. Since the terms and even the existence of the agreement are confidential, the contents of the final document are not public.”

1-9-19 WVTF.  DEQ’s Unprecedented Move to Reconsider MVP Permit. “After pipeline construction began last February, opponents to it set out to document something they believed to be true; this part of Appalachia, with its steep mountains and porous karst terrain, would be impossible for construction crews to cross, without serious harm to rivers and streams. ‘The 300-plus violations that are in that lawsuit are predominantly documented by citizens,’ according to Mara Robbins with a group called Preserve Floyd. …. Those reports and Department of Environmental Quality’s own monitoring…found, that despite promises to the contrary, pipeline construction is threatening water quality in some cases. Then, last month, what most activists thought would never happen, happened: The Virginia State Water Control Board decided to reconsider the pipeline’s certification to continue construction. ‘We are in uncharted territory here,’ says Tammy Belinski, a lawyer who has worked on several legal challenges for a variety of anti-pipeline groups. ‘There’s no precedent for what’s occurring now on the (Clean Water Act Section Water Quality) 401 certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This has never happened before, so I don’t know what to expect.’ She says, ‘It is remarkable that the current (Virginia Water Control) board members, on December 13th (2018) meeting finally took the citizens’ concerns to heart and decided to reconsider whether there is reasonable assurance that water quality standards can, will, are being protected during the construction process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. And, we don’t know what that process will be. What’s unfortunate,’ She adds, is that the board’s decision to reconsider the 401 certification is ‘meaningless while construction on the 3-hundred mile, 42-inch wide pipeline continues.'”

1-9-19 Daily Progress. Editorial: Tree felling for pipeline premature. “Given current slowdowns to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s a shame that pipeline developers got permission to start felling trees last year even before all permits were approved. Some environmental damage might have been mitigated — or at least delayed. …. It might not matter to Dominion that trees were felled so far in advance of the actual pipeline construction; after all, the forest isn’t going to grow back in a year. But it matters to the well-being of the environment. Although developers were required to leave felled trees on the ground, the loss of tree canopy significantly alters the local habitat and its health. That the trees were cut before they needed to be exacerbates the harm. And then there’s the matter of the stream crossing and wetlands violations. They shouldn’t have happened at all, no matter when the trees were cut. But if developers hadn’t been rushing the process, as it appears, they might have taken more care to understand and correctly implement the terms of the permit.”

1-8-19 Charleston Gazette-Mail. Lobbyist: ‘Rogue environmental groups’ standing in way of building pipelines. “Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been halted because ‘rogue environmental groups’ are getting in the way, an energy lobbyist told lawmakers Tuesday. ‘It’s on hold because the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a rogue environmental group to contest various permits that we have on the project,’ Bob Orndorff, state policy director for Dominion Energy, said to the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development on behalf of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, during a presentation of various facts and figures about natural gas jobs in West Virginia.”

1-8-19 Washington Post. Virginia regulators approve permit for pipeline compressor station. “Virginia regulators on Tuesday approved a permit for a natural gas compressor station in the historic African American community of Union Hill in Buckingham County, angering opponents who vowed to keep fighting in protests and in court. The state Air Pollution Control Board voted 4 to 0 on the basis of recommendation from staff of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and under heavy pressure from Dominion Energy, whose executives occupied two reserved rows at the front of the meeting room.”

1-8-19 Virginia Mercury. Air board unanimously approves Buckingham compressor permit. “The State Air Pollution Control Board unanimously approved a controversial permit that will allow a compressor station in Buckingham County for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. ‘I support this project without reservation,’ said board member William Ferguson, after explaining he thinks the larger pipeline project would benefit Hampton Roads, where he’s from. The board had delayed its decision several times to allow for more public comment and consideration of new demographic information given to board members last month. The board vote was a rallying point for pipeline opponents and Union Hill, the largely African-American community in Buckingham that will live with the 54,000 horsepower station and its emissions if the pipeline gets built.”

1-8-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. State air board backs Buckingham compressor station for Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “A pitched public battle over a natural gas compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Buckingham County ended with a vote of approval for a permit that state officials hailed as a new national standard for air pollution controls on gas turbines and opponents branded as tainted by political interference from Gov. Ralph Northam. The State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 to approve the compressor station permit on Tuesday, acting without three of its seven members – two of whom Northam had replaced abruptly in November. The vote came during a raucous two-hour meeting at a Chesterfield County conference center that was thronged by protesters and Virginia State Police.”

1-7-19 Washington Post. Former board members challenge state data ahead of key vote on pipeline facility. “Two former members of Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board warn that regulators are preparing to vote on Dominion Energy’s plan to put a natural gas facility in a rural African American community based on inaccurate information from staff and from the utility. The comments come as the air board is set to consider Tuesday whether to grant a key permit for the natural gas compressor station, a part of Dominion’s $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Critics say Dominion’s choice of the Union Hill area in Buckingham County for a noisy and potentially toxic industrial facility would disproportionately affect minorities — something state law prohibits. Both former members — Samuel Bleicher of Arlington and Rebecca Rubin of Fredericksburg — were removed from the board in November by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) just as they were poised to act on the issue. Neither has said how they would have voted.”

1-7-19 Medium. Dominion Energy & Environmental Racism: a case study in how to lie with maps. “Yes, the title is provocative, but its not entirely mine. I simply and liberally borrow from the classic Mark Monmonier primer entitled How to Lie with Maps. But the reality of this ‘case study’ is indeed provocative, and it amounts to nothing less than outright environmental racism under the direction of ‘one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy’, Dominion Energy. In the following maps, charts and discussion, I detail the mechanisms behind Dominion Energy’s use of a ‘product’ from ESRI based in California; the ‘skills’ of one international environmental firm; ‘validated’ by an academic institution in Virginia and delivered to decision makers that may unwittingly (or not) participate in the statistical erasure of a local, historic, minority-majority community in Buckingham County, Virginia.”

1-7-19 Washington Post. Opinion column by Rebecca Rubin: Is Virginia interested in environmental justice? We’re about to find out. “Calls for the commonwealth’s commitment to environmental justice have rightly been a focal point of extensive public testimony, and how the air board votes will help determine whether the commonwealth’s stated commitment to environmental justice should be taken seriously.”

1-7-19 Virginia Mercury. How will air board weigh site ‘suitability’ on major compressor station vote? “Is an African-American community in rural Virginia the right place to put a massive compressor station for a natural gas pipeline? This is the question the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board will consider at its meeting Tuesday. …. Now the air board, which has authority to issue a permit, will consider the suitability of the site for the compressor in its upcoming meeting. Key to the question is what guidelines the board must use in making this decision. The air board, like the State Water Control Board, is central in the permitting process for pollution-control facilities. These boards are comprised of citizens appointed by the governor and working without pay to promote transparency via public debates and votes and to broaden the base of regulatory decision making. The boards actually predate the state’s Department of Environmental Quality — the water board dating to 1946 and the air board to 1966. DEQ was formed in in 1993 by combining the staff agencies that had been serving the air and water boards, as well as the Waste Management Board, another citizen authority. Some functions of these boards are routinely delegated to DEQ. However, when a permit is before the air board, it is the board’s statutory responsibility to consider, among other factors, ‘the suitability of the activity to the area in which it is located.’ But what has ‘site suitability’ meant in practice in air board decisions? Historical and legal records do not offer many concrete examples, but they indicate that the board has struggled for decades to interpret the idea of suitability.”

1-7-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Letter: Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Last year, the United Nations issued a report on climate change indicating that we have only a few years to avert total climate catastrophe by immediately halting our use of fossil fuels. Yet, Dominion Power is moving forward with plans to build an Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station in the historic black neighborhood of Union Hill. The company has gone to desperate measures to move forward despite public opposition, issuing demographic data that grossly understates the number of black residents of Union Hill, and offering up funding for a fire department in exchange for accepting the compressor station. …. Gov. Ralph Northam stands on the wrong side of history by interceding on behalf of Dominion and removing two members of the Air Pollution Control Board. The remaining board members must vote on Jan. 8 to deny Dominion’s requested permit and protect all Virginia residents from this costly and unnecessary project.”

1-7-19 Energy News Network. Will 2019 be the year Virginia cracks down on methane emissions? “An Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station before Virginia regulators could be the first to face tougher standards amid heightened scrutiny of methane leaks in the state. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s draft permit for a compressor station in Buckingham County includes a requirement for inclusion of a vent gas reduction system the agency claims will cut methane emissions by more than 99 percent due to reduced venting of natural gas. If approved by the State Air Pollution Control Board, this would mark the first time the department has issued a permit requiring the methane-reduction technology. It looks to be a sign of more regulation to come. As high-profile battles over the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines rage, Virginia has quietly moved to begin regulating greenhouse gases — including methane emissions — more tightly. [Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s] Virginia director, Harrison Wallace, wrote that while it’s good the department is requiring stricter emissions standards on projects like the Buckingham County compressor station, the bigger problem is ongoing construction of ‘huge new sources’ of methane like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines. ‘When it comes to regulating methane, Gov. Northam has a big pipeline problem,’ Wallace said. ‘The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline would result in the greenhouse gas equivalent of 45 new coal-fired power plants.'”

1-5-19 Richmond Times Dispatch. Letter: Air board should nix ACP permit. “The job of the Air Pollution Control Board (APCB) is to weigh the “need” for a project against the economic and health impacts that would be imposed on the communities directly affected. Setting aside the questionable “need” of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), toxic emissions from the Buckingham compressor station would devastate the adjacent community. …. According to the guidance given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for applying the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in environmental justice matters, census data can be seriously misleading. Among other things, ‘analysts should attempt to identify whether high concentration “pockets” of minority populations are evidenced in specific geographic areas.’ By following FERC’s precedent of ill-founded and specious use of census data, DEQ has compounded the error that was exposed and documented by Dr. Lakshmi Fjord’s door-to-door survey of the ‘pocket of minority population’ around the proposed compressor station site at Union Hill. The study disclosed the actual 1-mile radius demographic and historic data for the site. The existing (2018) population clusters belie the estimates of FERC and ACP. Once these populations are acknowledged, one sees glaringly obvious, negative, disproportionate impacts on the African American community in and around Union Hill. This is an environmental justice issue that has been recognized and reported by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ). The work of the ACEJ shows clearly why the APCB should deny this permit application.”

1-3-19 West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. Court Stops Atlantic Coast Pipeline from Crossing National Forests. “The United States Court of Appeals has stopped the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from crossing the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest. The Court concluded that the Forest Service’s decisions violate the National Forest Management Act (‘NFMA’), and the National Environmental Policy Act (‘NEPA’). In addition to stopping the National Forests crossings, the Court concluded that the Forest Service did not have the statutory authority pursuant to the Mineral Leasing Act (‘MLA’) to grant a pipeline right of way across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The Court sent the matter back to the Forest Service to try again.” [An excellent review article]

1-3-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Saying Virginia can’t risk environmental catastrophe, Northam backs bill forcing Dominion to dig up coal ash. “Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday threw his weight behind legislation that would require Dominion Energy to dig up 27 million cubic yards of coal ash stored in unlined ponds across the state. The announcement was a victory for environmentalists, who have long rejected Dominion’s plans to cap the ash in place, arguing it could pollute nearby waterways and private wells. ‘If not disposed of properly, coal ash can ruin water quality and create environmental disasters,’ Northam said, citing a 2014 coal ash spill in North Carolina. ‘We cannot have a repeat of that here in Virginia.’ …. The governor’s environmental package also included a proposal to direct $50 million to coastal resilience projects to mitigate the effects of climate change. Other bills would make it easier for rural communities to receive funding to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff and help resolve conflicts between the shellfish industry and others who use coastal waterways.”

1-3-19 Washington Post. Kevin McIntyre, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman, dies at 58. “Kevin J. McIntyre, who chaired the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and last year rejected a Trump administration proposal to aid coal and nuclear plants, died Jan. 2 at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 58. The cause was brain cancer, his family said. Mr. McIntyre, a Republican lawyer, was nominated by President Trump in August 2017 to chair the FERC, which regulates portions of the electricity grid, interstate oil transportation and natural gas pipelines, and electric transmission lines. But in January 2018 Mr. McIntyre led the independent five-member commission in unanimously rejecting a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would have propped up nuclear and coal plants struggling to stay afloat in competitive electricity markets. Mr. McIntyre’s death opens up the possibility that Trump could seek to alter the balance of the commission on competitive markets. The commission, which has two Democrats and two remaining Republicans, is also charged with approving utility mergers and the construction of liquefied natural gas facilities.”

1-3-19 Blue Virginia. Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics: The Case of Dominion Energy and the Historically African-American Community of Union Hill, Virginia. “The Air Pollution Control Board was meeting to consider an application by Dominion Energy for a massive 54,000-hp, fracked-gas compressor station in the historic African-American Union Hill neighborhood of Buckingham county. DEQ staff presented previously reported demographic, environmental justice, and site-selection data in exhausting and excruciating detail. …. DEQ staff reported data that does not meet requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the best practices for environmental justice analysis, and most importantly, that had already been refuted by local data. What are we to think when state agency officials stand before a citizen Board and the public to present refuted statistics? …. The Census data submitted by Dominion and reported by DEQ undercounts the number of households within a mile of the proposed compressor station by half, reporting 41 households, compared to the 99 households found by field researchers. The census data shows that only 95 people live in the one-mile radius, and that 70.5% are white. The field research shows that 199 people live in 75 households (that responded), and that the majority of the 83% minority population is African American. A third of the respondents are descendants of formerly enslaved people at nearby plantations, including the Variety Shade plantation, where the proposed compressor station is sited.”

1-3-18 Blue Virginia. Video, Photos: Dozens Protest Northam-Dominion Fundraiser. “Virginians from across the state gathered in protest outside of a fundraising event co-hosted by Dominion executives and McGuireWoods, Dominion’s law firm, for Governor Ralph Northam’s PAC ‘The Way Ahead.’ The group gathered with signs, large banners, and flashlights to “shine a light on corruption,” and the event included chants, songs and statements from residents impacted by corruption in Virginia’s regulatory system. The demonstration was representative of the widespread demand for an end to Dominion and corporate influence in Virginia’s politics.”

1-2-19 Live5News [Charleston SC]. Dominion Energy, SCANA announce official completion of merger. “Virginia-based Dominion Energy and SCANA Corporation, the parent company of South Carolina Electric and Gas announced Wednesday morning that they have officially completed their proposed merger. The Public Service Commission approved the merger in mid-December after more than a month of hearings. The deal approved by commissioners cuts the average customer’s bill by approximately $22 per month. But the average SCE&G customer will not receive a check for $1,000, which was proposed earlier. Instead, customers will be paying for the failure of the project over the next 20 years. Since that V.C. Summer expansion was abandoned, ratepayers have been footing the bill for the multi-billion-dollar costs with surcharges on their statements. Dominion officials say the typical SCE&G residential electric customer will pay approximately $125 per month. The official transaction value of the merger was $6.8 billion.”

1-2-19 WSET13. Opponents want Mountain Valley Pipeline to stop work until lawsuit date is set. “Today, Mountain Valley Pipeline opponents came together calling for a stop to building, saying the recent lawsuit against the pipeline is meaningless unless officials make them stop work. Attorney General Mark Herring and the Department of Environmental Quality filed a lawsuit in December, saying the pipeline committed several hundred environmental violations, but as of right now there is no set date for the hearing. The suit alleges that between June and November, DEQ inspectors found more than 300 violations, mainly improper erosion control and storm-water management.Former water control board member Roberta Kellam attended the meeting today. She says Governor Northam should insist on a stop work order and Delegate Sam Rasoul says the attorney general should do more. “But we hope that the attorney general whose office has not been a friend in this – we hope, we ask, we plead with the attorney general’s office to help us help the people,” said Rasoul. The attorney general’s office did not comment on the meeting but released a statement saying the Mountain Valley Pipeline has until the 11th to file a response.”

1-2-19 NRDC. Pipeline Incident Statistics Reveal Significant Dangers. “Oil and gas pipelines in the US are lacking adequate regulation, inspection, and enforcement. As one example, our colleagues at the FracTracker analysis recently published an alarming analysis of fossil fuel pipeline incidents from January, 2010 to November, 2018—almost 19 years. …. Their analysis found that, on average, a pipeline catches fire every 4 days and results in an explosion every 11 days, an injury every 5 days, and a fatality every 26 days. …. Natural gas distribution lines account for most injuries (79%), deaths (73%), evacuees (62%), fires (71%), and explosions (78%). Newer pipelines less than 10 years old have more incidents than any other age group. According to FracTracker, ‘the older the pipeline, the fewer the number of incidents.’ The causes of these tragedies include equipment failure, operator error, and corrosion.”

1-2-19 Washington Post. Hogan votes against ‘Potomac Pipeline’ following years of opposition from activists. “Maryland officials voted Wednesday to block Columbia Gas from using state land to build a natural gas pipeline that activists have been fighting for two years. The unanimous vote by the Board of Public Works, which includes Gov. Larry Hogan (R), came after more than 60 members of the General Assembly wrote a letter urging the board to deny a request from Columbia Gas to construct a distribution line under the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The board’s decision presents a serious hurdle for the project, which had been approved by federal and state regulatory agencies. Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TransCanada, could challenge the board’s decision. The company ‘will consider our options over the coming days to keep this project on track,’ spokesman Scott Castleman wrote in an email.”

1-2-19 S&P Global. Court declines to speed review to help with Atlantic Coast Pipeline scheduling woes. “Despite Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s warnings that the current court schedule could delay the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d natural gas project, a federal appeals court declined to speed the pace for briefing and oral argument for a challenge to federal endangered species permitting. ACP previously has said it paused work on nearly the entire project designed to move Appalachian shale gas to Mid-Atlantic market, after the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals December 7 stayed the federal approvals in question while litigation proceeded. Seeking to ease the impact on the project schedule, ACP on December 14 asked the court to move up oral argument, tentatively set for March, to the end of January. It contended that time-of-year restrictions that prohibit tree felling after mid-March could mean a delay of up to a year under the current schedule for briefing and oral argument. It also told the court that the cost of stopping construction is about $20 million per week, and that significant delays could mean most of the 3,000 full-time workers in West Virginia and North Carolina would be released. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals December 28 denied ACP’s motion to expedite briefing and oral argument. ACP still has an outstanding request pending with the court that could help it to get back on track faster, if granted. It has asked the court to clarify that the intended scope of the stay was narrower or to reconsider the stay entirely (Defenders of Wildlife v. US Department of Interior, 18-2090). A spokesman for ACP did not immediately reply to a request for comment.”

1-2-19 DavidToscano.com. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline–Living On Borrowed Time? “Forgive the imagery (and the irony), but the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is increasingly looking like an old automobile in need of a valve job – it is leaking serious oil, suffers by comparison to newer, more advanced models, and even if it can be made roadworthy, you and I will pay the bill for decades.”

1-2-19 Blue Virginia. DEQ Director David Paylor Lied to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board – and Now We Have the Smoking Gun. “On December 19, Paylor made some brief comments before hundreds of concerned citizens and the remaining four voting members of the Air Board. Paylor was asked whether Virginia could do a health assessment of the potential impact of the compressor station on the residents of Union Hill. He responded by saying that such a study could be done – but that it could not happen until after the compressor station was in operation for two years. …. It turns out that Paylor lied. Paylor also described what sounded like a conversation he had had with the Virginia Department of Health. But it turns out that Paylor’s interaction with the health department was not only in a conversation but in writing. In a just released email that was sent to Paylor on December 6, Dr. Caroline Holsinger, Director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Environmental Epidemiology, said that she had conferred with the State Toxicologist and that he ‘did indicate that we could do a health assessment on projected data.’ Nothing about being unable to do the study until after the compressor station was built. Nothing about having to wait two years. …. Paylor did not tell the Air Board on December 19 that thirteen days earlier, on December 6, the health department had offered to commence a health assessment now. And that he had done nothing to help them get started. Instead, Paylor made it sound like it was impossible to get any useful health information until after the compressor station is in operation, until after the air permit is approved. In other words, Paylor lied. And now we all know that he lied.”