Environmental groups accuse agency of ‘foot-dragging’
MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has learned that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is just now compiling the thousands of emails and other comments citizens submitted during the comment period that ended more than a month ago.
This outrageous foot-dragging fits a pattern DEQ has set for months and heightens the likelihood of further damage to state waters by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) before the State Water Control Board has the chance to rule on the sufficiency of waterbody crossing reviews. The Board saw a need for this information way back on April 12, based on concerns that a blanket permit from the Corps of Engineers may not be adequate to ensure Virginia’s water quality standards will be met.
On July 3, with no commitment from DEQ as to when the comments would be available to all, DPMC decided to acquire them and provide them online. We filed a records request on July 3, 2018, seeking copies of all comments sent to DEQ. The law requires the agency to provide records within five work-days or explain why it is not “practically possible” to do so in that time period.
That deadline fell on July 11 and that day DEQ told us it would not get us the emails within the required time or tell us when it would be able to do so. They said the emails had not yet been compiled so they could be provided electronically, due to technical difficulties. We then insisted we be allowed to review the emails in person on DEQ’s computers and were told this too was not possible. We reiterated that the law required better and that we would not accept DEQ’s failure to comply.
Suddenly, just two days later on July 13, DEQ gave us more than 7,000 emails. Apparently, the technical difficulties that DEQ claimed may require more than two additional weeks to solve were now solved – but only under pressure from DPMC. Why had those difficulties not been tackled and solved in the three months since the Board ordered the public notice?
We and Wild Virginia will make all of the comments available online and publish a summary within the next week. Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack.
We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job. The repeated promises of transparency and sound science by administration officials have not been kept. It is now time for our officials to restore integrity to this process.
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Criticized for Failing to Properly Study Pipeline Impacts
Experts submit reports; more than 10,000 signatures from citizens delivered
MONTEREY, Va. – A group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on August 22, finding that the DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would cause to Virginia’s waters.
If approved, the two 42-inch pipelines will traverse through hundreds of miles of Virginia. The ACP would originate in northern West Virginia before ending roughly 600 miles later in southeastern North Carolina. The MVP would also originate in northern West Virginia, traverse hundreds of miles through that state before crossing into Virginia, will it will terminate. The adverse impact upon public health and the environment by the construction and operation of the pipelines has led the tens of thousands of groups and individuals across the Commonwealth and beyond to oppose their construction.
In the reports, one issued for each of the pipelines, the authors wrote that they had reviewed the information DEQ claimed to rely upon in its draft Water Quality Certifications (WQCs) and made their own independent assessments. The experts’ conclusion in each case:
DEQ’s draft WQC, which asserts that there is a “reasonable assurance” that Water Quality Standards (WQS) will be met with the conditions contained in that draft, cannot be supported by the evidence in the record and pertinent scientific authorities and knowledge. Such a finding in the Department’s recommendation to the State Water Control Board (SWCB) would be professionally incompetent and would fail to meet minimum standards of scientific proof.
The authors of the expert report have a vast depth of experience and training (nearly 400 years in professional and academic posts overall) in the entire range of scientific and technical fields pertinent to DEQ’s decisions on the pipelines. They include the incoming president of the American Fisheries Society, a member of the Virginia Cave Board, and former senior engineers and scientists at the Virginia DEQ, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The group includes licensed professional engineers and geologists, professors from Virginia Tech and Washington and Lee University, authors of hundreds of peer-reviewed academic papers, and those who’ve served as expert witnesses in court for DEQ and other state and federal agencies. A complete list of the authors is included below.
“The authors of this report used strong language in our criticism of the proposed findings DEQ has made in its draft Certifications for the pipelines, because we are frankly dismayed to see an agency that’s supposed to base regulatory decisions on science and law ignore the facts and betray the public,” said David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia and a Regulatory Systems Investigator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC). The two groups included the expert reports as part of extensive submittals to DEQ during the comment periods that ended yesterday.
Rick Webb, DPMC’s Coordinator said, “We are not criticizing the dedicated technical employees at DEQ and the other state agencies who’ve studied the potential impacts from the hugely-disruptive projects. In fact, we cited the recommendations agency staff made in previous comments in which they explained why much more data and analyses were needed before protection of state waters could be assured, as the law requires; that permanent damages to our waterbodies could result and residents’ wells and springs ruined without additional information and protective measures.”
“What we are criticizing is the McAuliffe administration’s regulatory proposals, which ignore the concerns and devalue the expertise of their own technical staff,” stated Sligh. “DEQ must not proceed with flawed and scientifically-unsupported recommendations to the State Water Control Board to approve Certifications for either project. If Director Paylor, Secretary of Natural Resources Ward, and the Governor mandate such an approach, then the members of the Water Control Board must play their roles as protectors of the public and reject those recommendations.”
The reports’ authors include: Dr. Paul L. Angermeier, Ralph Bolgiano, Malcolm CameronHE, David Collins, P.E., Ari Daniels, Dr. Pam Dodds, P.G., Dr. David Harbor, Robert K. Johnson, Rick Lambert, William Limpert, Dr. Brian Murphy, David Sligh and Rick Webb. For more information, including access to the complete expert report on the ACP and additional DPMC reports on the draft 401 Water Quality Certification, visit the DPMC website.
10,000 Comments Delivered to DEQ by Environmental Groups
Also on Tuesday, experts, landowners, and environmental groups from across the Commonwealth gathered at DEQ headquarters in Richmond to deliver thousands of public comments related to DEQ’s 401 water certification process.
The comments, collected by the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Appalachian Voices, Bold Alliance, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and Oil Change International urged the DEQ to do more in order to meet the agency’s obligations to protect Virginia’s water sources from natural gas pipeline construction and operations.
“DEQ’s draft Certification is legally and scientifically indefensible,” David Sligh, former Senior Engineer at Virginia’s DEQ, said. “The processes DEQ has conducted have been unfair and inadequate to satisfy the Governor’s promises of thorough and transparent regulatory reviews. The State Water Control Board cannot certify these projects unless it can assure that all state water quality standards will be met. A rigorous scientific analysis would prove such a conclusion is impossible.”
The public comments urge Governor McAuliffe and DEQ Director David Paylor to direct the DEQ to extend the public comment period for these projects and to conduct site-specific reviews and permits for each waterway crossed by both of these pipelines. The DEQ has originally announced to the public that it would undergo site-specific reviews for these pipelines in April, but announced in June that they that the agency would instead opt to rely on the Army Corps of Engineers’ blanket permitting process.
“The Corps’ process is woefully inadequate to protect our water,” Bill Limpert, a property owner in Bath County whose property would be traversed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said. “We looked at the Corps’ map of our property and we have two streams that are not even present on that map. How are they supposed to protect our waterways if they don’t even know where they are?”
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Groups claim federal agency facilitates fracking for shale gas
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) and three other environmental groups based in other Appalachian states have joined forces to challenge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for not properly informing the public regarding the construction of proposed natural gas pipelines throughout the region.
In a news release, the alliance stated, “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is not informing the public about the big picture when it comes to natural gas infrastructure projects related to increased gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.”
The groups are concerned that the regional impacts to forests, watersheds, air quality, and wildlife are largely being ignored as FERC approves new gas pipelines and compressor stations across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The groups contend that FERC’s rush to increase natural gas infrastructure incentivizes fracking for shale gas while stifling the development of renewable energy.
“Natural gas is not a bridge fuel but an anchor keeping us stuck in the past,” said Ryan Talbott, executive director of the Allegheny Defense Project. “If we want to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions we need to get beyond all fossil fuels, including natural gas. We will never get to a clean energy future as long as FERC keeps incentivizing more fracking for shale gas through these infrastructure expansions.”
In Pennsylvania, which has already seen a dramatic increase in pipeline construction in recent years, there are several large pipeline projects on the horizon, including the Atlantic Sunrise Project and the PennEast Pipeline Project, which combined would add nearly 300 hundred miles of large-diameter pipeline across Pennsylvania.
In neighboring Ohio, there are concerns that what has already occurred in Pennsylvania is coming to the Buckeye State. There are several new large-diameter pipelines proposed in Ohio, including the Rover, NEXUS, and Leach Xpress pipelines. Combined, these projects would add over 1,000 miles of gas pipeline in Ohio and neighboring states.
“Here in Ohio we have been shocked by the sheer immensity of these large pipeline projects intended to transport fracked gas to ‘markets,’ including export markets,” said Lea Harper, managing director of the FreshWater Accountability Project. “We are glad to be part of the growing movement to hold FERC accountable for the long-term impacts caused by the unconventional shale gas drilling industry, contributing to the destruction of ecosystems, negatively impacting property values, creating public health and safety threats and exacerbating global climate change through the proliferation of fracking and its infrastructure, including compressor stations, pipelines, and export facilities.”
According to OVEC, multiple pipeline projects are also threatening West Virginia’s forests and watersheds, including the Ohio Valley Connector, Mountain Valley, and Atlantic Coast pipelines. Combined, these pipelines would add over 800 miles of pipeline from Ohio to North Carolina.
“All signs point to the urgent need for West Virginia and the world to accelerate our shift to truly cleaner renewable energy,” said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for OVEC. “If FERC continues greenlighting more pipelines, then it is greenlighting more deep shale gas fracking activities. That means more reeling communities subject to dangerous heavy truck traffic, more poisoned water and air, more noise and light pollution, lowered property values and more risks of deadly explosions. FERC is standing in the way and should step aside: no more enabling the extreme extraction of deep shale gas.”
OVEC is also concerned about the impacts that pipelines such as the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline will have on public lands. “On their way to the East Coast, the proposed pipelines would cross numerous mountain streams and cut huge swaths through some of our state’s wildest and steepest terrain in the Monongahela National Forest,” Stockman said. “Once the pipelines are built, they are likely to induce even more fracking and, therefore, cause even more fragmentation of wildlife habitat.”
In Virginia, where the U.S. Forest Service recently banned new leases for fracking in the George Washington National Forest, Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia, is concerned about pipeline construction on Virginia’s other national forest, the Jefferson National Forest. The Mountain Valley pipeline will directly impact the Jefferson National Forest and the Appalachian Trail in southwestern Virginia. In addition to the Mountain Valley pipeline, the Atlantic Coast pipeline would impact hundreds of miles in Virginia.
“These pipelines serve no public benefit as all current and proposed users are currently served by existing pipelines,” said Reed. “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.”
The groups claim that FERC routinely ignores the cumulative environmental impacts of all of this pipeline construction by considering each proposal in a vacuum and ignoring the regional impacts, including the impacts of related fracking for shale gas. In a recent presentation to the Maine Natural Gas Conference in October 2014, FERC highlighted dozens of planned and pending pipeline projects in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the country. The presentation also highlighted numerous projects intended to export natural gas to foreign markets.
In a recent appearance at the National Press Club, FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur defended the agency’s work with the gas industry to expand pipeline infrastructure, claiming “the nation is going to have to grapple with our acceptance of gas generation and gas pipelines.” According to Terry Lodge, an attorney representing FreshWater Accountability Project and Neighbors Against NEXUS, this reveals FERC’s bias in favor of more gas infrastructure and raises concerns about how closely the agency considers impacts to the environmental and local communities.
“FERC is only supposed to approve a new pipeline if it determines that it is in the public interest,” Lodge said. “Part of that determination requires considering effects to the environment and communities, and there clearly are many. But if FERC has already determined up front that the public is ‘just going to have to accept more pipelines,’ it can’t be trusted to rigorously evaluate impacts those effects. We may have to routinely call upon FERC commissioners to disqualify themselves from voting on the key decisions the agency is supposed to make.”
The alliance released several documents upon which this article is based. They can be accessed here.