Home Energy and Environment As Environmentally Devastating Fracked-Gas Pipeline Projects Keep Moving Ahead, Gov. Northam Tells...

As Environmentally Devastating Fracked-Gas Pipeline Projects Keep Moving Ahead, Gov. Northam Tells DEQ to Report Back to Him by…April 2019

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I already did my “raised middle finger to Virginia’s environment” article, so for now, I’ll simply post the following from Dominion’s…er, Gov. Northam’s office without further comment (other than to direct your attention to the “usual suspect” “green” groups – and the Chamber of Commerce, of course, which is super happy –  that endorsed this drivel).

Governor Northam Signs Executive Order to Enhance Protection of Virginia’s Air, Water, and Public Health
~ Executive action will strengthen and support the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality ~

LEXINGTON – Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order 6, which instructs the Department of Environmental Quality to update outdated regulations, strengthen enforcement of Virginia’s environmental standards, identify the causes of permitting delays, and improve transparency.

“I am proud to take executive action to safeguard Virginia’s environment and improve the quality of life of all Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “DEQ has protected our air, water, and land for 25 years, and we must ensure that the agency has the resources it needs to continue to protect our natural resources from pollution. This executive order will strengthen DEQ and give the public servants who work there greater ability to protect public health and our natural resources while empowering Virginia’s good corporate stewards and promoting a vibrant economy.”

The order requires DEQ, in consultation with the Secretary of Natural Resources, to perform a comprehensive review of DEQ’s permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities across all program areas and provide a full report to Governor Northam by April 30, 2019.

The executive action also requires DEQ to ensure that any proposed federal actions do not affect DEQ’s existing authority to protect public health, drinking water supplies, and the environment.

“After making progress in many areas during DEQ’s first 25 years, it is very timely to ensure that DEQ has the authority, programs and resources it needs to address all of the challenges facing Virginia’s natural resources today and in the future,” said Bill Street, CEO of the James River Association. “Governor Northam has committed to making the environment a top tier priority, and the James River Association supports him in undertaking this important assessment to ensure the future of Virginia’s air, water and land resources.”

This order is the first step in the process of reinforcing the importance of a state agency that has seen its staff cut by 30 percent and its budget cut by nearly $60 million over the past decade.

“The American Lung Association welcomes Governor Northam’s executive order recognizing the important role that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality must play in reducing air pollution to save lives and protect Virginians’ health. Attempts to roll back federal protections are occurring at an alarming rate, and strong state leadership is urgently needed to safeguard public health and the environment,” said Deborah Brown, Chief Mission Officer of the American Lung Association.

“Clean water, air, and recreational lands are critical to achieving a high quality of life in the Commonwealth and our recommendations in Blueprint Virginia 2025 reflect this belief,” said Barry DuVal, President of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “The Virginia Chamber of Commerce looks forward to working with the Secretary of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Quality and other stakeholders in a proactive way to accomplish the environmental goals of Blueprint Virginia 2025 and ensure continued economic responsibility in the development of environmental regulations and guidelines.”

Among its many core duties, DEQ is responsible for improving air quality, upholding water quality standards, protecting vital wetlands, reducing nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and requiring proper treatment of solid waste and hazardous waste across the Commonwealth.

“True to his word, Governor Northam is showing a solid commitment to protect Virginians’ health from pollution of our air, water and land. His order will strengthen the Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to safeguard and enhance Virginians’ lives in a transparent way that’s good for everyone, and we applaud the Governor in his efforts,” said Walton Shepherd, Virginia Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Virginia faces unprecedented threats to our environment, both with the dismantling of protections at the federal level and several, pressing issues here in the Commonwealth that threaten clean air, water resources, and open spaces. Governor Northam’s executive order to strengthen his Department of Environmental Quality is a good first step in protecting our water, air and land from harmful pollution,” said Michael Town, Executive Director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.

The Full Text of Executive Order Number X is below:

NUMBER VI (2018)

EXECUTIVE ORDER SUPPORTING THE CRITICAL ROLE OF THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY IN PROTECTION OF VIRGINIA’S AIR, WATER, AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Importance of the Initiative

The Commonwealth of Virginia has made significant progress in controlling and reducing air and water pollution, though challenges remain. As Governor, it is my constitutional responsibility to ensure “clean air, pure water, and the use and enjoyment for recreation of adequate public lands, waters and other natural resources.”  Virginia’s Constitution further sets forth the policy to “protect [our] atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.”

Public health, recreational opportunities, safe drinking water, economic vitality, and our quality of life are linked directly to a healthy environment.  It is critical that the Commonwealth’s natural resource agencies have the tools necessary to protect and improve our environmental quality.

Despite progress to reduce pollution, many Virginians, particularly those in urban and rural low income or minority communities, do not enjoy clean air and water for outdoor recreation and daily activities.  Assessments of our waterways document improvements in the quality of some rivers and estuaries, but these assessments also show thousands of miles of streams that remain polluted. Additionally, many Virginians suffer from asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments that are directly attributable to poor air quality. Science also shows that carbon pollution and climate change are exacerbating these problems.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is the Commonwealth’s lead agency charged with ensuring clean air and clean water.  Over the past 25 years, DEQ has done extraordinary work to protect and enhance Virginia’s environment, and promote the health and well-being of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Yet there is more work to do, and DEQ needs both the tools and the resources to safeguard our air and water for the improvement of our quality of life and that of future generations. Robust monitoring and verification coupled with strong, consistent and uniform enforcement of our air, water, and waste statutes empower Virginia’s good corporate stewards, providing regulatory certainty for businesses and healthy places for employees to live, work, and play. This also eliminates any perverse incentive to ignore environmental requirements for short-term economic gain.

Executive Action

Accordingly, by virtue of the authority vested in me as the Chief Executive by Article V of the Constitution of Virginia and under the laws of the Commonwealth, I hereby order the Director of DEQ, in consultation with the Secretary of Natural Resources, to take the following actions: 

A. Review DEQ’s permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities across the air, water, and solid waste programs. This shall include:

a. Ensuring that DEQ’s permitting programs are as protective of public health and the environment as authorized under state and/or federal law, and identifying within 90 days critical updates to regulations or guidance necessary to meet the objectives of this order;

b. Assessing the enforceability of permitting activity and determining if changes are needed in the methods DEQ uses in crafting such permits;

c. Reviewing the DEQ matrix that guides establishment of penalties to ensure that it effectively, consistently, and uniformly addresses violations that result in threats to public safety, public health, and the environment, as well as recurrent offenses;

d. Developing a protocol for engagement with the Attorney General’s Office on enforcement efforts;

e. Identifying any gaps in monitoring, especially in areas where there is credible evidence to support an indication of impairment to public health or the environment;

f. Identifying the extent and causes of delays or backlogs in permitting programs;

g. Assessing any gaps in DEQ resources or authorities necessary to address challenges identified under this review; and

h. Reporting to the Secretary of Natural Resources within 180 days on the reviews required under this section.

B. Evaluate every proposed federal regulatory or guidance modification released after January 20, 2017, regarding air, water, and solid waste to determine the impact on public health, drinking water supplies, and land and water protection. This ongoing review shall include:

a. Determining whether implementation of any proposed federal changes would lead to reduced effectiveness or efficiency in state programs to protect public health and the environment, which should be avoided;

b. Ensuring that any potential rollback in federal protections does not alter DEQ’s existing authority to protect public health, drinking water supplies, and the environment;

c. Assessing any gaps in DEQ resources or authorities necessary to address challenges identified under this review; and

d. Reporting initially to the Secretary of Natural Resources within 180 days on the reviews required under this section and every 90 days thereafter.

C. Work with stakeholders to improve communication with the public and the regulated community and provide more opportunities for proactive education, especially among underserved and lower income populations.  This shall include:

a. Reviewing processes to identify ways to enhance public participation and community engagement, including ways to promote transparency and simplify regulatory hearings;

b. Engaging the regulated community, local governments, and other interested stakeholders in the development of new protocols;

b. Establishing an ombudsman dedicated to addressing public questions and concerns;

d. Assessing any gaps in DEQ resources or authorities necessary to address challenges identified under this review; and

e. Reporting to the Secretary of Natural Resources within 180 days on the reviews required under this section.

The Director of DEQ shall report monthly to the Secretary of Natural Resources on the progress of these reviews and shall complete his reviews as specified in this order.   The Secretary of Natural Resources shall provide a report on recommended actions to the Governor by April 30, 2019. In addition, the Director of DEQ’s review of proposed federal regulatory or guidance modifications shall be ongoing throughout my term as Governor.

Effective Date of the Executive Order

This Executive Order shall be effective upon its signing and shall remain in full force and effect unless amended or rescinded by further executive order.

Given under my hand and under the Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia this Tuesday, April 3, 2018.

_________________________________

Ralph S. Northam, Governor

  • Sharon Ponton

    I can’t even find the words…

  • From Virginia Interfaith Power and Light:

    Faith Leaders Deliver Letter to Northam Calling for Environmental Justice in Memory of MLK

    Praying for Communities in Destructive Path of Pipelines

    RICHMOND, Virginia – On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., faith leaders gathered on the Virginia Capitol Grounds for a vigil and to deliver a sign-on letter (pasted below) to Governor Ralph Northam from 70 lay leaders and clergy raising urgent environmental justice concerns felt by communities along the proposed routes of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. The letter calls for Northam to reject the pipelines.

    “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said ‘Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness’ and in my view, those who choose and side with pipelines, compressor stations, who deny the devastating effects that man has and inflicts upon nature have chosen the latter,” said Rev. Paul Wilson, Senior Pastor of Union Hill/Grove Baptist Church.

    Environmental justice directly intersects with other societal issues, such as racism, economic justice, criminal justice, and voting rights—issues for which Dr. King devoted his life. This time of year 50 years ago, King was in Memphis, TN, to struggle with sanitation workers towards labor, economic, and environmental justice and to stand against the devastating impacts of the disposal of society’s waste on people of color.

    “As you may know, communities with people of color, are chosen for these toxic waste facilities. These facilities are life threatening because of the presence of poisonous toxic gases that we would have to breathe,” said Ruby Laury, a Buckingham County landowner in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Another fact, is that much thinner pipelines are used in the rural areas and the cut off valves are approximately 20 miles apart. While in the more populated areas the pipelines are many times thicker and the cut off valves are three to five miles apart. Is this justice? No!”

    In Buckingham County, the health and wellbeing of a freedmen-founded community, including Union Hill/Grove Baptist Church, are being threatened by the toxic pollution of a fracked-gas compressor station proposed for their historic neighborhood. “All people deserve to have clean and safe air, so we insist that there be both a public hearing and comment period for the air pollution permit for the Buckingham compressor station.” said Kendyl Crawford, Director of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.

    The Mountain Valley Pipeline will go directly through the Village of Newport, only yards away from the Newport-Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, and could threaten the community’s drinking water. Faith leaders urged that well water within 1,000 feet of the pipeline centerline be tested, and that administration officials should look at the individual stream crossings for both pipelines, instead of using a federal blanket permit to cross the whole region.

    “Every faith tradition teaches us to love our neighbors, and we don’t show love for our neighbors by ignoring the potential devastation of communities like Buckingham County and the Village of Newport. We call for administration officials to visit all of the communities endangered by these pipelines to see their real and destructive impact,” said Crawford. “Virginia can invest in pollution-free, renewable infrastructure that will create new jobs, support our energy independence, and protect our land and all of us for generations to come.”

    “Join us Governor Northam, as stewards of what God has given us, to take what some regard as an impossible challenge — creating a new reality of low carbon growth — and make it inevitable,” said Rev. Richard Cizik, President of New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

    This event was sponsored by Virginia Interfaith Power and Light and Richmond Interfaith Climate Justice League.

  • From a real environmental group, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN):

    CCAN “Highly Skeptical” That DEQ can Lead its Own Internal Review, Calls on DEQ Head to Recuse Himself

    RICHMOND, VA — Today, Governor Northam announced Executive Order 6, which instructs David Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, to perform a comprehensive review of DEQ’s permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities.

    Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated:

    “We agree with Governor Northam that the Department of Environmental Quality needs to be seriously reformed, so we commend him for that. However, we are highly skeptical that DEQ Director David Paylor can oversee this internal review in a fair and comprehensive manner.

    “The DEQ is a broken agency, and Director David Paylor is the one that broke it. In his 12 years running the agency, he has regularly sided with polluters over the environment. He has accepted gifts from mega-polluter Dominion Energy and permitted polluter-friendly practices across the Commonwealth.

    “The timing of this announcement is particularly painful for the landowners who live along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for fracked gas, to which DEQ just gave final approval in a process widely viewed as flawed.

    “We believe David Paylor should be replaced as DEQ Director. If Governor Northam keeps him on, however, Paylor should recuse himself from this much-needed agency review. We hope Governor Northam will consider turning the review over completely to the Secretary of Natural Resources in order to ensure real and substantive changes at the DEQ.”

    Please also see Mike Tidwell’s response to the David Paylor’s reappointment as DEQ head earlier this week:

    “Governor Northam has taken several positive steps since taking office to improve environmental protection and advocacy in the state. He has supported joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and has pushed Dominion Energy to invest more in renewable power and efficiency. But today, the Governor has seriously dropped the ball in re-appointing David Paylor as director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

    “Any quick Google search of Paylor’s name brings up stories of serious controversy. In 12 years at the DEQ helm, Paylor has consistently sided with polluting industries over environmental advocacy groups. Paylor, above all else, is very, very cozy with the state’s biggest polluter, Dominion Energy. The director has outraged health and environmental leaders by siding with Dominion on the dumping of coal ash in rivers and, most notoriously, the construction of patently harmful pipelines for fracked gas like the ACP and MVP. Paylor barely hides his close connection to Dominion. In 2013, he accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from Dominion to the Masters Golf Tournament in Georgia, including a fully paid bar tab.

    “Governor Northam, today, missed an important opportunity to take a concrete step forward for the environment by replacing Paylor with someone who truly values the protection of the environment. We call on the Governor to reconsider his decision and replace Paylor as soon as possible.”

  • Jerel C. Wilmore

    A few points missing from your coverage of this story:

    1) A lot of what is driving this is that Europe is over-dependent on Russian natural gas, which Putin periodically threatens to turn off. These pipelines are meant to provide Europe with an alternative source of LNG.

    2) If you were serious about stopping these pipelines, you’d encourage Europe to switch over to renewables sooner so they don’t need Russian or American LNG.

    3) If renewable and battery technologies keep advancing as quickly as they have, Europe could quit LNG and Dominion could take a bath on the pipelines, and the companies that make and/or own LNG carrier ships (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LNG_carrier) would also be hurt.

    4) Corporations aren’t moral actors and care only for the bottom line. You can’t regulate fossil fuels away: you have to make them obsolete. Coal as a fuel for generating energy is obsolete because gas is cheaper. Once renewables are cheaper than gas and just as reliable, then gas will disappear.

    • Jason Rylander

      1) Glad to see you acknowledge that the LNG from the ACP and MVP are for export. That fuel isn’t staying in Virginia, contra Dominion and political talking points.
      2) Who’s this “you” you are talking about? We have a hard enough time as activists getting our own elected leaders to listen. You want us to lobby France? There are organizations and governments doing just what you suggest. Many of those nations are already ahead of the U.S. on renewables.
      3) True, but once the infrastructure is built it will be used even if the initial project proves to be unprofitable. See here for more explanation: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/4/3/17187606/fossil-fuel-supply
      4) I’m all for obsolescence, but regulating them away is indeed a part of the strategy. It has to be. See also the link above.

  • Wild Virginia response:

    Such a comprehensive look at DEQ’s programs is both necessary and appropriate and I support it. However, the Governor must understand that this gives cold comfort to the many thousands of Virginians who are already being victimized by the destructive pipeline projects. We know that DEQ has so far failed to do what’s needed to protect us and our waters. Any credit the Governor gets for this will be forever tarnished unless he now steps up and orders DEQ to do its job and perform the individual water body crossing reviews he once called for – it seems he’s forgotten his own words.

    One other point. The order requires a review of DEQ’s permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities across the air, water, and solid waste programs. But that portion of the order does not mandate that citizens from every sector should be involved in the review in a meaningful way. Any review that fails to include all voices will be of very limited value. The public already feels like its comments are frequently ignored.

  • From the Virginia Sierra Club:

    Executive Order 6 does not create “immediate improvements to DEQ operations”

    RICHMOND, Virginia– Today, Gov. Northam issued Executive Order 6, which orders a review of the Department of Environmental Quality’s enforcement activities, a review of how changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidance under the Trump Administration affects DEQ’s authority, and a review on how the DEQ interacts with stakeholders and the public.

    In response, Kate Addleson, Director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, released the following statement.

    We support the Governor’s desire to improve DEQ’s poor record of performance. The Administration’s initiative to evaluate, clarify and improve our environmental agency’s effectiveness and transparency is welcome. However, it is critical that the ordered reviews supplement, not delay, immediate improvements to DEQ operations.

    For years, Virginia residents have expressed concerns about lax permitting and enforcement at DEQ under the leadership of Director David Paylor. The recent approval of inadequate plans for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Governor Northam’s reappointment of Paylor as the Director of the DEQ directly undercut the Governor’s expressed intention to create the substantive change Virginians need.

    Virginians are suffering environmental consequences now, and undertaking a lengthy review will result in further delayed action, which won’t help those in the path of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, or in the shadow of polluting facilities.

    Opportunities for improvement are already evident. DEQ has not clearly communicated permitting and environmental review processes to Virginians, and there is a preponderance of evidence that policies put forth by the Pruitt-Trump EPA are polluter-first and environmentally destructive.

    Asking for reviews of DEQ activities is not the same as presenting concrete solutions or guaranteeing changes that will better protect our air, water and public health.

  • Video: Faith Leaders call on Gov. Ralph Northam to promote environmental justice and to reject fracked-gas pipelines on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S_SyIhcbGM&t=0s