Does the Governor of Virginia Understand How Pipeline Construction Damages Streams?

by Duane Nichols on December 1, 2017

Dominion Energy does not rule the Old Dominion?

On pipelines, will Terry McAuliffe side with Virginia or with Donald Trump?

From the Newspaper Column by Jon Sokolow, Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 21, 2017

Terry McAuliffe’s environmental record has been called “abysmal” and “marred by contradictions and empty rhetoric.” True, the outgoing governor just attended a climate conference in Germany — there are plenty of photos on his Twitter feed — and he committed Virginia to a worldwide climate change coalition.

But this photo op had one purpose: to manage McAuliffe’s legacy. Virginia was the last of 180 jurisdictions to join the group, formed in 2015, while McAuliffe was busy cheerleading the massive 600-mile, $5.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the 300-mile, $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

Together these pipelines would produce greenhouse gases equivalent to 45 coal-fired plants — more than doubling Virginia’s carbon footprint and committing Virginia to decades of dependence on methane gas while retarding clean energy job growth. Not much to write home about, especially in a future Democratic primary.

McAuliffe has one chance to change that. From December 6-12, Virginia’s Water Control Board will hold public hearings on the pipelines. The seven citizen board members, all McAuliffe appointees, are free to accept or reject a still-secret recommendation from McAuliffe’s Department of Environmental Quality. Environmental groups are gearing up for the hearings and a Water Is Life Rally and Concert in Richmond on December 2nd.

The pipeline decision will be McAuliffe’s legacy. If he chooses wrong, he will be firmly on the side of Donald Trump. Trump, like McAuliffe, is a pipeline cheerleader — so much so that in January he listed the ACP as one of his “Top 50” domestic priorities. Trump even claimed the permitting process was “done,” although no permits had been issued. Is anyone surprised?

Pressure on Virginia’s DEQ has been relentless: a public letter from organizations representing tens of thousands of Virginians; a 150-mile hike, dubbed “Walking the Line into the Heart of Virginia,” to highlight the damage the ACP would cause to some of the most pristine parts of Virginia; a packed protest at Buckingham County’s Union Hill Baptist Church, drawing attention to a mammoth compressor station that Dominion Energy proposes to build in the heart a historic 85 percent African-American community; public hearings where speakers were overwhelmingly anti-pipeline; a flotilla down the James River; two days of protests, vigils and arrests at Virginia DEQ offices; and opposition from county commissioners as well as the city council and mayor of Staunton, among many others.

Federal appeals courts recently stopped three pipelines, including the $1 billion Constitution and Millennium pipelines in New York and the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Florida. And in a potential game-changer, the federal appeals court in D.C. held that FERC is required to consider the negative effects of releasing and burning methane.

Meanwhile, West Virginia revoked its previous approval of the MVP (before giving up its review power altogether), exposing the same defects as the MVP permit application in Virginia, including, most significantly, failure to perform a stream-by-stream “anti-degradation analysis.” North Carolina’s DEQ twice rejected pipeline plans that failed “to ensure that downstream water quality is protected.”

Dominion, Virginia’s shadow government, responded by asking a newly reconstituted three-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, dominated by two new Trump appointees, to hurry up. They did, approving both the ACP and the MVP, over the strong dissent of the only Democrat on the panel, who wrote: I cannot conclude that either of these projects as proposed is in the public interest.”

Sen. Tim Kaine blasted the “very suspicious circumstances” surrounding the FERC decision and he praised the “stinging” dissent. Kaine also sent an unmistakable message to pipeline opponents: “If you do not like this decision there are other agencies that still have to weigh in. If you are active about this, please do not stop your activism.”

McAuliffe sent his own unmistakable message: He appeared on a right-wing radio talk show — hosted by Donald Trump’s former state co-chair — to praise the Trump appointees for their action. Shortly thereafter, MVP filed condemnation proceedings against 300 landowners.

Kaine was right — and he has company. Leaders from both parties have spoken out against DEQ’s faulty review process. Thirteen newly elected delegates to the Virginia House, plus Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax, oppose the pipelines and signed the Activate Virginia pledge rejecting political donations from Dominion.

The question for McAuliffe, like the science against these pipelines, is as clear as a mountain stream:

Which side are you on?

>>> NOTE: Jonathan Sokolow is a writer and healthcare attorney living in Fairfax County. He spent more than 20 years working to defend pension and health rights for retired coal miners in Southwest Virginia and throughout Appalachia and is the author of several articles on the law and politics of the pipeline debate in Virginia.


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Kirk Bowers December 4, 2017 at 10:44 am

With crucial Virginia pipeline votes looming, Northam stays out of water-quality debate

During his campaign, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam wanted the regulatory process for a pair of controversial natural gas pipelines planned to be built through Virginia to be “as thorough and environmentally responsible as permitted under state and federal law.”

Yet on the eve of crucial votes by the State Water Control Board that begin this week for water-quality certifications for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, the Democratic lieutenant governor appears content to stay away from what critics contend has been a deeply flawed review of the potential water quality hazards posed by the blasting, trenching, ridgetop flattening and tree removal that construction will entail.

The citizen board, whose seven members were appointed by outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who has backed the pipeline projects as drivers of jobs and economic development, will vote over the next two weeks on whether the state will issue certifications under the federal Clean Water Act that there is a “reasonable assurance” that water quality will be protected during construction. The pipelines, already approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other federal agencies, will cross some of the most mountainous terrain in the state, and opponents contend they cannot be built without dislodging sediment that could damage streams, aquifers and drinking water sources.

Asked whether Northam supports the water board issuing the permits before he takes office in January, a spokeswoman said he “will respect the final determination made at the end of a transparent, science-driven regulatory process.” The spokeswoman did not respond when asked whether Northam thought the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s proposed certifications will adequately protect state waters.

The board meetings on EQT Midstream Partners’ Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run 300 miles from West Virginia into Pittsylvania County, are Wednesday and Thursday. The board will take up certification for the Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run 600 miles from West Virginia through the heart of Virginia and into North Carolina, with an extension to Hampton Roads, on Dec. 11 and 12.

Environmental groups say the board, as a result of how the DEQ has narrowed its review, does not have the information it needs to issue legally defensible certifications.

Though DEQ Director David Paylor has insisted Virginia is going to the limits of its powers in the permitting process, the agency ceded its authority to review the actual spots where the pipeline will cross waterways to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will approve the pipeline developers’ plans to manage erosion, sediment and stormwater separately. Opponents also contend the agency has not set a water-quality baseline for the waterways crossed by the pipelines by conducting what’s known as an anti-degradation analysis, which refers to the requirement to protect existing uses of water.


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