May 2020 News

May 2020

5-29-20 Reuters. Court ruling in Keystone XL case another blow to big U.S. pipelines, say energy analysts. “The two biggest U.S. natural gas pipelines under construction are likely facing more delays after an appeals court ruling against the Army Corps of Engineers, energy analysts said. The Trump administration has pressed ahead with new pipeline construction but several projects have been stalled by successful legal challenges saying the administration is not applying careful regulatory scrutiny. Last month, a Montana judge ruled the Army Corps authorized permits to cross streams without properly consulting other federal agencies on endangered species. Rather than limit its ruling to the Keystone XL crude pipeline case before the court, the judge questioned the Army Corps’ method of authorizing stream crossing under the entire National Permit 12 program. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday left that ruling in place, which will likely prevent Keystone and other pipelines from using Army Corps’ stream crossing permits until the appeals court decides in early 2021, the analysts said. It means the two biggest gas pipes under construction – Dominion Energy Inc’s (D.N) Atlantic Coast and EQM Midstream Partners LP’s (EQM.N) Mountain Valley – are likely to be delayed by several more months.

5-28-20 Fair Warning. Electric Utilities Challenged for Slow-Walking Switch from Natural Gas to Clean Renewable Energy. “In January, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that most new electric power generation in 2020 would come from wind and solar. A few months and a national crisis later, renewable prospects are perhaps shining even brighter, as government projections show that for the first time renewable sources are likely to produce more electricity than coal in 2020. But as coal plants are retired in droves and renewable energy becomes more practical and economical than ever before, many electric utilities are continuing to plan for and invest billions in power generation from natural gas. As pressure escalates for the industry to complete the switch to renewable sources by 2050 to stay below critical climate change thresholds, some projections indicate steady or even increasing usage of the fossil fuel decades into the future.

5-27-20 E&E News. ‘Quick take’ wars rage in Blast Zone with no end in sight. “[Lynda] Like, along with a handful of her neighbors in south-central Pennsylvania, spent years embroiled in a lengthy, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful battle against the eminent domain practice used to seize her private property to build the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline operated by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC. Now a federal appeals court is deciding whether the government’s infrastructure review process for the project was legal. It’s highly unlikely the court would tear up an existing pipeline, but the judges’ decision could have implications for landowners facing future land grabs. While they await a decision, landowners in Conestoga Township, Pa., continue to grapple with Atlantic Sunrise’s impacts, including the daily fear of living in the so-called blast zone.”

5-27-20 E&E Energywire. House Dems propose boost for landowners in FERC disputes. “House Democrats are moving to prevent the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from delaying decisions on appeal requests from landowners affected by pipeline, port or transmission projects.At issue are “tolling orders,” used by FERC to put off having to tell landowners whether it will hold a rehearing on a disputed project. …. In addition, the legislation would prevent projects from invoking eminent domain while the rehearing request is still pending.”

5-25-20 Mother Jones. How a “Bunch of Badass Queer Anarchists” Are Teaming Up With Locals to Block a Pipeline Through Appalachia. “‘Life in these mountains ain’t always been easy, so people around here take a stand when they see something they don’t agree with—and I’m one of them,’ says walrus-mustached Jammie Hale in his thick southwestern Virginia mountain accent. ‘People that grow up in places like this, seeing their environment destroyed, it stirs them, it causes people to want to get involved, and that’s why I’m here.’

5-23-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Letter: Virginia can learn from Hawaii’s example. “‘A carbon-free energy system is not only possible, but it is practical and necessary.’ That’s how Hawaii sees its plans for a 100% clean energy economy. Dominion Energy’s new Integrated Resource Plan says something very different: Retire all carbon generation and we will ‘severely challenge the ability of the transmission system to meet customers’ reliability expectation.’ Dominion fiercely is holding onto the 100-year-old idea of the regulated central utility, while Hawaii is creating a framework for the new technologies that can generate and store electricity where we use it.”

5-22-20 E&E Energywire. Court is urged to keep Army Corps permit on ice. “Environmental groups this week affirmed that —yes, in fact —they would like federal courts to temporarily block a nationwide permitting program for oil and gas pipelines. The Northern Plains Resource Council and other groups countered arguments from the Army Corps of Engineers and industry groups that Chief Judge Brian Morris for the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana exceeded the remedy they sought in their challenge of the Keystone XL pipeline. ‘Defendants’ attempt to reframe this case as pertaining only to Keystone XL is a patent misrepresentation of the proceedings below,’ the groups wrote in a Wednesday filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.”

5-22-20 Facing South. Institute Index: Pandemic erodes the case for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Year since construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — which Dominion Energy and Duke Energy want to build to carry fracked gas from West Virginia to Virginia, North Carolina, and possibly beyond — has been stalled amid legal and regulatory challenges: 2018. Current estimated cost for the 600-mile project, which was first proposed in 2014: $8 billion. Percent by which that amount exceeds the original cost estimate, with the possibility that costs could continue to rise due to numerous permits for the project being invalidated by court challenges: 100. Percent of the ACP’s capacity that the utilities initially said was needed for new power plants: 80. Portion by which the utilities’ need for that power-plant capacity declined even before the COVID-19 outbreak: more than 1/2. Percent by which U.S. energy demand is expected to drop this year because of the pandemic-related economic slowdown: 9. [and more]”

5-21-20 The Recorder.  Letter: Governor should think like a doctor about the pipeline.  Letter also appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 5-24-20.  “How can a political leader perform so well on one important issue and so poorly on another? Gov. Northam has done a good job as leader of Virginia’s response to pandemic. He has kept the public informed and given fact-based reasons for the strong measures he has taken. In all aspects of this horrific plague, he has clearly sought to serve the public interest. …. Gov. Northam is a medical doctor, and he was trained to follow the facts in making diagnoses and, above all, “do no harm” to the patient. Yet, in his handling of the ACP and MVP, he seems oblivious to the dire consequences of not thinking like the doctor he is. What will it take for the governor to come off the sidelines and apply all his power — political as well as legal — to stopping these unjustified, harmful projects?”

5-21-20 WDBJ7. Mountain Valley Pipeline requests variance to tunnel under Roanoke River. “In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week, the company requested a variance to change the crossing method. The route of the pipeline crosses the river near Lafayette in Montgomery County.”

5-20-20 E&E News. Coal plants disappear in Va. But CO2 is rising. “The switch from coal to gas has driven down U.S. electricity emissions over the last decade. But the opposite has happened in Virginia, where a massive build-out of natural gas plants has negated CO2 reductions associated with coal retirements. Virginia’s carbon dioxide emissions were higher in 2019 than they were in 2009, according to an E&E News review of EPA emissions data. Those figures are remarkable given the collapse of coal in Virginia, where the fuel fell from being used in about 43% of the state’s power generation in 2008 to less than 10% last year. The numbers underscore a growing climate challenge for the United States: As the U.S. coal fleet shrinks, long-lived gas plants are filling the void in ways that might fail to result in large reductions of CO2. Virginia is a case in point.”

5-20-20 Daily Progress. Opinion/Editorial: Landowners again lose to eminent domain. “The discussion we would like to see would be based on these questions: Does the principle of eminent domain meet the high standards originally set for it as a means of balancing private property rights with public necessity? Or has it been distorted by a succession of laws, regulatory decisions and court rulings favoring big government or big business at the expense of individual rights? More and more, we see the latter. But deep reform can’t be achieved piecemeal through court challenges, which nonetheless seem to be the only avenue left to property owners. We see no inclination among lawmakers to tackle the questions or to institute reform on their own initiative.

5-20-20 Virginia Mercury. Where was Paylor on the Mountain Valley Pipeline? “David Paylor wrote a very nice piece on April 24 about the urgent need to protect our environment and about the progress we have made doing that. They are very nice words, but where was he when we were reporting egregious violations by Mountain Valley Pipeline? We sent photographs and, rather than send someone to look, he dismissed them as false. When it was so bad that mud closed Cahas Mountain Road, he praised MVP for clearing the road.”

5-19-20 E&E Energywire. Chatterjee for Va. governor?  “Over the weekend, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee created a Facebook group pitching his “hypothetical” run for Virginia governor. Now the nation’s top energy regulator says he was just “‘laying around.”‘ ‘It’s amazing that people are taking this so seriously,’ he told E&E News. ‘But knowing D.C., you can never just joke around.’ Still, Chatterjee did not categorically rule it out. ‘I have spent basically my entire professional career in public service,’ he said. ‘So when my term is up at the commission, continuing to serve the public in some way would certainly be something that I would consider. But that could take many forms beyond simply running for office.’”

5-18-20 Roanoke Times. Lewis: Pipelines endanger health. “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. This includes the fossil fuel industry, which has deemed the construction of polluting, unpopular, unnecessary pipelines more important than the health or safety of workers, workers’ families, and ultimately, all of us.”

5-18-20 E&E Energywire. N.Y. rejects $1B pipeline over climate, water concerns. “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey blocked key water permits Friday for a controversial multistate natural gas pipeline, handing climate activists a victory and setting the stage for a standoff with EPA ahead of a rollout on Clean Water Act guidance.”

5-15-20 PepperLaw. State Opposition to EPA’s COVID-19 Enforcement Discretion Policy Increases as AGs File Suit. “On May 13, nine state attorneys general filed a complaint against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging EPA’s COVID-19 enforcement discretion policy…. The plaintiff states are New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia. The complaint levies four primary allegations against EPA and its policy: (1) the discretion that EPA allows in the policy exceeds EPA’s legal authority; (2) EPA is abdicating its environmental enforcement responsibility under the law; (3) EPA implemented the policy without first providing opportunity for notice and comment; and (4) the policy is arbitrary and capricious. For relief, the AGs first request a declaratory judgment that the ‘policy was adopted without observance of procedure required by law; is in excess of EPA’s statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations; is not in accordance with law; and is arbitrary and capricious.’ Additionally, the AGs request (1) that the policy be vacated; (2) that EPA be enjoined from applying the policy; (3) lawsuit/attorneys’ fee reimbursement; and (4) any other relief deemed ‘just and proper.’”

5-15-20 Roanoke Times. Judge dismisses lawsuit that contested Mountain Valley’s power of eminent domain. “Legal action has failed, once again, to undo the taking of private land for a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia. ‘This case presents the latest trickle in a veritable flood of litigation’ against the Mountain Valley Pipeline, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg wrote in an opinion last week dismissing the lawsuit.”

5-14-20 UtilityDive. Walmart blasts Virginia regulator’s report on pricing, biomass in Dominion’s proposed 100% renewable energy tariff. “Walmart, one of Dominion Energy’s largest customers in Virginia, warned regulators that their consideration of the utility’s plan to offer a 100% renewable energy option to C&I and residential customers includes unreasonable pricing, according to a Monday filing. An April report from Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) hearing examiner Mary Beth Adams recommended approving Dominion’s proposed tariff. The utility largely approves of Adams’s recommendations and wants to see the tariff approved quickly, to prevent customers from leaving its service. Walmart, alongside renewable energy advocates, said the premium would be paid for an inferior product, as it would include “energy that most customers do not consider to be renewable,” such as co-fired coal and biomass units. The company has long-opposed the tariff but noted a litany of oversights in the net-positive report from Adams.”

5-14-20 Virginia Mercury. What part of ‘zero’ doesn’t Dominion understand? “Dominion Energy Virginia filed its 2020 Integrated Resource Plan on May 1. Instead of charting the electric utility’s pathway to zero carbon emissions, it announced its intent to hang on to all its gas plants, and even add to the number. In doing so, it revealed a company so thoroughly wedded to fracked gas that it would rather flout Virginia law and risk its own future than do the hard work of transforming itself.”

5-13-20 E&E Energywire. EPA: ‘Big rollout’ coming to streamline energy permits. “Industry sources are expecting EPA to soon finalize a regulation intended to enhance federal control over pipeline approvals while diminishing states’ ability to block energy projects. The agency is set to release a rule this week or next that would ban states from considering issues other than water quality when issuing permits for pipelines or coal terminals, four sources said yesterday. EPA Chief of Staff Mandy Gunasekara yesterday also told ‘The Gallo Show,’ a Mississippi radio program, that ‘we’ve got a big rollout coming out. We have a regulatory action likely coming out later this week that will be a follow-up step to that which will improve the process by which states can assess projects and their impact to local water quality, but not use that as a means to unnecessarily slow that down,’ she said”

5-12-20 Blue Virginia. Federal Judge Deals Another Huge Blow to Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Yesterday, a federal judge in Montana issued an order with huge negative implications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The ruling, coming in a case brought to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, effectively prevents the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline from doing any construction across the thousands of waterways they would cross. …. The Keystone XL companies, joined by a group of industry powerhouses – including Dominion Energy – who intervened in the Montana case, filed papers asking Judge Morris to reverse himself, or at least modify his April ruling to apply only to the Keystone XL pipeline. They also asked the judge to stay his own order pending appeal. Judge Morris said no to both requests.”

5-12-20 Roanoke Times. Federal judge upholds ban on process for permitting pipelines, including Mountain Valley. “A federal judge has declined to lift his temporary ban on a permitting process for the crossing of streams and wetlands by oil and natural gas pipelines, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In an order late Monday, Montana U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris denied the Justice Department’s request for a stay pending an appeal of the case. Morris earlier struck down a streamlined method used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve waterbody crossings, ruling that the agency did not properly evaluate the potential harm to endangered species by the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport crude oil from Canada to Nebraska. The sweeping ruling prevented other planned pipelines from obtaining a similar permit from the Army Corps until ‘completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations’ — a process expected to take months.”

5-11-20 UtilityDive. Dominion’s nearly $50 monthly power bill hike in Virginia is a warning for other states. “Last Friday, Dominion Energy, which holds a monopoly over power generation and distribution in Virginia, offered state regulators a clean energy proposal with a stunning price tag: nearly $50 per month added to each customer’s power bill. Yet the utility’s plan only halves current carbon emissions by 2035 — with proposals including the addition of 5 GW of offshore wind and 2 GW of battery storage. While more cost-effective and efficient options to fight climate change likely exist — after all, onshore wind and solar are increasingly the least expensive energy technologies — the state has nowhere else to turn for power generation solutions. Dominion’s 2020 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is the first filed under Virginia’s Clean Economy Act, which goes into effect on July 1, 2020, and requires 100% clean energy by 2050. The upshot is far from surprising: An aggressive, single-state clean energy goal paired with a powerful utility spells trouble for Virginia families and businesses already struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

5-11-20 Virginia Mercury. Even after pipeline pollution, DEQ is still resisting water protections and public participation. “The violations are clear in thousands of photographs, scientific study results, and other evidence given to DEQ but somehow agency officials can’t or, more plausibly, won’t see them. The DEQ is supposed to work for all of us and we will have a voice in efforts to finally fix our water quality standards – whether invited or not. We will no longer accept excuses and perpetual delays. You shouldn’t either.”

5-8-20 E&E Energywire. AGs press FERC to halt energy projects. “A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general is urging the Federal EnergyRegulatory Commission to pause energy infrastructure projects until the threat of the novel coronavirus has eased.Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh led the effort in a letter yesterday to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, asking him to declare an immediate moratorium on approvals of all new and pending natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, and related infrastructure projects until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.”

5-7-20 E&E Energywire. Feds find safety problems at W.Va pipeline project. “Federal pipeline regulators say they found unsafe construction practices at a Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) worksite in West Virginia last summer. The warning letter from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said crews failed to build the line to specifications and placed pipe in ditches in a way that could damage it. Construction on the $5.5 billion, 300-mile gas pipeline is on hold because of legal challenges. PHMSA’s enforcement action, posted late Monday, comes on top of recent problems with land slippage in the pipeline path and a threat to a key federal wetlands permit.”

5-7-20 News Break. AG Mark Herring Urges FERC to Halt New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Projects During COVID-19 Crisis. “Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 11 attorneys general in calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to impose an immediate moratorium on approvals of all new and pending applications for natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, and related fossil-fuel infrastructure projects until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.”

5-6-20 Augusta Free Press. Thousands tell Dominion: Abandon Atlantic Coast Pipeline Now. “Seventy-eight advocacy organizations from Virginia and across the country have signed onto a letter addressed to Dominion Energy shareholders asserting that new legislation and legal challenges have rendered the completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline ‘unrealistic.’ The letter, displayed in a full-page Richmond Times-Dispatch ad and a half-page Washington Post ad published today, the day of Dominion Energy’s annual shareholder meeting, points to the pipeline’s $8 billion price tag, eight missing permits necessary for construction, and the fact that Dominion recently informed state regulators that ‘significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable’ under the state’s new law requiring Dominion to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.”

5-6-2020 Virginia Mercury. Dominion’s responsibility to shareholders: Abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “A petition asking shareholders to abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is being circulated. Unfortunately shareholders won’t have the power to do so at this year’s annual meeting today. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has on record two shareholder proposals for the 2020 Dominion annual meeting (Climate Risk and Human Rights and Climate Justice). However Dominion successfully petitioned the SEC to prevent them from being brought before the shareholders for a vote.”

5-5-20 Seeking Alpha. Dominion says Atlantic Coast pipeline cost, timeline depends on tree cutting OK. “Dominion Energy (D +3.3%) confirms its previous cost and schedule estimates for the $8B Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline project that is expected to enter service in early 2022. But that cost and schedule depends on the company being allowed to cut trees along the pipeline’s route during the upcoming November 2020-March 2021 season, Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told today’s earnings conference call.”

5-4-20 Roanoke Times. Letter: Chambers should disavow pipeline. “[T]he state and regional Chambers of Commerce should be ashamed of their short-sighted, greedy support of the unneeded fracked-gas Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. My suggestion is that chamber members across Virginia will pay a big price for their respective leadership’s misguided pipeline-support position, in that it’s awfully easy, given current COVID-19 circumstances, for Southwest Virginia regional consumer/buyers to take their business to technology-driven ‘online-purchasing’ of routine goods and services now, and in the future.”

5-4-20 Roanoke Times. Report of pipeline slips in West Virginia under investigation, raises concern. “Land movement in a construction area shifted a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline after it was buried along a West Virginia slope, according to a report filed by environmental regulators. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report stated that ‘crews verified that the installed pipe shifted … in at least three locations south of Brush Run Road’ in Lewis County, about 50 miles from where the natural gas pipeline begins a 303-mile route that takes it through Southwest Virginia. Inspectors blamed the problem on what’s called a slip, or the gradual movement of land on its own in an area cleared for the pipeline.”

5-2-20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Letter to the Editor, May 3, 2020: Energy giant should nix Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “With the Dominion Energy annual meeting set for May 6, CEO Thomas F. Farrell II could do shareholders, ratepayers and the environment a big favor by announcing the abandonment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. Climate science and energy economics make it pretty clear that the pipeline is a billion-dollar boondoggle.”

5-2-20 Common Dreams. No More Business as Usual: Halt Dangerous Development Projects That Put Our Health at Risk. “In North Carolina, fossil fuel giants Dominion and Duke Energy are pushing through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which threatens the public health and livelihoods of four tribes including the Lumbee – the largest Native tribe east of the Mississippi. Despite Native Americans being over-represented by a factor of ten along the North Carolina section of the pipeline route, tribal and other minority communities have been largely excluded from the decision-making process. Growing resistance to the pipeline has led two tribes to take their case to the Supreme Court, while resolutions supported by the National Congress of American Indians are calling for proper consultation with native nations.”