by Del. Sam Rasoul
For more than four years, residents of Southwest and Central Virginia, together with our allies across the Commonwealth, have been fighting to stop two fracked methane gas pipeline – the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the $4.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The process by which these projects received approvals has been so flawed that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out every federal permit it has considered for the projects.
As a result, all construction has been halted for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline has been suspended for all of the hundreds of proposed water crossings, but it has continued uninterrupted on land. MVP construction continues despite the fact that Attorney General Mark Herring has sued the developer and alleged more than 300 violations of Virginia’ environmental law, and despite the fact that the pipeline lacks the permits required by law.
In addition, there has been no demonstrated need for either pipeline. I believe they are simply the wrong choice for Virginia. Developers are pushing these destructive projects not because they are needed, but because federal regulations guarantee them a 14% rate of return. In December, the State Corporation Commission took the unprecedented step of rejecting Dominion Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan, which contained energy usage projections based on questionable data regarding the “need” for natural gas from its proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. And on May 8, ten tech company giants, including Microsoft and Apple, sent a letter to the State Corporation Commission saying that Dominion’s “continuing to plan for the development of additional natural gas infrastructure” is “limiting the amount of competitively-procured solar energy, neglecting to consider energy storage as a cost-effective and beneficial energy resource.”
I am often asked what can Virginia do to stop these corporate boondoggles. I have heard some say the pipelines are “a done deal” and that there’s nothing the state can do. Neither is true. We have a wealth of options at our disposal and citizens can play an important role in urging us to take these actions:
- Tell the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to Issue a Stop Work Order for the Mountain Valley Pipeline
The federal courts have thrown out multiple permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, including permits needed to cross the Appalachian Trail and to protect endangered species. Federal law requires that all permits be in place for a project to be constructed but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has refused to issue a stop work order. In April the Fish and Wildlife Service asked a series of questions of MVP on its plan to protect endangered species and those questions remain unanswered. For these reasons, I wrote a letter to FERC requesting that they issue an immediate stop work order. Urging FERC to issue a stop work order is a great way to demand adherence to well established legal norms and protect our environment at the same time.
- Contact Virginia’s Congressional Delegation to Get Them to Oppose Dominion’s Effort to Force the Courts to Approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
The federal courts have thrown out multiple permits needed by Dominion to resume construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, ruling that those permits violated federal laws, including those that protect the Appalachian Trail. Dominion’s response: strong arm Congress into changing the law and thus bypass the courts. Just this week, more than fifty organizations from across Virginia sent letters to Senators Warner and Kaine and to every Virginia member of the House of Representatives urging them to oppose such efforts. We need to continue to highlight Dominion’s heavy-handed approach for our federal representatives and ask them to stay vigilant.
- Urge Attorney General Mark Herring to Facilitate a Stop Work Order to halt further damage by construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline
Mark Herring has sued MVP, alleging more than 300 violations of Virginia environmental standards. West Virginia just settled a similar lawsuit for $266,000, a pittance that MVP will gladly pay for the right to complete its $4.6 billion pipeline. Virginia must do better. Legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2018 gives the Department of Environmental Quality – Mark Herring’s client in the lawsuit he filed – the authority to issue a stop work order. Mark Herring can advise DEQ to issue a stop work order and he can likewise ask the court to impose one.
- Urge Mark Herring to Stop Defending the Lawsuit Challenging Construction of a Massive Compressor Station in the Historic African American Community of Union Hill
In January, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board issued Dominion a permit to construct a massive compressor station for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline right in the middle of the historic African American community of Union Hill, which was founded by freed slaves in Buckingham County after the Civil War. The residents of Buckingham County sued Virginia. Recently, Al Gore called the ACP a “reckless, racist ripoff” based in part on what Dominion seeks to do in Union Hill and the adverse effects that this facility would have on the health and well being of this historic community. Mark Herring has chosen to side with Dominion and defend the permit. But when Herring took office in 2014, he famously refused to defend Virginia’s ban on marriage equality, placing Virginia on the right side of history in that fight. He should do the same thing here, and either switch sides in the Union Hill case or withdraw from the case and let Dominion fight its own battles.
- Urge Governor Northam to Direct the Department of Environmental Quality to Stop Defending the Effort to Destroy Union Hill
Despite his promises to forge racial reconciliation after the events of February, Governor Northam has stayed silent on the environmental racism planned for Union Hill. Recently, he directed DEQ to find ways to implement the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative despite efforts by Republicans in the legislature to stop it. He can issue a similar directive to DEQ to stop defending the air pollution permit for Union Hill – or to revoke it.
- Contact DEQ Director David Paylor to Issue a Stop Work Order for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and to Take Action on Union Hill
As Director of DEQ, David Paylor has the clear authority to do what Trump Administration officials have failed to do – stop further damage to Virginia’s environment and issue a stop work order for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Director Paylor can also suspend or revoke the air permit for the Union Hill compressor station due to the absence of multiple federal permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the strong likelihood that the pipeline either never will be built or will be re-routed away from Union Hill. He should act now.
- Legislators Have a Powerful Tool – Our Voice – and We Should Use It
As legislators, we have the privilege not only of representing the communities that we serve, but we also have a unique opportunity to amplify our messages in the public arena. Our citizens deserve no less.
- Join Anti-Pipeline Activities Like the May 17-18 Rallies in Richmond and Leesburg
Finally, it is important to build support for peaceful organized protests designed to draw attention to the many injustices being visited upon people who live in the direct path of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. Please participate in two days of such action on May 17-18 under the banner Virginians for Justice: Progress not Pipelines. These include a march in Richmond on Friday, May 17 to end environmental racism and to stand with Union Hill and then a rally in Leesburg on Saturday May 18 to stand with Appalachia and say no to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. There will many more such events in the coming weeks and months.
The fight to stop these pipelines is part of a much larger struggle to uplift working and vulnerable families through social & economic justice, while directly confronting our climate crisis. This is a fight that not only can be won but must be won for the sake of our children and generations to come. We need to continue to speak out. We need to set Virginia on the right course.