April 2020 News

April 2020

4-28-20 New York Times. U.S. Court Ruling Could Threaten Pipeline Projects With Delays. “Several major U.S. oil and natural gas pipeline projects could be at risk of delays after a U.S. district judge in Montana this month said the Army Corps of Engineers had inappropriately used a national permit program, energy analysts said on Tuesday. …. Ann Nallo spokeswoman for Dominion Energy Inc, which is building the Atlantic Coast gas pipeline run from West Virginia to North Carolina, said ‘we’re following the developments to assess any impact.’ The company said it still expects the project to start up on schedule by early 2022.”

4-28-20 The Hill. House probe: Energy regulators almost always side with gas pipeline companies. “A probe conducted by the House Oversight and Reform Committee has found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) consistently sides with natural gas pipeline companies over property owners in certain land disputes. The committee found that in more than 99 percent of cases over the past 20 years, FERC has decided to give natural gas pipeline companies eminent domain; the move was approved 1,021 times and only rejected six times. Their investigation also determined that over the past 12 years, when landowners have sought to appeal FERC’s decision to give companies eminent domain over their property, in every case the commission has issued an order extending its time frame to respond. The appeals were ultimately denied every time.”

4-28-20 E&E Energywire. Chatterjee defends how FERC treats protesting landowners. “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee says his agency has been doing a “great job” in speeding up the process for complaints from landowners in the path of pipelines. But the agency won’t provide numbers to back that up, and an E&E News analysis of recent protests found many still move slowly. And landowner advocates say Chatterjee’s attempt at accelerating cases doesn’t get at the real problem. …. The agency press office said it could not supply figures to confirm the average processing time of less than two months cited by Chatterjee. An E&E News analysis found that of seven pipeline hearing requests between Sept. 1 and March 1, only one —involving a Tennessee Gas Pipeline upgrade —was decided within two months. Four took longer —between 76 and 87 days. Two others are still in limbo. A request for rehearing on an Atlantic Bridge compressor station in Massachusetts is undecided after more than 120 days. A protest of the Mountain Valley pipeline has been pendingfor more than 200 days. In all cases, the commission denied the opponents’ request for rehearing.

4-27-20 Southern Environmental Law Center. Press release: D.C. Circuit Hears Challenge to Unjust FERC Practice Used to Advance Construction of Unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Today, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard a challenge to a systematic practice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that prevents landowners and communities from challenging FERC’s decisions in court before energy infrastructure projects get under way—including FERC’s approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In a rare telephonic argument before the full court, challengers to the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline project argued for an end to FERC’s practice of issuing ‘tolling orders,’ which allows construction to begin—and, in some cases, allows entire pipelines to be completed—before court challenges to FERC’s approval can proceed.”

4-27-20 E&ENews. Court battle could upend ‘Kafkaesque’ FERC approvals. “A high-profile legal dispute over the federal government’s process for considering landowner challenges to energy projects is coming to a head today in a historic remote hearing before a prominent appeals court. The full slate of active U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit judges could choose to overturn long-standing precedent allowing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use “tolling orders” that effectively block property owners from going to court while greenlighting construction of projects — like the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline — on their land. …. Environmental groups and landowners today will ask the court to enforce a congressionally mandated deadline that gives FERC 30 days after a rehearing request is filed to either approve or deny a project. FERC has bypassed this requirement by consistently issuing tolling orders allowing indefinite consideration of pleas for rehearing.”

4-24-20 Virginia Mercury. Clean air and clean water are more important now than ever. “In the face of the greatest public health crisis in decades, we are more aware than ever of the connection between environmental protection, public and individual health and a strong economy. As we enter a new decade of environmentalism, it is worth reflecting on how far we have come so we can move forward with confidence and commitment to address new and urgent challenges. …. The challenges ahead will require innovative approaches to environmental protection that extend into much more complex areas of public policy such as addressing climate change, environmental justice and sustainable economic development. As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, community health is a vital component of community resilience. To that end, with direction and support from the governor’s office and the secretary of natural resources, DEQ is invested in being part of the solution. We are currently engaged in a wholesale review of our environmental justice procedures, we are committed to transparency, public accessibility of our work and establishing programs to continue to effectively administer our environmental protection programs.”

4-24-20 E&E EnergyWire. How a GOP-backed plan threatens the Atlantic Coast pipeline. “Virginia recently enacted a Republican-sponsored ratepayer protection measure that may spell trouble for the controversial Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline. While the law didn’t attract as much attention as the state’s landmark Clean Economy Act —whichtargets 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 —consumer and environmental activists say the provision, in tandem with the CEA, could throw up big obstacles for the proposed 600-mile-long gas line. …. The law stipulates a utility cannot recoup the costs of large new gas pipelines from its captive ratepayers unless it can prove that infrastructure is necessary for reliability and is the least-cost way to meet electricity demands. In other words, Dominion Energy Inc., Virginia’s large investor-owned utility and the lead developer of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, must prove the project is the best, cheapest way to keep the lights on in the Old Dominion if it’s going to make customers foot the bill for the capacity it has contracted.”

4-24-20 SCOTUSblog. Courtroom access: “There’s got to be a better way to do this”  “At around the same time, the clients – Johnson called them ‘the suits’ – began to arrive to take the places that the line-standers had been holding for them for nearly 12 hours. A man who arrived a little later offered Johnson $500 for his spot in line. Johnson retorted that, just as with the pipeline, his place ‘ain’t for sale.’ …. Like Johnson, Wilkin said, she had ‘planned to go up for the case as soon as the date for arguments was announced, and in this fight we’ve all had our fair share of being left out or pushed out of the room. This just hit home more than those other times. To me it was the most clear-cut instance of industry executives paying their way into a seat at the table, while many of us impacted by these projects are left out in the cold.’”

4-24-20 Roanoke Times. Mountain Valley says pipeline still on track despite issues with permit program. “The Mountain Valley Pipeline is still targeting a completion date of late this year, a spokeswoman said Friday, despite reports of the suspension of a nationwide program needed to grant a key permit it lacks.”

4-24-20 Food & Water Watch. This Federal Agency Closes Its Eyes To The Climate Crisis, So We’re Suing Them. “The lawsuit, Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is in response to the December 2019 FERC approval of the “261 Upgrade Project,” which consists of two miles of new pipeline and a new 11,000 horsepower compressor unit near Springfield, Massachusetts — the worst city for asthma sufferers in the entire country. Shortly after, our legal team began work challenging this reckless approval with one of the local groups on the ground fighting the project, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, which has been documenting how this new source of air pollution will devastate local communities that are already overburdened with unhealthy air. Our goal is simple: Make FERC factor in climate change in its permitting decisions, since they are ignoring legal requirements and court orders to do so.”

4-24-20 Virginia Mercury. State Corporation Commission should pause process on natural gas project. “The State Corporation Commission did the right thing when, weeks ago, it chose to officially suspend the disconnection of utility services in light of the pandemic. Now, it should do the next right thing by suspending the consideration of new fossil fuel infrastructure permits, at least until Virginians have a chance to address the immediate medical and economic crisis we face from COVID-19.”

4-22-20 E&E Energywire.  ‘A big deal’: Keystone XL ruling could threaten other pipelines. “A sweeping court ruling last week that halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through waterways set off alarm bells for some energy industry analysts.Experts warned that the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana’s broad order withdrawing a nationwide Clean Water Act permit for the crude oil project connecting Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico could also affect a pair of East Coast natural gas pipelines and an oil sands conduit between Canada and Wisconsin.”

4-20-20 UtilityDive. Report: Natural gas is a loser for long-term utility shareholder value. “Investment into new natural gas infrastructure like pipelines and power plants is ‘incompatible’ with long-term shareholder value, and thus it is in the best interest of the investor community to push utilities away from natural gas, according to a new report from corporate social responsibility group As You Sow and environmental consulting firm Energy Innovation. Major utility companies such as Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Southern Co. and American Electric Power have adopted goals of net-zero or close to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but those companies are also planning new natural gas infrastructure that will undercut these decarbonization goals and hurt investors in the long run, the report said.”

4-20-20 Virginia Mercury. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is looking like a riskier investment every day. “When announcing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, its owners, including Dominion Energy, said the project is essential for us to have the energy we need, will save us millions of dollars each year, foster economic development and be a windfall for shareholders. Events since the announcement demonstrate that none of the claims are likely to be true.”

4-16-20 The Recorder. Troubled 600-mile pipeline’s need under scrutiny again. “A motion the Virginia State Corporation Commission approved last week again suggested a lack of need for – and unsound rationale behind — the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. An Associated Press article spotlighted the issue, focusing on the pipeline need controversy and quoting a source describing it as an albatross. According to the SCC filing, construction of more gas power plants, the reason Dominion Energy cited for the pipeline in the first place, is no longer feasible in light of passage of renewable energy legislation.”

4-15-20 Courthouse News Service. Virginia High Court Hears Trespass Case Against Pipeline Firm. “The Virginia Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to clarify a state law governing how natural gas companies give notice to landowners when they want to survey private property without permission. At issue is surveying for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a more than 300-mile project that aims to bring natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina and beyond. In April 2016, surveyors for the pipeline company entered Fred W. Vest’s land in Bent Mountain, Virginia. Vest had denied the company access to his land and when they showed up anyway, following a series of communications and a second notice, he filed a trespass case against the company’s employees.”

4-13-20 Energy News Network. New Virginia law could be Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s greatest barrier yet. “Virginia environmentalists are confident that a bipartisan ratepayer-protection measure championed by a House Republican will spell doom for Dominion Energy’s fiercely debated Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Not surprisingly, however, Dominion is still convinced the $8 billion natural gas pipeline still has a bright future. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB 167 into law in early April, barely a month after the General Assembly wrapped up this year’s ambitious session. Both the Senate and the House of Delegates had voted unanimously to pass the legislation, introduced by Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. Briefly, Ware’s measure adds an extra level of scrutiny. It protects customers from paying for large new gas pipelines if utility regulators determine that the capacity of such infrastructure is not necessary for reliability and is not the least-cost way to meet electricity demand. Peter Anderson of Charlottesville, senior program manager for Appalachian Voices in Virginia, applauded Northam and the legislature for ensuring that regulators now have the appropriate tools to prevent electric monopolies from gouging consumers by constructing unnecessary pipelines.”

4-13-20 Pulitzer Center. Community Fights Construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Throughout Virginia and West Virginia along the pipeline route, a coalition of neighbors have come together in a variety of ways to protect the places they call home and have strengthened their communities in the process. With their work, they hope to offer a model for support and base-building in a world increasingly suffering from environmental harm. …. ‘We want to stop the pipeline. We want to make sure that no Democrat ever runs statewide with a pro-pipeline agenda, and we want to make it so difficult for these pipeline companies to come to Virginia that no pipeline ever dreams about trying to come through Virginia in the future,’ Delegate Sam Rasoul, who represents Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates, said in an interview.”

4-13-20 Daily Progress. Opinion/Letter: Pipeline may become even less viable. ” Shale drillers have been, and will be, going out of business. Though the federal government may prop them up, that’s only a short-term fix. Which brings us to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is intended to move natural gas from such drilling operations. Dominion Energy continues to fight in the courts for this albatross, including in the Supreme Court. Why? It no longer makes any sense (not that it ever did). Dominion stands to lose gargantuan amounts of money on this ill-conceived project, not even considering the damage COVID-19 will do. And those of you ratepayers who depend on Dominion for your electricity, you’re going to pay the price. So are those of us in the pipeline’s path. It is in the company’s best interests to pull the plug now, rather than throwing good money after bad. It will be way worse if the company persists.”

4-10-20 Virginia Mercury. FERC has a big pipeline problem. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a pipeline problem. A really, really big one. According to publicly available information on FERC’s website, the commission approved no fewer than 46 onshore gas pipeline ‘mega-projects’ from 1997 to 2019. These largest-of-the-large pipeline projects consist of gas pipelines measuring 24 to 42 inches in diameter, with over 100 miles of new pipeline. FERC’s most productive years during this time period were 2007 and 2017, when the commission approved nine and eight pipeline mega-projects, respectively. What immediately stands out is how notorious the class of 2017 is in terms of environmental impacts and operational risks. The roster is a veritable who’s who of fracked gas behemoths, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and Rover Pipeline, among others. It seriously calls into question FERC’s understanding, and exercise, of its role as a true ‘regulatory’ body.”

4-10-20 Virginia Mercury. After Clean Economy Act, Dominion says ‘significant build-out’ of new gas plants no longer viable. “Although it has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed by the General Assembly this March has already spurred changes to the long-term plans of Dominion Energy, the state’s largest electric utility. On March 24, Dominion asked regulators to waive a requirement that as part of its long-term planning it comprehensively assess the risk and impact of new natural gas plants on the grounds that ‘significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable, with the passage by the General Assembly of the Virginia Clean Economy Act.’”

4-8-20 Daily Progress. Dominion: Significant new natural gas generation not viable. “Dominion Energy Virginia recently told state regulators ‘significant build-out’ of natural gas-fired power plants is no longer viable because of renewable energy legislation lawmakers passed earlier this year. The disclosure came in a filing with the State Corporation Commission several weeks before Dominion has to file its integrated resource plan, or IRP, a long-range planning document that describes how the utility will generate power to comply with regulations and meet customer needs. The company’s critics called it the latest development to raise questions about why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the approximately $8 billion multistate natural gas pipeline the utility’s parent company is spearheading, is needed.”

4-8-20 The Enterprise [NC]. Pipeline opponent wants appraisers off his property. “A farmer living along the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route is asking Nash County [NC] officials to halt appraisers from entering his home during a statewide stay-at-home order meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Marvin Winstead, founder of Nash Stop the Pipeline, has asked the Nash County Board of Commissioners to reject the pipeline project, citing reductions in safety measures and alleged harassment of landowners, according to a letter delivered to the board Friday. …. ‘Over the last few days I have been harassed by Dominion attorneys to allow out-of-state assessors onto my property and even into my home as part of the ongoing eminent domain process,’ Winstead states in the letter.

4-6-20 Blue Virginia. New Pipeline Construction is Non-Essential & Endangers Us Now More Than Ever; Protect All Rural Regions from Virus. “Twenty organizations representing thousands of Virginians sent a letter to Governor Northam, Secretary Valentine and Secretary Moran with the following plea: ‘It is imperative during the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the health of all Virginians by preventing gas construction projects to continue until after the crisis passes. Please issue instructions that gas construction workers are non-essential and are not allowed to work or to set up camps in Virginia.’ It is terrifying to see the caravans of pipeline workers returning to our area with license plates from other territories where strict guidelines have not been implemented to protect those regions.”

4-6-20 Energy News Network. Virginia bill will put more pressure on Dominion Energy to justify cost recovery. “A scantly noticed bill curated by a freshman legislator from northern Virginia elicited giant cheers from Dominion Energy watchdogs when it passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates just seven days before the General Assembly adjourned on March 12. Though overshadowed by the Virginia Clean Economy Act, supporters view the success of House Bill 528 as a momentous first effort to shift power from utility monopolies and toward regulators and ratepayers. On its face, the measure deftly shepherded by Del. Suhas Subramanyam is simple. It restores the State Corporation Commission’s oversight of Dominion’s cost recovery timeline for early retirements of all types of power plants. …. Subramanyam’s measure reverses current law, passed in 2018 as part of the massive Grid Transformation and Security Act. That allowed Dominion to recover — as a one-time expense — the remaining balance on a retired power plant instead of refunding the extra earnings to customers.”

4-3-20 Hays Free Press [TX]  Well water tests underway after pipeline crew hits Karst feature. “On March 28, reportedly during the first day of drilling, a Kinder Morgan contractor trying to bore a pilot hole under the river near Chimney Hill Road in Blanco County hit a karst feature, losing all the drilling fluid and mud down the hole. Within days, water that was either tan and foamy or mud-colored began coming out of the taps at three homes about a mile away.”

4-3-20 E&E Energywire. FERC eases enforcement rules. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced yesterday additional measures to relax enforcement for a host of regulations, including a halt to any new Office of Enforcement audits until the end of July. The rollbacks are part of wider efforts aimed at helping the electric and natural gas sectors as they respond to the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to FERC. ‘Regulated entities are taking extraordinary steps to ensure continuity for our energy systems during this unprecedented time, ‘Republican FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a statement. ‘We’re doing all we can to lift regulatory burdens and uncertainty, so that the focus can remain on critical front-line efforts.’ Chief among those changes is direction to the Office of Enforcement staff to work more flexibly with ongoing audits and investigations, and schedule no new audits until after July 31.”

4-2-20 News Leader. Pipeline companies continued work jeopardizes public health in Virginia. “Virginia’s pipeline industry has a troubling record of putting profit before people, a practice that becomes more dire in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. While many Virginians are taking important steps to slow the spread of coronavirus, either by staying home or working essential jobs to provide us all with the care and resources we need during this difficult time, some companies are still jeopardizing community health by sending workers out to do dangerous, non-essential labor.”

4-1-20 The Guardian. Will the coronavirus kill the oil industry and help save the climate? “The plunging demand for oil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic combined with a savage price war has left the fossil fuel industry broken and in survival mode, according to analysts. It faces the gravest challenge in its 100-year history, they say, one that will permanently alter the industry. With some calling the scene a “hellscape”, the least lurid description is ‘unprecedented’. A key question is whether this will permanently alter the course of the climate crisis. Many experts think it might well do so, pulling forward the date at which demand for oil and gas peaks, never to recover, and allowing the atmosphere to gradually heal.”

4-1-20 Virginia Mercury. Despite EPA decision, Virginia says polluters must ‘make every effort’ to comply with environmental regulations. “Virginia will not relax its enforcement of environmental regulations despite an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week that it won’t impose civil penalties on polluting facilities that don’t comply with routine monitoring and reporting obligations during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘All regulated entities are expected to make every effort to comply with environmental compliance obligations, adhere to permit limits and maintain the safe and environmentally protective operation of their facilities,’ said Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor in a news release Tuesday.”

4-1-20 Kallanish Energy. Federal biological review delayed for MVP. “A federal review of the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and its impacts on endangered or threatened wildlife has been delayed again, Kallanish Energy reports. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Mountain Valley Pipeline last week agreed to take another 32 days to April 27 to complete the biological review. It was the third delay in getting that review completed. The biological permits are among three suspended permits that the company must be granted again by federal agencies before the pipeline can be completed.”