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.