Corporate Sway, Conflicts of Interest, and Revolving Doors
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The powerful forces pushing a controversial pipeline proposed for West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina include Dominion Energy and its influential CEO Tom Farrell, state politicians that are top recipients of Dominion donations, and an army of revolving door lobbyists, including a former EPA official, according to a new report.
The report, from the nonprofit watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative, examines corporate influence, political donations, revolving door lobbyists, regulatory conflicts, and the banks behind the controversial proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It is the third in a series that examines the power relations behind a range of controversial pipeline projects in the United States.
The most powerful backer of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is Dominion Energy, an energy utilities company that has vast influence within Virginia and is one of the state’s biggest political donors. Dominion CEO Tom Farrell sits on multiple influential boards, has powerful family connections, and is one of the state’s biggest individual political donors.
Some of the most vocal supporters of the pipeline within Virginia politics have been the biggest recipients of Dominion donations. Dominion also has an army of revolving door lobbyists that have pushed politicians and regulatory agencies to support the pipeline. One of these lobbyists includes a former Environmental Protect Agency official, now working for Dominion.
It’s important that the public is aware of the power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which includes a company that gives millions to state politicians and hires lobbyists with ties to elected officials and regulatory bodies.” – Derek Seidman
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been widely unpopular with residents in Virginia and elsewhere who stand to be impacted by it,” said Derek Seidman, a research analyst at PAI and author of the report. “It’s important that the public is aware of the power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which includes a company that gives millions to state politicians and hires lobbyists with ties to elected officials and regulatory bodies.”
There are other troubling signs of conflicts of interest and revolving door politics surrounding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Key members of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, who must review the pipeline proposal and make recommendations regarding its approval, have accepted gifts from Dominion personally or through their organizations, and one director appears to have previously represented Dominion as an attorney. Regulatory agency staff sit on multiple boards with members of Dominion management. Dominion’s CEO and Senior Vice President of Sustainability also served nearly eight years as Director of the Air Division of the Virginia DEQ.
“It’s worrying that the entities that must approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have ties to Dominion,” said Seidman. “With such a controversial project that could put nature and so many people at risk, there really needs to be more transparency and accountability behind regulatory efforts.”
The report also highlights the nearly three dozen banks who are lending to Dominion and Duke Energy, and who may profit off of the pipeline. Eighteen banks are lending to both of the corporations, and all but two of these banks are also helping to fund the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Duke Energy, the powerful North Carolina-based energy corporation, is the pipeline’s second biggest stakeholder.
To read the full report, go to: http://public-accountability.org/2017/06/the-power-behind-the-pipelines-atlantic-coast-pipeline/
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Mr. Perriello demonstrates courage and leadership that are too rare
By Michael M. Barrick
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia voters will go to the polls on June 13 to select nominees for governor. For those that care about the human and environmental health of Virginia, and for those that have devoted their lives to stopping the ill-advised Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Appalachian Chronicle believes the evidence is clear – Democratic candidate Tom Perriello is the best choice for Virginians and their neighbors.
While the race will be watched closely with those obsessed about reading political tea leaves and what it means about upcoming national election cycles in 2018 and 2020, many folks in Virginia – as well as neighboring West Virginia and North Carolina – have far more immediate concerns. They wish to protect their families, homes and communities from the inevitable, permanent and negative impacts upon human and environmental health that will be caused by the pipelines.
Mr. Perriello is an ally of those fighting fracking and the pipelines. He has issued position papers on the environment and building a clean energy future which are based in sound science and reject profit over people. Indeed, in taking on Richmond-based Dominion Energy, he has clearly demonstrated courage.
What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” – Pope Francis
A couple of years ago, I was asked by a well-known environmental group to speak to the relevance of the ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” by Pope Francis as it applies to Appalachia.
This group clearly understands the root cause of the problems we face. It didn’t take long for several people to assert that the most important statement in the encyclical was not about the environment, but leadership. In paragraph 57 of the encyclical, Pope Francis asks, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” In fact, as his is blunt nature, the pope said also, “We lack leadership” (no. 53).
That is the first reason Virginia and Appalachian residents need Mr. Perriello to be the next governor of Virginia. He has demonstrated the leadership required by the times.
The second reason is that the state agencies charged with protecting the environment are simply not doing it. Dozens of groups and thousands of residents of Virginia have been denied critical information. Mr. Perriello has promised to return transparency and proper enforcement to Virginia government. One example of why this is so critical just came in from Rick Webb, the program coordinator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, based in Monterey.
In an email, Webb wrote, “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality announced on April 6th that it would conduct full, site-specific regulatory reviews for both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline under the Clean Water Act and state law.” He revealed, however, “DEQ officials now say (seven weeks later) that inaccurate information was provided to the public, and that the DEQ will instead rely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine stream crossings, which will number in the hundreds for each project.”
Webb continued, “DEQ’s current backpedaling is but the latest manifestation of Dominion’s resistance to providing site-specific plans for agency and public review. Dominion doesn’t want the public to understand the real impact of the project until after it has its approvals in hand. The same is no doubt true for the MVP developers.”
Mr. Perriello has pledged to require state agencies to do their jobs. That begins with holding Dominion and its partners accountable. To that end, we are hopeful that Mr. Perriello would embrace the Precautionary Principle to justify placing a moratorium on pipeline development, fracking and related activities.
The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” It is a philosophy embraced by public and environmental health experts the world over.
As Pope Francis wrote, “This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it” (no. 186).
This is the third reason that we support Mr. Perriello. His many position papers demonstrate an overarching, preferential concern for the poor and vulnerable.
Mr. Perriello has demonstrated leadership. He is standing with the people. We hope the people of Virginia will stand with him on Election Day – in June and November.”
Mr. Perriello has risked his political career by aligning himself with the people, with human health, and with the environment in direct defiance of the wishes of Dominion Energy. This election is an opportunity for the people of Virginia to honor not Dominion, but the best characteristics of the Old Dominion – concern for one’s neighbor, an understanding of the value and beauty of the land, and a fierce determination to maintain individual liberty.
A vote for Mr. Perriello will accomplish that. His courage is rare and a good reason alone to endorse him. He is clearly the best candidate to protect human and environmental health. Finally, he understands that our problems are symptomatic of a much more dangerous problem our nation faces – the lack of solid, authentic, courageous leaders. Well, Mr. Perriello has demonstrated leadership. He is standing with the people. We hope the people of Virginia will stand with him on Election Day – in June and November.
© The Appalachian Chronicle, 2017.
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Randolph County landowner on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route: ‘It’s my land; it must be my choice!’
By Michael Barrick
MILL CREEK, W.Va. – Joao Barroso spent years looking for the perfect parcel of land on which to eventually settle his family and build a natural preserve for others to enjoy. Finally, in September 2011, Barroso, 57, found such a place in an approximately 500-acre forested tract near Mill Creek, a small community situated in a picturesque valley in Randolph County. Indeed, the stream for which the village is named roars through his land, full from spring rains and snow melt. It eventually feeds into the Tygart Valley River downstream from his land. The river has formed one of the most breathtaking valleys in this region of West Virginia. Its headwaters are in neighboring Pocahontas County. From there, it travels about 135 miles before eventually joining with the West Fork River to form the Monongahela River in North Central West Virginia.
Beginning in 2014, Barroso added extra acreage to his property, bringing it to a total of about 650 acres. This expansion, he pointed out, demonstrates his determination to acquire land to preserve its natural wonder and beauty.
Now, however, the home place he dreamed of having for more than 40 years is in the sights of Dominion Energy, which wants to cross his land with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). So, what started out as a dream may well turn out to be a nightmare. While the pipeline has yet to be approved by the appropriate regulatory officials, and the route continues to change, Barroso has been telling Dominion that he does not want the pipeline on this property, as it would compromise his dreams and plans.
He has been refusing the company’s surveyors access to his property for nearly a year, since they first contacted him demanding access to his land to conduct a survey for the ACP and threatening him with eminent domain. He shared, “I am dismayed.” He explained, “Communication with Doyle Land’s surveyor (a company working on behalf of Dominion) did not go well when they first contacted me. As a result, and given their lack of feedback and apparent unwillingness to engage in a dialogue, I ended up contacting Dominion directly in the hope that they would be willing to openly communicate with me.”
At the end of 2014, after months of emails and not much progress, Barroso said, “Dominion finally decided to send a team to meet me in Elkins. The meeting lasted more than four hours and I had some expert consultants with me, including a hydrologist, an environmental scientist, and a botanist.” He shared, “I would say the meeting went well. I had, in fact, received a letter from Dominion’s lawyers, Steptoe & Johnson, giving me 10 days to OK the survey, or face a lawsuit. But the gentleman who headed the team for Dominion told me not to worry; he said he would take care of it, and he did. He told Steptoe & Johnson to back off. That was a pleasant surprise. He also said that Dominion does not like surveyors, etc. to threaten landowners with eminent domain. That surprised me even more!”
Barroso questioned, “How can these people threaten landowners with eminent domain when they don’t have the right and don’t have a green light from Dominion to do so? I told him it’s the worst thing they can do. It’s really bad PR and there’s no better way to get everyone against Dominion.”
He has yet to grant the company permission to survey, and the borders of his land are dotted with “No Trespassing” signs that include the explicit wording, “No surveys.”
“It is insane,” proclaimed Barroso, standing along one of 14 ponds on his property. “I still hope that common sense prevails and Dominion decides to move the pipeline away from my land. If they end up using eminent domain, all I have to say is that it is unconstitutional,” he continued, adding, “the use of eminent domain may be justified in some cases, but in cases like this, it is certainly nothing else but abuse.”
Dominion Energy and its ACP partners claim on its website that “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is an essential public utility project designed to meet urgent energy needs in Virginia and North Carolina.” Barroso dismissed that argument as nonsense. “This is a private company, and the ACP, if it is approved and built, has only one purpose: company profit. It will be a clear case of abuse of eminent domain.”
He continued, “There is a very clear difference between providing a service to the public and what is a public service. All businesses serve the public, but they are not public services.” After a pause, he added, “What is the difference between what they want to do, and someone stealing his neighbor’s property because he wants to open a restaurant to serve the public, while the neighbor just wants to live with his family in peace? None if you ask me. Both are encroaching on private property for the same motive – engage in a business and make money for private profit. Both are wrong! The only difference may be that the restaurant is an investment of $500,000 and the ACP is an investment of $5 billion.”
Tracing his finger on a map of the proposed ACP route, he observed, “Look. It is going to connect to the coast in Virginia. Why? I am hard pressed to believe that this ACP project has nothing to do with Russia starving Europe for natural gas, or the Japanese market craving natural gas they do not produce. This pipeline is most likely going to transport natural gas for export.” He then added, “Even if you give Dominion the benefit of the doubt that this gas will stay in the country, it is still for their private profit. The ACP benefits first and foremost Dominion, meaning the company’s shareholders. The number of jobs created will be negligible, most temporary during the construction phase, and the well-paid jobs are all for out-of-state technicians and professionals. And this has nothing to do with energy independence, or clean energy. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, for example, but if you consider all that is involved, it is not clean energy – far from it.”
The ACP, as well as several other proposed natural gas pipelines, has yet to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is charged with studying the environmental impact of the proposed pipelines. Barroso is skeptical. Recalling Dominion’s January 21 open house in Elkins in which Dominion and FERC representatives were present to speak to landowners, Barroso shared, “There was a FERC employee there that could not answer my questions. He was a nice young man, but had no answers to any of the questions I raised. Then, after I left the open house, I also wondered, why would FERC have somebody there if not because they are working for Dominion.” Barroso continued, “A regulatory commission should be independent and neutral. They should be objective. They should listen to landowners and property owners without bias. There should be no FERC employee there, especially if unable to answer questions. This is a very obvious conflict of interest, in my opinion.”
Indeed, recently, preservationist groups from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia accused FERC of not properly informing the public regarding the construction of proposed natural gas pipelines throughout the region. Pointing to public comments by FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, the groups argued that FERC is not providing the independent oversight required of it. Furthermore, Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia echoed Barroso’s arguments that the concept of eminent domain is being perverted. Reed argued, “These pipelines serve no public benefit as all current and proposed users are currently served by existing pipelines. FERC cannot ignore that these pipelines will massively increase gas extraction in the shalefields of West Virginia and provide huge volumes of natural gas for export.”
In addition to passionately arguing that his liberty will be trampled on by Dominion and whoever will sign off on the ACP if it ends up being approved, Barroso also pointed to the damage that will be done to the spectacular beauty of his land. Indeed, if the ACP should cross his land, it will disrupt the pristine ponds – a native brook trout hatchery under development. Also endangered are countless underground springs, the Gooseberry Cave – listed as hibernacula for the endangered Indiana bat – the bubbling springs, and other habitat for threatened and endangered species, the creek itself, and other features, including an old family cemetery on the property dating back to the 1800s.
“This is a very unique property,” said Barroso. “This ACP business will literally destroy it. Dominion told me they were considering alternate routes, but it has been two months since the last open house that took place in Elkins, and I am still waiting for feedback.”
Standing between the ponds and the creek, pointing to where the ACP corridor is set to cross his property, Barroso asked, “How are they going to go through that creek?” He continued, “Look at it. It is over solid rock. They cannot do horizontal drilling because they hit the side of the hill!” Additionally, from the valley floor on which he stands, at about 2,050 feet, he points to the two ridges that rise hundreds of feet – virtually straight up – on each side of the creek. One of the ridges is owned by various lumber companies, the other ridge is on his property. “Look at how steep and high those are,” he said. “How are they going to traverse that? On that side that belongs to Coastal, the ridge is 3,300 feet high according to topographical maps I have; on my property, that ridge is almost 2,900 feet. How do they intend to put a 42-inch pipeline up and down these hills, through the creek, and beyond? How safe is this going to be? There are accidents all the time, explosions. I don’t want my family living close to this thing.”
Referencing a list of pipeline accidents in the 21st century, Barroso offered, “It’s pretty scary to say the least. It’s almost 50 pages long if printed out! Take the time to follow the links, and you will find out that these accidents and explosions plague both old and new pipelines and in most of them, they never know what caused them! People die, property is destroyed, and lives are changed forever. As a property owner, I have the right to say, ‘No thank you! I don’t want a pipeline on my property.’”
Indeed, those are some of the questions that Barroso has asked of Dominion officials and their surveyors. “What about safety? Explosions? Response time, impact? Dominion promised to get back with me with data and more information, but so far, I have yet to hear from them.” He recalled, “At the open house, one of the Dominion officials that came to meet me in Elkins told another Dominion official, ‘In his case, we have made a mistake. We should not go over his land. We were not aware of all the features on his property.’” Barroso continued, “We had a pleasant exchange that day. They were quite open to admit that the way the routes are traced is based on nothing but maps, topography and often not very clear satellite photos, so they are hardly ever aware of what’s on the land and what landowners are doing with their properties.”
Of course, the mountain ranges extend in both directions far beyond his land. So even if Dominion should pick a route that does not include Barroso’s property, it will still have a 300-foot-wide survey corridor, and care out a 75- to 125-foot swath up and down countless mountain ranges to construct the pipeline, including some in nearby Monongahela National Forest and George Washington National Forest. Depending upon the route chosen, if approved, the pipeline could go through Kumbrabow State Forest, which has the highest elevation of any West Virginia state forest.
“It’s just insane,” repeated Barroso.
Following a long hike up a trail to the family cemetery on the property, Barroso stood in the warm afternoon sun, with patches of snow stubbornly refusing to melt at the high, shaded elevation. He acknowledged that he is talking to Dominion not only to defend his property rights and individual liberty, but also based upon his faith. “Nothing I have belongs to me. This is a stewardship. That is how I see things. I am here for a reason. God is in all this. We came here without anything and we will leave without anything. But what we are entrusted with, we have the responsibility to care for and leave a legacy to our posterity. I am not an environmentalist. There is too much negativity and pseudo-science associated with environmentalists these days, in my opinion. But I consider myself a steward over the land as an ecologist. From all the research I have done so far, the ACP will be, ecologically speaking, a disaster. There is no other way of putting it, and my opinion is that there is no way to mitigate the damage it will cause.”
He continued, “I want to leave my children something. And my grandchildren, and their children. It is a stewardship for them also.”
Walking back down the trail towards the creek, Barroso stopped to get a drink of water out of a natural spring tumbling down rocks. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he looked at the waterfall, then down to the creek. His eyes piercing and glistening, he proclaimed, “Water is life. It is my responsibility to protect it. One man’s liberty ends where his neighbor’s begins. This principle applies to private companies as well. The government is supposed to protect citizens, private property, landowners and businesses. If the government sides with the companies, developers and investors, and lets them use eminent domain to encroach on other persons or their property and condemn private property, something is utterly wrong.”
He concluded, “What is at stake here are private property rights. If private property is compromised, then nothing is safe in this country anymore.”
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.
The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.