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Today May Have Been a Serious Setback for Dominion Energy; Va. DEQ Spokesperson Struggles to Answer Questions on Atlantic Coast Pipeline (Video)


See below for video of Virginia DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden struggling to respond to reporter questions following today’s Water Control Board meeting on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Also see below for a statement from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which calls what happened today “a setback for notorious polluter Dominion Energy” and which adds, “Now Virginians are counting on the Administration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam to do what the McAuliffe Administration failed to do: let science and the law guide decision-making on the pipeline.”

I spoke with CCAN director Mike Tidwell, and he stressed that Gov.-elect Northam stated many times during the campaign that he supported a strong, science-based environmental review of the ACP, and that now “he’s about to get it.” Tidwell further noted that “Dominion had a bad day” today, for several reasons. For one thing, the Virginia DEQ is going to be making public information on the environmental impacts of the ACP that Dominion certainly didn’t want the public to hear about – because once the public DOES hear about the nasty environmental damage the ACP will do, they will not be very happy about it, to put it mildly. Also, it appears that it will take months for studies on sedimentation, karst, erosion and other environmental impacts of the ACP to be completed. That’s a seriously delay, one that opens up a long period of time during which information about the harmful impacts of the ACP can come out. The key could be convincing one more member of the Water Control Board to switch sides; given that today’s vote was 4-3, and that the Board came close to outright killing the ACP, it now seems possible that we could actually stop this monstrosity.

Finally, CCAN’s Mike Tidwell told me that the DEQ process has now been shown to be a “complete embarrassment.” I’d add that this was evident from the way the hearings were conducted last week and this week, with Water Control Board members seemingly not understanding all the issues, being rushed (pressured?) into making a decision before they had all the necessary information, not knowing what they could legally do, etc, etc. Just ridiculous, not to mention completely unacceptable — particularly for a project of this magnitude.

Virginia Water Control Board Vote Today: Dominion CANNOT Build Controversial Pipeline in VA Without More Study

Last-minute Delay of Permit Seen as Positive Step by Landowners and Environmentalists in Fight Over Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline for Fracked Gas

More Information Needed, Board Says. Decision is a Rebuke of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Unwavering Support for the Controversial Pipeline; CCAN Looks to Governor-elect Northam’s Administration to Protect Virginia’s Waters

Summary: Bowing to unprecedented opposition from landowners and environmentalists, the Virginia State Water Control Board today threw a wrench in the plans of Governor Terry McAuliffe and Dominion Energy to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for fracked gas. The board voted 4-3 to approve the project under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, but dependent on a final review of several environmental studies. The vote delays Dominion’s plan to begin near-term construction of the 600-mile pipeline. The decision likely means this issue will be delayed into 2018 and into the administration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam, who has taken a less openly supportive stance on the pipeline due to environmental concerns.

Statement from Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

“In a setback for notorious polluter Dominion Energy, the Virginia State Water Control Board today sided with landowners and environmentalists in calling for more rigorous and comprehensive review of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline. After being ignored for years by Governor Terry McAuliffe and Dominion, the voices of everyday Virginians were finally heard and we will work tirelessly to make sure all the facts can come to the table. CCAN and our allies have argued all along that any science-based and transparent review of all the harmful impacts of the ACP can only result in official and final denial of Dominion’s radical pipeline for fracked gas.

“Now Virginians are counting on the Administration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam to do what the McAuliffe Administration failed to do: let science and the law guide decision-making on the pipeline.”



The Board bucked enormous pressure from Governor McAuliffe’s Administration, which was pressuring Board members to approve the pipeline without undergoing the in-depth analysis that a project at this scale requires. The Board voted to delay certification for the pipeline until after the Governor’s Department of Environmental Quality can review and give final approval to erosion and sediment control plans, stormwater management plans, and studies of sensitive karst terrain. While an outright denial of the project was warranted, the Board’s decision delays the project.

Unfortunately, the same Board approved the equally controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline for fracked gas last week. CCAN and three other groups immediately filed a lawsuit against that decision. Our hope is that today’s ACP delay could bring a similar regulatory delay to the MVP process, but there is uncertainty on this front.

Thousands of Virginians have mobilized over the past three years to stand against the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. See fact sheet here. Over 17,000 community members submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission against the MVP during the public comment period, and over 21,000 submitted comments to FERC about the ACP. Additionally, over 53,000 people nationwide — including thousands of Virginians — have signed on to a Change.org petition calling on Governor McAuliffe to reject the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. Activists have garnered opposition from all walks of life, from faith leaders to military veterans and more. The mobilization against the pipelines has also included civil disobedience, with 23 Virginians getting arrested outside the Governor’s mansion in 2016 and 19 arrested for barring the entrance to the Department of Environmental Quality office in Richmond this September.

  • Bold Alliance, Virginia Landowners Vow to Continue Fight After Water Control Board Issues Conditional Approval of Atlantic Coast Pipeline Permit, Seeks Additional Information

    Landowners and advocates to continue legal challenge to eminent domain authority; demand public hearing on pipeline permit by Virginia Marine Resources Commission

    Richmond, VA — Virginia landowners, Bold Alliance, citizens and other advocates on Thursday vowed to continue fighting the proposed Atlantic Coast fracked gas pipeline after the Virginia Water Control Board issued a conditional permit approval, dependent on a final review of several environmental studies. The decision to hold final approval before review of sedimentation, karst, and erosion issues means the project is likely delayed further into 2018.

    “While we did not get the outright denial of the permit for the Atlantic Coast pipeline that many in Virginia wanted to see, we appreciate that the board listened to the testimony of concerned citizens during this hearing and held its final certification until members can review and reassess the water testing results that have not come in or have not been done yet,” said Vanessa Bolin, organizer with Bold Alliance. “Virginians have sent a strong message to Dominion Energy that we are ready for renewable energy, and do not want fracked gas pipelines that threaten our lives, our water and our climate.”

    “My hope is that landowners along the proposed ACP route are home treasuring their precious resource: water,” said Carolyn Reilly, a landowner on the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and organizer of the Bold Appalachia Landowner Alliance (BALA). “Our pipeline fight is far from over; we, the people of Virginia, are standing stronger together to protect our rights and defend our land, water and climate.”

    In addition to the Virginia Water Control Board’s approval, the Atlantic Coast project also still requires a permit from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which has received public comments from landowners, Bold and other groups but has yet to schedule any public hearing on this contentious project. The ACP project also still lacks a necessary water certificate in North Carolina, where regulators have sought additional information from the company.

    Separately, Bold Alliance and a collective of more than 50 landowners’ federal lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) continues to move forward. That suit seeks to block the granting of eminent domain authority to seize land against owners’ wishes for the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline and similar projects.

  • Oil Change International statement…

    VA State Water Control Board Delays the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Oil Change International response

    Today, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4-3 to defer the Section 401 water quality certification for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In response, Lorne Stockman, Senior Research Analyst with Oil Change International and Virginia resident, released the following statement:

    “After a complete failure last week in approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s certificate, Virginia’s State Water Control Board (SWCB) has delayed certification of the permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline until studies of sedimentation, karst and erosion issues are completed. This rightly acknowledges the danger to Virginia’s water the project poses, but fails to clearly address those threats. While this is most definitely not what Dominion wanted and gives opponents of the pipeline more time to push for rejection, the SWCB should have rejected the certificate outright.

    “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has seen massive opposition along its entire route. As was seen at the hearing today, those opponents are not going to rest easy until these pipelines are rejected outright. Indeed, just as they encircled the state Capitol in early December, Governor McAuliffe can safely assume he will be hearing loudly from Virginians opposed to this pipeline through the very day he leaves the Governor’s mansion. And when this pipeline hits Governor-elect Northam’s desk, you can be sure the opposition will be right there too. Governor-elect Northam should break free from Dominion’s grasp and protect Virginians by stopping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline as soon as he has the chance.

    “This delay puts serious obstacles before Dominion and Duke and creates an opening for the pipeline to be rejected once and for all. The project still lacks a water certificate in North Carolina, where landowner and activist opposition continues, urging Governor Cooper to take up the mantle of climate leadership that Governor McAuliffe has abandoned.

    “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is a boondoggle that imperils our climate and communities. It must not be built. The Water Board has given itself an important opportunity to complete its work the right way by finalizing a complete rejection of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and doing the same for the Mountain Valley Pipeline as well.”

  • Former Virginia Sierra Club director Glen Besa’s take:

    Here is my take on what happened today at the State Water Control Board and what it means for the ACP and MVP resistance. #NoACP #NoMVP

    Earlier I posted the amendment to the 401 Certification for the ACP that was approved 4-3 today with Roberta Kellam. Nissa Kent and Robert Wayland voting against it because they supported a stronger action more toward deferral or rejection. As has been noted in some Facebook posts, the amendment would appear to delay effective date of the certificate several months until DEQ has reviewed and given final approval to the Karst Plan, Annual Standards and Specifications, the Erosion and Sediment Control Plan and the Stormwater Management Plan (the latter added by another amendment). Otherwise, the 401 certification should look much like the MVP certificate issued last Thursday. We should see the final 401 certificate posted on line on DEQ’s home page tomorrow-http://www.deq.virginia.gov/ It is important to note the amendment provides that while DEQ is to report to the SWCB on the these plans, the final sentence says the “Board may consider further actions….”. This probably means it will only come back before the board if we have 4 votes to bring it back–we only had 3 votes today. Not good news.

    The determination of the adequacy of these plans falls to DEQ which may have a new director if Northam elects to replace David Paylor. In any case, the ball for the ACP and the MVP will be in the Northam Administration’s court.
    Our attorneys are sorting this out and so are Dominion’s attorneys. We certainly don’t want to discuss litigation strategy on Facebook, but I suspect we will be appealing the ACP decision although the amendment may complicate the appeal. That is up to our attorneys to sort out. And Dominion might appeal as well.

    For those of you concerned with the MVP, note that efforts were made today to get the Board to reconsider and reverse its approval of the 401 certification for the MVP but they were not successful. While the MVP certificate lacks the added language of the ACP certificate noted above, that is not necessarily a worse outcome than what happened today. Environmental groups have already filed suit against the MVP 401 certification, and we have a solid record because of all the great testimony from the hearings on which to challenge the MVP 401 certification. Other than that we should not be discussing litigation strategy on social media.

    Bottom line, the SWCB unfortunately has approved both the MVP and ACP, and the fight goes on in the courts and in the streets. Grassroots pressure (the streets) on the Northam Administration will be critical because decisions related to both the ACP and the MVP will clearly be in front of DEQ in the Ralph Northam Administration.
    Keep the faith and keep fighting! Glen