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FERC, Well, “FERCs Up” Big Time on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Environmental Impact

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The other day, when nobody was paying attention, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline through Virginia. The EIS concluded (bolding added by me for emphasis):

The FERC staff concludes that construction and operation of ACP and SHP would result in temporary and permanent impacts on the environment, and would also result in some adverse effects. With Atlantic’s and DTI’s implementation of their respective impact avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures as well as their adherence to our recommendations to further avoid, minimize, and mitigate these impacts, the majority of project effects, with the exception of impacts on forest vegetation, would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.

This conclusion is flawed for multiple reasons. For starters, as Sharon Ponton of the  Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League put it in the Roanoke Times:  “It’s typical of FERC, in my opinion, to just rubber-stamp projects. They’re not taking seriously the concerns of not only residents but of grassroots groups and other groups…” Also from that same Roanoke Times article, Kirk Bowers of the Virginia Sierra Club explains that FERC has not “addressed the need for the pipeline,” when “We know it’s not needed.” And “Cathryn McCue, a spokeswoman for Appalachian Voices, which also has opposed the pipeline, said the study ‘reveals that FERC has ignored evidence that the massive, expensive fracked-gas pipeline is not needed to meet demand, meaning the project’s clear threat to human life and to rural communities, the taking of private property and the permanent environmental destruction it would cause are wholly unjustified.'”

Now, here are some comments from the anti-pipeline group “Friends of Nelson“:

Huge Problem #1: “The document prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fails to analyze the purpose and need for the project–something it is, by law, required to do–deferring instead to Dominion’s self-serving statement of uses.”

Huge Problem #2: “FERC refuses to raise the obvious subject of energy alternatives, even though they clearly factor into the equation of project need. The agency dodges the issue by stating that ‘alternative energy sources, energy conservation, and efficiency are not within the scope of this analysis because the purpose of the ACP and SHP is to transport natural gas.'”

Huge Problem #3: “FERC also dismisses the notion that the gas might be exported, reasoning that ‘all’ of the gas cannot be subscribed for export because the pipeline’s volume exceeds projected export capacity at Cove Point.”

And now, from Appalachian Voices, more huge problems with the FERC EIS:

Huge Problem #4: “A complete analysis of the cumulative, life-cycle climate pollution that would result from the pipeline” is not included in the EIS. As Anne Havemann of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network explains, the pipeline “will trigger a massive new wave of greenhouse gas pollution and climate damage,” yet “FERC’s review once again fails to add up the full impact, ignoring cumulative climate pollution from fracking wells and the ultimate burning of the gas.”

Huge Problem #5: Also not included is “[a]ny accounting of other environmental and human health damage from the increased gas fracking in West Virginia that would supply the pipeline.”

The list of huge problems with the FERC EIS is really endless. For a lot more on its many flaws, see this comment by “Tom H” on Dominion Power’s “sponsored” blog (which, as usual, dutifully supplies Dominion’s self-serving spin). A few key points from “Tom H” include (bolding added by me for emphasis):

  • Dominion and FERC have both failed “to follow the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act,” for instance by refusing to supply “proof of the need for the project when adequate supplies of natural gas can be provided to this region using existing pipelines at a much lower cost and with far less disruption.” In fact, the supposed “need for the [Atlantic Coast Pipeline – ACP] has been established only in press releases.”
  • “Without establishing the need for the project or substantiating its economic benefit, Virginia landowners are being asked to yield their land to a private corporation purely for private gain.”
  • “I have been involved in permitting large utility projects in other states and never have I seen such blatant disregard for the public and for federal law.”
  • “Now that adequate pipelines exist to move the production of the Marcellus into the national gas transmission system, much of the gas demand in the northeast is being met directly from the Marcellus. This frees up about half of the capacity of the Transco system to move gas from north to south. Dominion is using this method to supply the Brunswick and Greensville plants. The Department of Energy says that this reversal of flow is sufficient to supply Virginia and the Carolinas through 2040. This conclusion is also supported by independent studies.”
  • No one has built a pipeline this large, on terrain this steep, in mountains this high ever before in the U.S. Conclusions about its impacts can only be made by careful examination of all of the facts. Sweeping generalizations based on superficial studies do not meet NEPA requirements.”
  • “The companies that write the Impact Statements for FERC are paid for by the applicants and are often hired by pipeline developers for other projects. This is an inbred system that makes a mockery of the NEPA process and a charade of the regulatory process. We are supposed to be a nation that follows the rule of law. Special interests have subverted that process to serve their own needs.”
  • “Approval of this project will subject the ratepayers of Virginia to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in higher costs (according to submittals by Dominion to FERC). Virginia property owners will be forced by eminent domain to give up their property to a private company purely for private gain, contrary to the Virginia Constitution.”

In sum, FERC “FERC’ed up” big time on this one. In fact, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed, would cost Virginians a ton of money while causing significant environmental harm and screwing over Virginia property owners for no good reason. Why on earth would we allow this???

P.S. Also see Sierra Club letter details potential Atlantic Coast Pipeline antitrust violationsVirginians Launch ‘Pipeline Pledge of Resistance’ to Stop Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipeline ProjectsVideo: Gov. McAuliffe Asked About Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Answers Leave Much to Be DesiredComplaint: utilities’ role in Atlantic Coast Pipeline violates antitrust lawsDominion Power and Its Sponsored Blog Embrace a Post-Truth WorldOn Its Sponsored Blog, Dominion Power Tries to Justify Atlantic Coast Pipeline; Hilarity EnsuesVideo: “Seeds of Resistance” Anti-Natural-Gas-Pipeline Tour Kicks Off in Augusta County, Virginia, Dominion’s gamble on gas looks risky for ratepayers, etc, etc.