June 2020 News

June 2020

6-30-20 E&E News. In landowner win, court reins in ‘Kafkaesque’ approvals. “Federal energy regulators are no longer free to indefinitely stall challenges to the projects they approve, a prominent appeals court ruled today in a victory for landowners. The full panel of active judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could not use “tolling orders” to avoid facing a legal challenge in court for approval of projects like natural gas pipelines. The orders allow FERC to put off responding to requests for rehearing and block challengers from bringing their concerns to court, while simultaneously allowing project construction to move forward. The court held that FERC had to stick to a statutorily mandated 30-day time frame to come to a decision on whether to accept a rehearing request.

6-29-20 Roanoke Times. Environmental regulators seek more fines against Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Virginia regulators are seeking an $86,000 fine from Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying the company continued to violate environmental regulations after it paid $2.15 million last year to settle a lawsuit. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality brought the suit in 2018, saying that erosion and sediment control rules were broken more than 300 times during construction of the natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia. Since the $2.15 million settlement, DEQ said, there have been repeat cases of noncompliance, mostly during a lull in work.”

6-29-20 PilotOnline. Controversial gas pipeline delayed. “State regulators declined for now to give the go-ahead for a proposed $346 million gas pipeline project that would run through Chesapeake, arguing Virginia Natural Gas needs to do more legwork on securing financing and environmental justice issues before construction. Opponents of the Header Improvement Project said it would affect communities of color and people living on low incomes, exposing them to air and noise pollution. For now, Virginia Natural Gas has until Dec. 31 to meet a host of requirements laid out in an 18-page ruling Friday from the State Corporation Commission. That includes addressing financial concerns raised during recent testimony from the primary driver of the project, an electricity-generating plant known as C4GT, as well as protecting the utility’s ratepayers from added costs.”

6-27-20 Reason.com. New York’s Highest Court Upholds Taking of Private Property for Pipeline that Might Never Get Built. “The 4-2 ruling is reminiscent of the federal Supreme Court’s dubious decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which also upheld a condemnation for a project that turned out to be a dud. On Thursday, the New York Court of Appeals (which is that state’s highest court) issued a decision in National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. v. Schueckler, upholding the use of eminent domain to seize private property for a pipeline that might never get built. Robert Thomas, a prominent takings lawyer, has a helpful summary at the Inverse Condemnation blog.”

6-26-20 E&E News. Litigators hone new tools for environmental justice cases. “When it struck down a permit for a compressor station along an embattled natural gas pipeline earlier this year, a federal appeals court admonished Virginia regulators that environmental justice is not simply a ‘box to be checked.’ But for communities facing harm from a polluting facility or an unfair policy, raising a successful legal challenge over those injustices is no easy feat. ‘Environmental justice has sometimes suffered the weight of newness in the legal community in that it is a new term and that it raises some apprehension, especially in established litigation circles, as to how exactly it should apply,’ said Taylor Lilley, environmental justice staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. ‘I thought that it was really innovative to see that environmental justice in this case is considered to be a preexisting consideration.’”

6-25-20 Nelson County Times. Letter: Pipeline faces more challenges. “The Supreme Court gave Dominion a small victory when it decided that the Forest Service legally issued the permit to cross the Appalachian Trail. But the decision does not open the door for construction. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has to regain eight lost permits, and additional legal challenges are in progress. Lost permits are not the only barrier Dominion faces. In the six years since the plan was announced, the energy playing field has changed dramatically, and fossil fuels’ dominance has all but disappeared. Gas is no longer seen as a “bridge fuel” but as step back into a past we must leave behind.”

6-25-20 Blue Ridge Public Radio.  Audio: Supreme Court Removes One Hurdle For Atlantic Coast Pipeline, But Others Remain. “A U.S. Supreme Court decision last week allows the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to travel under a section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. …. But construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline remains halted as the developers work to obtain eight other environmental permits. The pipeline also travels through several rural, low-income and predominantly Black and Indigenous communities, some of which are continuing to organize in opposition to the construction. As state legislatures in North Carolina and Virginia announce plans to move towards renewables, is there still a need for these large pipelines?”

6-25-20 The Recorder. Federal agency’s lack of response to coating concerns unacceptable. “FERC has failed to adequately address significant public health, public safety, and environmental threats from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, including threats from the fusion bonded epoxy coating on the exterior of the pipes. This coating contains numerous toxic and carcinogenic substances, including silica, a carcinogen by inhalation. The ACP has not followed recommended storage procedures for the pipes, and this has exacerbated the threats. Coating manufacturer 3M indicates the coating degrades in sunlight, and recommends protection to prevent the degradation. 3M also states that degraded coating is removed from the surface of the pipes by wind, blowing particulate matter, rain, and tidal splash. The pipes for the ACP have been left in the sun for the past four years with no protection against degradation of the coating as recommended by 3M.”

6-24-20 E&E News. How 200 Trump judges could shape environmental policy. “With the Senate poised to confirm an additional judical nominee this morning, President Trump is on the verge of officially filling all of the nation’s vacant circuit court seats. …. “”By the end of my first term, we will have close to 300 federal judges appointed and approved,” Trump said during a rally in Arizona yesterday, eliciting major cheers from the crowd. Those judges’ influence on water, air and energy law will stretch well beyond Trump’s time in the White House. ‘We’re going to feel the effect in the environment, voting rights and everything that comes before the federal courts,’ said Rebecca Bratspies, a law professor at the City University of New York.”

6-24-20 Post & Courier [Charleston SC]. Editorial: Be wary of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Why should South Carolinians care whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is allowed to cross the Appalachian Trail in Virginia? The simple answer is that S.C. Dominion Energy customers could be footing the bill for an extension into the Palmetto State a few years down the line. The 600-mile pipeline, a Dominion-Duke Energy project for moving shale-fracked natural gas from West Virginia to markets south and east, is planned to end in Robeson County, N.C., which borders South Carolina. But Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told S.C. lawmakers in 2018 that, ‘We would like to bring the pipeline to South Carolina if the demand is there.’”

6-24-20 SELC. Regional impact: Critical permit for pipelines vacated. “A decision reached in federal court late last month could have significant implications for the fate of the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied a request from the Army Corps of Engineers to stay the effect of a district court decision regarding the Corps’ compliance with the Endangered Species Act for its Nationwide Permit 12 permitting program. The district court found that the Corps never considered the collective effect of the permit in question on endangered species. ‘To put it simply, this decision means the Atlantic Coast Pipeline can no longer use Nationwide Permit 12, which the project depends on for over 1,500 crossings of waterbodies,’ says Senior Attorney Patrick Hunter. ‘The ACP is now missing eight necessary permits, creating a significant hurdle to overcome before Dominion can begin building a pipeline that is already years behind schedule.’”

6-24-20 C-ville. Foot on the gas: Anti-pipeline activists fight on, undeterred by Supreme Court. “Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be allowed to cross underneath the Appalachian Trail. Dominion Energy, the pipeline’s main backer, has characterized the Supreme Court’s decisions as a significant step forward for the controversial project. …. The project has been slowed in part due to years of dedicated work from grassroots activists, who have fought tooth and nail to stop the pipeline from slicing through the Appalachian wilderness. They say the project will have devastating effects on water quality and wildlife in the area, and that it’s not economically necessary. ‘This is a major victory for the project,’ Dominion says of the decision in a press bulletin. ‘It paves the way for the ACP to be completed and bring jobs to the region, stimulate the economy and lead us to a cleaner energy future.’ ‘They’ll parade the decision to shareholders, and probably make some additional press releases to make [the pipeline] seem like an inevitable project,’ says Daniel Shaffer, a geospatial consultant for the anti-pipeline coalition Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. ‘But it really doesn’t change their situation.’ …. In other words, the Supreme Court case doesn’t ensure that the Forest Service permit will be reinstated—it just removes one of many hurdles that Dominion will have to clear when it requests another Forest Service permit.”

6-23-20 WVPublic Radio. LISTEN: Energy Expert Weighs In On What SCOTUS Ruling Means For The Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a victory to the 600-mile Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline. The issue at hand was whether the U.S. Forest Service could allow the pipeline to be built underneath the iconic Appalachian Trail, which is managed by another federal agency, the U.S. Park Service. In a 7-2 decision, the court reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled that the USFS does have the authority to grant the pipeline permission to be built under the trail. The decision was hailed as a win by lead developer Dominion Energy and Gov. Jim Justice. Environmental groups note the project still needs eight more permits along its route. It’s just one high profile court ruling in a string of lawsuits brought against this and other pipelines. So, just how significant is this win? And what does it mean for the future of the ACP — which is behind schedule and has ballooned in cost — as well as other pipelines here in Appalachia? Energy and Environment Reporter Brittany Patterson spoke with Christi Tezak, managing director with ClearView Energy Partners, an independent research group based in Washington, D.C. Tezak is an energy analyst who follows pipeline litigation.”

6-23-20 Virginia Mercury. With Supreme Court case over, courts again weigh whether Atlantic Coast Pipeline is needed. “Last week, the Supreme Court handed a victory to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline when it ruled that the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to allow the project to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail. But the end of that battle has seen the revival of another, more fundamental conflict: whether the pipeline really is needed. …. Meanwhile, the FERC litigation that was back-burnered by the Cowpasture case is heating up again. In those proceedings, opponents represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center are contesting FERC’s certification not only on environmental and eminent domain grounds, but also on the grounds that the commission’s review of its necessity was flawed.”

6-22-10 NJ.com. Homeowner had 2 minutes to grab her belongings after N.J. pipeline project wrecked her home. “Imagine being given two minutes to grab your worldly possessions before a building inspector slaps a sign on your home of 32 years saying it is uninhabitable. Barbara Fox-Cooper doesn’t have to imagine. It happened to her Friday morning after a gas pipeline drilling mishap appears to have fractured the foundation of her home in a rural, bucolic stretch of Upper Freehold, Monmouth County.”

6-22-20 Utility Dive. The truth about the future of gas: We don’t need to build anymore. “What is the future of gas in the U.S. electric power sector? Is it essential, long-term, for a reliable and economical electric supply? A new study from UC Berkeley provides the latest answer, demonstrating it is technically and economically feasible to reach 90% clean electricity by 2035 without building any new gas plants and reducing generation from existing plants by 70%, all without any increase in wholesale power costs compared to today.”

6-21-20 Roanoke Times. Despite another setback, corporate customers stick with Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Once again, developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline say it will take longer and cost more to finish a natural gas pipeline that has long invoked acrimony along its path through Southwest Virginia. But all five energy companies in the joint venture seem determined to ride it out, despite contracts signed years ago that allow them to withdraw if the project was not completed by June 1. …. Under so-called precedent agreements, shippers — or customers — of the pipeline must give notice by the end of the month to take the escape clause. Doing so would require them to pay their share of costs incurred so far, plus an additional 15% of that sum.”

6-17-20 Seeking Alpha. Dominion seeks more time to build Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Dominion Energy (D -0.5%) asks the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for two additional years to finish building the long-delayed Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline due to delays in permitting. In its filing with FERC, Dominion says it expects to obtain the necessary approvals for the pipeline by the end of this year. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a major legal hurdle for the $8B project, reversing a lower court decision and upholding a permit from the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would allow the pipeline to run under the Appalachian Trail. Work on the 600-mile pipeline was suspended in late 2018 after a lower court stayed a biological opinion from the Forest Service that allowed construction in areas inhabited by endangered species.”

6-16-20 E&E Energywire. Pipeline wins Appalachian Trail battle but may lose war. “The Supreme Court yesterday removed one hurdle for developers of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, but the natural gas project remains in legal limbo as a host of other obstacles stand in the way of construction. In a 7-2 decision, the justices reversed a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stating that the Forest Service could not authorize a permit for the pipeline to crosshundreds of feet beneath the scenic Appalachian Trail. The ruling was a win for pipeline developers Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp., as well as the Trump administration, but it did not resolve problems with other permits the 4th Circuit has scrapped. ‘My big takeaway on this is it’s a fairly narrow issue on the Mineral Leasing Act,’ Cale Jaffe, director of the University of Virginia’s Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic, said of yesterday’s ruling. …. Each of the pending approvals could prove problematic for the Atlantic Coast project, said UVA’s Jaffe. “There are a lot of weak links in various parts of this chain,” said Jaffe, who wrote an amicus brief highlighting the pipeline’s expected harm to local Virginia economies.”

6-15-20 MarylandMatters. Lawmakers, Advocates: Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks Threaten Minority Communities. “The Trump administration is suspending key environmental reviews during the pandemic, which critics warn could further harm poor and minority neighborhoods around the country. Lawmakers and activists say the administration’s actions — meant to boost the lagging economy — could have disproportionate effects on communities of color near pipeline and power projects. Residents are at risk of missing the chance to weigh in on decisions and they could face more pollution entering their communities.”

6-15-20 New Republic. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline Battle Is About People, Not Precedent. “As the battle over the ACP continues, the nation ought to take a moment of self-reflection and ask itself why everybody with a modicum of power—judges; federal regulators; energy companies; and local, state, and federal politicians on both sides of the aisle—continues to enable a pipeline model that targets communities of color, tribal nations, and rural towns with pinpoint precision.”

6-15-20 Virginia Mercury. As Supreme Court hands win to Atlantic Coast Pipeline, other hurdles remain for project. “The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile natural gas pipeline being built by utility heavyweights Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, can cross beneath the Appalachian Trail in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest. But the 7-2 decision, penned by Justice Clarence Thomas with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissenting, lifts one barrier to the continuation of the $8 billion project while leaving in place eight others that the pipeline must surmount before moving forward.”

6-15-20 Ecology Way. Supreme Court clears way for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail. “Dominion still requires eight more permits for the 600-mile pipeline route, including an air pollution permit from Virginia regulators for a controversial compressor station in Union Hill, a historically black community. It also still needs approval to cross the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and a new biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about endangered species that were not taken into consideration in the original environmental impact statement. Several landowners along the route through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina are also still fighting to retain their property from eminent domain claims. That means five-and-a-half years after the project was proposed, [Southern Environmental Law Center’s Greg] Buppert said, ‘there’s significant uncertainty about what the ACP route even is right now.’”

6-15-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. U.S. Supreme Court overturns 4th Circuit ruling that would have blocked pipeline crossing. “The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a Richmond appeals court ruling that would have blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline beneath the Appalachian Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The court announced Monday it had voted 7-2 to overturn the 2018 ruling by the 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond. The ruling will allow construction of the 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline to tunnel 600 feet beneath the national scenic trail where it crosses land managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the George Washington National Forest. The decision removes one obstacle – but not all – for Dominion Resources and its partners to cross the Blue Ridge between Augusta and Nelson counties and complete the $8 billion, 600-mile project and connect gas shale fields in West Virginia to markets on the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.”

6-15-20 E&E Energywire. FERC rule to address landowner complaints draws fire. “A rule last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to address landowner complaints of proposed energy projects is sparking criticism from both pipeline advocates and lawyers representing property owners.The rule would stop companies from beginning construction on FERC-approved pipeline and infrastructure projects until the commission addresses objections (Energywire, June 10).But a legal team representing landowners and environmental groups in a case moving through a federal appeals court say the rule doesn’t fully address their concerns.”The rule doesn’t do anything to stop the pipeline company from taking the property and doing significant, irreparable damage to homeowners’ land and the environment,” said White and Williams LLP partner Siobhan Cole, who represented FERC’s challengers in a related case currently before a federal appeals court.”

6-12-20 The Hill. Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service. “U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday ordered the U.S. Forest Service to expedite environmental reviews on its land, paving the way for more grazing, logging and oil development on public lands. The directive, announced by Perdue on a trip to Missoula, Mont., comes in the form of an unusual memo to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. He called it ‘a blueprint for reforms to further provide relief from burdensome regulations, improve customer service, and boost the productivity of our National Forests and Grasslands.’ …. But environmentalists say the memo affirms a number of dangerous strategies already underway by the Trump administration.”

6-11-20 News & Advance. Temporary RV park for Atlantic Coast Pipeline workers planned in Amherst industrial site. “Town of Amherst officials plan to hold a public hearing in July on a request for a temporary RV park, in an Amherst industrial park, to house workers associated with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Amherst Town Council voted 4-0 Wednesday, with Councilman Kenneth Bunch absent, to send the proposal to a hearing during its July 8 meeting. The temporary park for recreational vehicles would house workers during the life of Richmond-based Dominion Energy’s lease for land in the back of the L. Barnes Brockman, Sr. Business and Industrial Park on U.S. 60.”

6-11-20 Utility Dive. FERC prohibits pipeline construction, allows land seizures as court weighs ‘legal purgatory’ of rehearing delays. “Federal regulators, under scrutiny from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, issued an order Wednesday prohibiting natural gas pipeline developers from beginning construction on a project until regulators act on rehearing requests. The order addresses in part issues raised during the court’s April en banc hearing in Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC. The case centers on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) practice of continuously delaying requests for rehearing under the Natural Gas Act. Petitioners argued in part that the commission has been delaying requests for rehearing indefinitely, while allowing construction on controversial pipeline projects to proceed. FERC Commissioner Richard Glick dissented in part to the order. Though the order is ‘a step in the right direction,’ it does not address the concern that pipeline developers can still begin to condemn private land before the landowner is able to challenge the developer’s ability to do so, he said.”

6-10-20 E&E News. Activists relaunch black environmental justice network. “Advocates today relaunched a national environmental justice effort amid an ongoing national conversation about racial justice and a pandemic that has disproportionately affected black communities. The National Black Environmental Justice Network announced today that it would re-form to bring together largely disparate community-based movements around the country.”

6-10-20 Roanoke Times. Hadwin: Roanoke Gas has chance to opt out of MVP. “Roanoke Gas Co. has 30 days to save its customers more than $100 million dollars. They should do it. A clause in the utility’s contract with the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) allows it to cancel its 20-year agreement if the pipeline is not in commercial operation by June 1, 2020. If Roanoke Gas fails to notify the MVP by the end of June that it wants to get out of its contract, the chance is gone forever. If Roanoke Gas misses this chance, it will owe the MVP $112 million over 20-years, regardless of how much of the reserved capacity is actually used. The gas company expects to be allowed to pass this cost on to its customers.”   Sign on here to a letter encouraging Roanoke Gas to opt out.

6-8-20 Bloomberg Law. EPA Water Rule Won’t Speed Up New Oil, Gas Pipeline Projects. “A new EPA water rule to curtail state vetoes won’t necessarily ease the path for new oil and gas interstate pipeline projects, energy analysts and lawyers say. They say this is partly due to the sharp decline in oil and gas linked to the coronavirus pandemic. But the hurdles also come from a federal court’s suspension of the Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12, or NWP 12, that would allow developers to dredge and fill wetlands and stream crossings in order to lay pipelines. Without a nationwide permit, pipeline builders have no choice to seek the more time-consuming and expensive individual Clean Water Act permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that apply to each water crossing. Forcing applicants to pursue individual permits—pending the outcome of a months-long Ninth Circuit review of the nationwide injunction—will increase costs and delays in project approvals, according to Sarah Peterman Bell, a Farella Braun + Martel LLP attorney said June 4.”

6-8-20 Bay Journal. Pipeline projects draw criticism for ‘environmental racism’. “Virginians calling in to the State Corporation Commission on May 12 pulled few punches: ‘environmental racism,’ ‘sacrifice zone,’ an ‘unfair and unjust project.’ Many struggled to get through, repeatedly dropped from the call-in queue for public comment by technical glitches. But they kept calling back, hammering against a proposal to install yet more natural gas infrastructure in the state — 24 miles of 30-inch pipe, three compressor stations and two large gas plants. The $346 million Header Improvement Project (HIP) proposed by Virginia Natural Gas would impact neighborhoods in the city of Chesapeake and several counties — Fauquier, Prince William, Hanover, New Kent, Caroline and Charles City — as well as about 68 streams and rivers, 150 acres of wetlands and 313 acres of forest. It would particularly impact majority-minority communities where residents claim they’re sidelined in the decision-making. They want to know why the infrastructure is being foisted on them and what health and environmental repercussions would be visited on their families because of it.”

6-7-20 The Hill. Trump’s latest environmental rollback threatens minority communities, experts warn. “President Trump’s latest executive order, lifting environmental review of major projects, will have a disproportionately harmful effect on minorities, experts warn. The order signed on Thursday relies on emergency authorities to sidestep a suite of environmental laws, allowing for the fast-tracking of major construction projects in a bid to boost the economy. That could mean rapid approval of not just highways but also pipelines, oil and gas projects and other polluting industries that have historically landed in communities of color. ‘It shows again that they have no respect for the lives in these communities that are already overburdened,’ said Mustafa Santiago Ali, with the National Wildlife Federation, who was previously a senior adviser for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration. ‘Trump’s actions put a spotlight on black lives don’t matter.’”

6-7-20 The Intercept. A Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation in the Midst of the Pandemic. “One day after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the governor quietly signed into law the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the law created new felony penalties for protest actions targeting oil and gas facilities, as the state continues to confront opposition to two massive natural gas pipelines designed to cut through delicate forests, streams, and farmland. …. West Virginia’s critical infrastructure law mimics a model policy promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, a shadowy group that encourages state lawmakers to pass industry-friendly legislation. Records provided to The Intercept by the Energy and Policy Institute reveal the natural gas industry’s hand in advancing the bill. A network of local lobbyists for Dominion Energy, which owns the Atlantic Coast pipeline; the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association; and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, an industry group representing the refineries and processing plants that are the final destinations for the natural gas pipelines, spent months working behind the scenes to ensure the bill’s passage.”

6-5-20 E&E News. What Trump’s permit order means for NEPA, energy and race. “Amid a public health crisis that has crashed the economy, President Trump yesterday ordered his administration to accelerate permitting for major projects — sparking blowback from critics who say it will inflict damage on communities of color he’s accused of ignoring as thousands protest across the country against police brutality and injustice.”

6-5-20 Inside Climate News. Besieged by Protesters Demanding Racial Justice, Trump Signs Order Waiving Environmental Safeguards. “With the nation convulsed by multiple crises, President Donald Trump returned to a favorite stand-by of his presidency—asserting his authority to sweep aside environmental restraints and speed up construction of oil and gas pipelines. But the executive order that he signed Thursday night — the third of his presidency aimed at expediting pipelines — is destined to spur more of the type of litigation that has rendered his previous directives ineffective so far. …. The president’s critics were quick to point out that his order was poorly timed, since minority communities would be disproportionately affected by his move to waive the environmental review mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). ‘Today President Trump is dealing another blow to the Black community, during a worldwide pandemic and nearly a week into nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and structural racism,’ said Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement. ‘Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them.’”

6-4-20 Washington Post.  Trump signs order to waive environmental reviews for key projects.  “President Trump signed an executive order Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects given the current economic ’emergency.’ Declaring an economic emergency lets the president invoke a section of federal law allowing ‘action with significant environmental impact’ without observing normal requirements imposed by laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. These laws require agencies to solicit public input on proposed projects and analyze in detail how federal decisions could harm the environment.”

6-1-20 Roanoke Times. During construction hiatus, MVP changes plans for Roanoke River crossing. “On May 20, Mountain Valley asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval to change methods for its planned crossing of one of the region’s major rivers. Its application described the creation of pits on opposite sides of the river where the pipeline route and river intersect in Lafayette. One pit would be nearly 31 feet deep, the other nearly 22 feet. A crew would bore horizontally 316 feet and install the 42-inch pipe directly behind the boring machine, passing at least 6 feet beneath the river bottom, the application said. …. In giving its consent May 27, FERC said the decision to bore rather than block the river and lay pipe in a trench ‘will result in a reduction in impacts on aquatic resources by avoiding impacts to the stream bank and channel.’”

6-1-20 S&P Global. Environmental groups open new line of attack at FERC on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “A coalition of environmental groups opened June 1 a new front in their legal war against the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, contending that a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed. …. Should the developer prevail in the Supreme Court, it faces a possible new avenue of litigation in the form of a roughly 4,000-page filing posted on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s website June 1 by Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Chesapeake Bay Foundation on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups. The groups argued in the filing that a supplemental EIS is needed in light of new information that has come to light since FERC issued an EIS for the pipeline project in 2017, and given upcoming FERC decisions on key matters such as whether to extend certificate authorization for the project beyond the October expiration date and whether to lift FERC’s existing stop-work order on construction.”

6-1-20 Washington Post. EPA limits states and tribes’ ability to protest pipelines and other energy projects. “The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule Monday curtailing the rights of states, tribes and the public to object to federal permits for energy projects and other activities that could pollute waterways across the country. The move, part of the Trump administration’s push to weaken environmental rules it sees as standing in the way of new development, upends how the United States applied a section of the Clean Water Act for nearly a half century. The energy industry hailed the change as a way to speed up pipelines and other projects, while environmentalists warned it could undercut state and tribal efforts to safeguard rivers and drinking water.”