Dispute is a distraction causing some environmentalists to miss the forest for the trees
By Michael M. Barrick
WESTON, W.Va. – On April 27, five environmental groups released a statement pointing out that the plans for the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would include widespread destruction – what they termed “decapitation” – of nearly 40 miles of mountain ridge tops along the proposed route, including just a few miles from here.
In alerting the public to the devastating impact of these plans by Dominion Resources, the groups issued a news release with the headline, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Trigger Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” In response, the groups were attacked by some other environmentalists who claim that what is planned by Dominion does not constitute Mountaintop Removal (MTR).
In fact, it has led to quite an online discussion – a discussion that has been relatively polite but undeniably silly. I fail to see the consternation over making a distinction. Dominion is planning on removing the tops of mountains. What else to call it? Calling it what it is does not diminish the horrors of MTR as we’ve come to see it. However, failing to call this type of pipeline construction MTR does diminish the horrors it will unleash upon our communities and the land that supports them.
So, when we received the news release, we headlined our article, “ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” I’ve had a couple of readers object to the use of the MTR moniker. I have responded that at the Appalachian Chronicle we will continue to call it Mountaintop Removal because that is what it is. Whether the fossil fuel industry extracts gas, oil or coal, the outcome is the same: destroyed sacred mountaintops.
Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.”
This type of discord within the environmental social justice community is exactly what Dominion Resources and their co-conspirators in the fossil fuel industry want. What is most disturbing is that it is a self-inflicted wound.
The odds are stacked against us. Let us not get bogged down in semantics; in doing so, we give ammunition to the energy industry. Let us agree, that when you remove the tops of mountains, create millions of tons of overburden, destroy streams and forests, and harm public health, what you are doing is MTR. The scale is irrelevant. Destruction is destruction.
And Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition petitioned state official to make public information about pipeline regulatory reviews
MONTEREY, Va. – On May 5, 2016, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) sent a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Injunctive Relief to Angela Navarro, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, and David Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to compel the state to provide information about regulatory reviews of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) proposals. The Petition, prepared for filing in the Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond, describes how state officials have violated duties under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The next day, Friday, May 6th, Deputy Secretary Navarro and Director Paylor responded through their counsel, Assistant Attorney General, David Grandis, indicating that they will provide the requested documents early this week.
Before the state indicated it would provide the documents, Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, said, “We are disappointed that Virginia’s environmental officials have failed to live up to a law designed to give Virginian’s open access to their own government. Nearly three weeks ago, we asked for public records that would help us and other citizens understand what the State intends to do to protect citizens and the environment from damages the pipelines could cause.” He continued, “Officials are supposed to respond to such information requests within five business days but we received no reply for nearly three weeks. Finally yesterday (May 4) they acknowledged they’d received our letter but did not offer to provide the information we’ve requested.”
The Virginia DEQ has a duty, under the federal Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Protection laws, to review the gas pipeline proposals and ensure that no project goes forward unless all water quality standards will be met, argued Webb. However, as DPMC’s April 14 letter recounts, Virginia DEQ seems to be willing to cover both ACP and MVP under “general permits,” essentially rubber stamping the projects under blanket approvals issued in 2012 and intended only for small projects that pose little risk to waters, Webb argued. DPMC sought public records through the April request to clarify the state’s positions and to question whether the DEQ is able to justify its approach.
The Petition can be accessed here. The FOIA request was included in an April 14th letter, which can be accessed here. The letter objected to the state’s apparent intention to certify the ACP and MVP under general permits issued in 2012. The FOIA request sought information related to the following questions concerning both the ACP and MVP:
1) Has DEQ deemed the Joint Application and/or other information submitted for the projects to be complete and accurate such that DEQ is able to make a formal finding as to the projects’ eligibility for coverage under Virginia’s blanket 401 water quality certification?
2) Has the Corps of Engineers indicated to DEQ that the projects meet the Corps’ requirements for coverage under the general Nationwide Permit 12?
3) Has DEQ made a tentative or final finding that the projects comply with the conditions of the blanket 401 certification for Nationwide Permit 12?
4) Has DEQ requested and/or received additional information from the applicants, in addition to that contained in the Joint Applications, to reveal proposed construction and detailed pollution control methods and analyze possible water quality impacts?
According to DPMC, this is the second time this year that Virginia officials have violated the Freedom of Information Act after DPMC requested records on the gas pipelines. In an earlier case, Carlos Hopkins, Counsel to Governor McAuliffe, failed to provide records within the required period. On March 4, 2016, David Sligh of DPMC wrote Hopkins: “I believe the Governor’s Office is now in violation of the time requirement for response to FOIA requests, under 37 § 2.2-3704. You informed me that the check sent on behalf of DPMC was received at your office on February 15 or 16. Therefore, the records or an appropriate response should have been sent no later than Feb. 23.” Less than two hours after receiving Sligh’s note, Mr. Hopkins provided the documents but failed to explain the failure to abide by the law.
“This legal action is about much more than an arbitrary deadline or a technicality,” Rick Webb stated: “It’s about the McAuliffe administration’s respect for the rights of citizens trying to play their proper roles and protect their communities and natural resources. The law says a failure to properly respond to a FOIA request is the same as refusing the request outright. We won’t accept a refusal of our rights.”
New Layers Added to DPMC ACP map, including blast radius and evacuation zones
According to DPMC, additional map layers have been added to the ACP-Environmental Mapping System. Features include:
1) Estimated blast radius and evacuation zone for the proposed ACP.
2) Updated ACP construction corridor and access roads for the 10/30/15 and 4/15/16 submissions to FERC.
3) Direct and core forest loss associated with the proposed ACP construction corridor and access roads.
4) Virginia property parcels.
5) Stream crossings. (Information on crossing methods and environmental factors will be added).
The current version of the ACP-Environmental Mapping system can be accessed via the DPMC website, www.pipelineupdate.org. The link is in the right-hand sidebar.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responds to petition from the Center for Biological Diversity
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two species of crayfish from Appalachia under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfishes have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining. The Big Sandy crayfish is known only from the Big Sandy River basin in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia; the Guyandotte River crayfish is known only from the Guyandotte River basin in southern West Virginia.
“Protecting these two crayfishes under the Endangered Species Act will not only ensure their survival but will also protect streams and water quality that are important for people,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center and a native of southeastern Kentucky.
The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the Big Sandy crayfish as an endangered species in 2010. The newly discovered Guyandotte River crayfish, which was once thought to be the same as the Big Sandy crayfish but was recently discovered to be a new species, is now one of the most endangered crayfish in America, surviving only in a single county in West Virginia. Both crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution. The Big Sandy crayfish was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1991.
The Big Sandy crayfish is known from Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties in Virginia, and from McDowell and Mingo counties in West Virginia. In Kentucky it is known from Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, Pike and Martin counties. The Guyandotte River crayfish was known from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties, West Virginia, but survives only in Wyoming County. In addition to coal mining, the crayfish are threatened by construction of the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway.
Today’s listing means that federal agencies will have to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before funding or permitting any activity that could harm the animals, and it is now illegal for any person or corporation to harm the crayfishes or their habitat.
Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered to be a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by other species including fish. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals, and they are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web. Because the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, they are indicator species of water quality.
In 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. To date 146 species have gained protection under the agreement, and another 34 have been proposed for protection.
One of the primary threats to the crayfish is mountaintop removal coal mining. Recent scientific studies have concluded that pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining is harmful to fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia. Pollution from mountaintop removal is also associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in humans. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.
Coal field residents and allies are currently promoting the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, or ACHE, a federal bill that would place a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits until the federal government has completed and evaluated studies into health disparities in the region.
© The Center for Biological Diversity, 2016. The Center is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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Cost to people, communities and environment could run into billions along entire route, based on four-county study
MONTEREY, Va. – Five groups concerned about the short-term and permanent impacts upon their communities caused by the proposed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) have released an independent study revealing that just four counties in Virginia would likely experience billions of dollars of loss and damage should the ACP be built. The report was commissioned by the ACP Highlanders for Responsible Development, Augusta County Alliance, Friends of Nelson, Friends of Buckingham, and Yogaville Environmental Solutions. The exhaustive in-depth study was conducted by Key-Log Economics, a research economics firm based in Charlottesville, Va.
A news release from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance about the study stated, “Dominion says that it would cost approximately $5 billion to build its 594-mile high pressure natural gas transmission line through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. That number pales in comparison to the costs and economic impacts of the pipeline that will be incurred across just a four-county area of western and central Virginia. …”
The statement continued, “The eye-opening analysis found that up to $141 million in lost property value and services, such as water and air quality, would occur across the four-county study area just during construction. Further, the pipeline will depress area economies, contribute to job loss, reduce quality of life, and lower personal incomes in perpetuity to the tune of up to $109 million annually.”
Those estimates are conservative, notes Spencer Phillips, founder of Key-Log Economics. “Putting the stream of costs into present value terms and adding the one-time costs, the total estimated cost of the ACP in Highland, Augusta, Nelson, and Buckingham Counties is between $6.9 and $7.9 billion,” he said.
Lewis Freeman, Chair of the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance and President of Highlanders for Responsible Development, added, “In Highland County annual costs to the local economy are estimated to be $7 million or higher, much larger than the projected benefits that would come to the county, including tax revenues paid by the pipeline. Adverse impacts on property values, which have already been negatively affected by the prospect of the project, will be significant. Also negatively impacted will be travel and tourism, which account for one-fifth of the county’s employment.”
For Augusta County, through which Dominion proposes to run more than 50 miles of the pipeline route, the negative impacts to people’s lives and property is enormous, according to the report. Total property value lost would be approximately $44.5 million, resulting in an annual reduction to the county coffers in excess of $209,061. “Those figures, while conservative and not inclusive of the new route through the Deerfield Valley, are based on loss of subdivision and development potential, loss of property value and property marketability because of proximity to the pipeline, damage to water resources, and a reduction in agricultural production to name just some of the factors that went into the calculation,” noted Nancy Sorrells, Chair of the Augusta County Alliance.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cost Nelson County up to $43 million dollars per year, with additional one-time costs of up to $41 million according to the report. Individuals and businesses would lose up to $25 million in property value outright, while annual losses would include $18 million in recreation tourism dollars and $1.2 million in personal income. The annual loss to the county government would be $526,000 in tax revenue and $144,000 in property tax revenue, far exceeding the local annual tax payment promised by ACP, LLC.
The communities in Buckingham County, the eastern-most county in the study, are faced with the double whammy of the massive pipeline and a gigantic compressor station that will be in operation 24/7. According to the study, the ACP would cost Buckingham as much as $20.8 million in one-time costs and annual losses of as much as $7.1 million.
“I would encourage every Buckingham resident to become familiar with Key-Log’s findings,” noted Chad Oba, Chair of Friends of Buckingham. “This report uncovers previously undisclosed costs of Dominion’s mega-industrial project for our county. No one wants to live near a toxin-belching compressor station nor a 42-inch pipeline, both of which bring many health hazards, and threaten Virginians’ property rights.” As to the purported tax revenue promised by Dominion to the county, she added, “No amount of tax revenue can buy off citizens who are sincere about protecting their community and their beautiful surroundings.”
The pipeline impact study was spearheaded by local citizens groups and property owners who were frustrated at the inaccurate information being distributed by Dominion in regard to the purported benefits of the ACP. Not only were those “benefits,” such as large numbers of jobs during and after pipeline construction and promised tax payments to the counties, generally understood to be greatly inflated, they were also not balanced with information on what the negative effects of the pipeline could be in these central and western Virginia communities.
“It has fallen on us to analyze the costs to our communities should this pipeline come to pass,” said Ernie Reed of Friends of Nelson, the lead group that commissioned the study. “This report demonstrates not only how economically dangerous the pipeline is but how our four counties would bear a huge share of the costs of this project at the hands of Dominion. Further, while the use of the pipeline is measured in years, the costs to the region are forever.”
The study and recent alternate route proposed by Dominion
The statement added, “The recently announced re-routing of the ACP through the southern portion of Highland County, into Bath County, and back through Augusta County was announced after the Key-Log study was completed. While the re-routing would reduce to some extent the economic impact on Highland, the negative economic impact resulting from the re-routing into northern Bath County would increase the total impact on the immediate region due to the higher property values of affected property and businesses in Bath. Further, the additional dozen or so miles added to the Augusta County route will only serve to increase the final economic impact to that community.” It noted, “The uniqueness of the counties in the study mean that the specific impacts within each area vary. However, the underlying result, as pointed out in the study, is that the four counties will be deeply impacted in a very negative way.”
Regarding the proposed alternative route, The Recorder, a weekly newspaper based in Highland and Bath counties, noted that Dominion had originally rejected the alternative route. In this weeks’ edition, published today, the newspaper reported that Dominion rejected the route it is now proposing because, “Crossing this terrain with a 42-inch-diameter pipeline while attempting to minimize or avoid traversing steep side slopes would result in multiple, steeply graded, up-and-down approaches to ridge tops that would in many instances require heavy equipment winching on both sides of the ridge from single or multiple staging areas on the ridge top … Because of the narrowness and remoteness of the ridge tops, most of these areas would require the construction of a graded winching platform on top of the ridge, and depending on the slope, could require construction of an access road along the ridge to access the winch platform for delivery of construction equipment and pipe sections. Access to the remote areas crossed by the three southern alternative routes would be difficult due to the lack of existing nearby roads … which could require the construction of new roads into these areas. Slope restoration and stabilization would also be difficult to achieve in many of the steep areas crossed.”
This is the first independent study done on the ACP. However, when one considers that this study covers only a small portion of the proposed route, it seems rather clear that Dominion is proposing a project that will accomplish only two things – provide additional dividends to its shareholders and destroy all that is dear to the people of Appalachia.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC forced to adopt alternative route after U.S. Forest Service rejected recent proposal
By Michael Barrick
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, and others, has filed an alternate proposed route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) with the United States Forest Service (USFS). The new filing comes after the USFS in January rejected the initial proposal brought by Atlantic. Originally planned at about 550 miles, this alternative would bring the total closer to 600 miles, including over some of the most impenetrable mountainous terrain in the eastern United States.
As currently proposed, the ACP would originate near here in Harrison County, and terminate in southeastern North Carolina. Ultimate approval for the ACP will be up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Once again, Dominion has proposed a route without thinking through or understanding the environmental and other consequences of its decision.” – Statement from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance
However, ACP must first gain USFS approval because it wishes to build the pipeline through three national forests in West Virginia and Virginia – the Monongahela, the George Washington and the Jefferson. In rejecting ACP’s original proposal last month, and requiring that a new one be filed, the USFS said the route would cause harm to “ … highly sensitive resources, including Cheat Mountain salamanders, West Virginia northern flying squirrels, Cow Knob salamanders, and red spruce ecosystem restoration area.”
When submitting its alternative plan, Atlantic said, “The route will reduce total mileage in the national forests by more than one-third, from 28.8 miles to 18.5 miles.” It admitted, though, “The alternative route will impact approximately 249 new landowners in Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia, and Highland, Bath and Augusta counties in Virginia.”
It said also, “We are contacting landowners along the alternative route to request permission to survey their properties so the route can be thoroughly evaluated. Atlantic will submit a preliminary analysis of the route to the FERC next week, and plans to hold a series of public informational open houses along the route in early March.”
Opponents to the ACP, meanwhile, argue that the alternative proposal is no better, for numerous reasons.
Marilyn Shifflett of Free Nelson, in Nelson County, Va., said, “To have come forward with such a massive reroute so quickly after the USFS denied permit on the prior route speaks volumes about the lack of consideration for environmental impacts, and impacts to private property owners.” She continued, “The ACP’s new route is equally as devastating, if not more, than their prior route. A significant number of landowners have been impacted, with the hardest hit taken in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and Bath and Augusta counties in Virginia.”
Rick Webb of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, also based in Virginia, responded, “Dominion fails to recognize … that the real issue is construction of a major pipeline through the greatest concentration of remaining wild lands, pristine streams, and intact ecosystems in the central Appalachian region.”
Webb added, “Although the newly proposed route would reduce impacts to certain species that are emblematic of this wild landscape, Dominion’s alternate route still involves significant forest fragmentation and fails to avoid environmental harm associated with construction across steep mountains and complex karst valleys. Moreover, Dominion is now proposing to build the pipeline along a path that was initially rejected for being too challenging and hazardous.”
He continued, “The proposed ACP is unprecedented with respect to pipeline size and the level of disturbance that will be required. There is no acceptable route for the ACP through the central Appalachian region. The proposed pipeline will be 42 inches in diameter, requiring excavation of an 8- to 12-foot-deep trench and the bulldozing of a 125-foot-wide construction corridor straight up and down multiple steep-sided forested mountains. It will require construction of heavy-duty transport roads and staging areas for large earth-moving equipment and pipeline assembly. It will require blasting through bedrock, and excavation through streams and wetlands. It will require construction across unstable and hydrologically sensitive karst terrain.”
Argued Webb, “Pipeline construction on this scale, across this type of steep, well-watered, forested mountain landscape, is unprecedented. It will be impossible to avoid degradation of water resources, including heavy sedimentation of streams, alteration of runoff patterns and stream channels, disturbance of groundwater flow, and damage to springs and water supplies. It will be impossible to avoid fragmentation and degradation of intact, high-integrity forests, including habitat for threatened and endangered species and ecosystem restoration areas”
A statement issued by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, also based in Virginia, noted, “The new alternative route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline … avoids Cheat and Shenandoah Mountains but compounds the ecological harm that would ensue. By directing the pipeline further south in Pocahontas County, W.Va., into northern Bath County, Va. and then north through the Deerfield Valley in Augusta County, the route would traverse some of the most concentrated karst topography in the Allegheny region. A pipeline through this area would significantly increase the likelihood of catastrophic erosion and sediment pollution of several significant waterways. Furthermore, the new route opens up to potential devastation a whole new set of cultural and natural resources. The many newly affected landowners and local officials must be carefully consulted before the project should be allowed to continue with the FERC process.”
The group added, “Once again, Dominion has proposed a route without thinking through or understanding the environmental and other consequences of its decision.”
Tom Berlin, a farmer in Lewis County, W.Va., said that he believes, in the end, the ACP will be approved. “I think they will keep finding alternatives until they get the opposition worn down and FERC may make them jump through a few more hoops. Eventually, governors, representatives, and senators will decide that they have had enough and pressure FERC and the Forest Service to approve the project. There is the pressure of appropriations to get compliance. I feel that ACP will be built and we can only hope to minimize damage and get the best possible deal for local landowners.”
Dianna Gooding, a farmer in Gilmer County, W.Va., which neighbors Lewis County , offered, “First, the proposed alternative I believe is the original route that was also opposed early on, and that it was decided that the terrain was too steep, too rocky etc., and disrupted too many landowners. The overall impact will be just as bad if not worse and will of course affect many more private landowners.” She shared also that while the Stonewall Gas Gathering line was being constructed last year, a supervisor with one of the involved companies said “… they had made plenty of mistakes, the terrain was something they had never worked in before, and they were flatlanders primarily. They had many, many issues, and the other companies were not knowledgeable either about building such large lines in the terrain. …”
Senior Attorney Greg Buppert with the Southern Environmental Law Center said, “Dominion has proposed a knee-jerk and ill-conceived adjustment to its favored route, rather than a solution that truly attempts to minimize the harm to this region. To prevent unnecessary impacts to our communities and environment, we must understand whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is truly needed to meet the regional demand for natural gas in light of the changes to existing pipelines that are already poised to bring more gas into Virginia,” He added, “The new route also raises fundamental questions of fairness. FERC must put the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on hold until the citizens of Bath County and other communities along the route have the same opportunities as others along the pipeline route to understand the project, evaluate its impacts, and make their voices heard.”
Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney with West Virginia-based Appalachian Mountain Advocates, stated, “This new route would still cause dramatic forest fragmentation through some of the most high-quality forest habitat in our region.” He added, “We’re disappointed Dominion would threaten a whole new set of Virginians and West Virginians when the pipeline is not even necessary to meet our energy needs.”
Concluded Shifflett, “Dominion will try to push this new route through quickly to maintain their construction schedule, and the FERC will likely not ask for a fair time frame for residents to respond, unless there is a massive public outcry. We need to continue our solidarity in West Virginia and Virginia to ensure that we are heard and a fair process is offered to every landowner.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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