Home Dominion Power Three Articles Explain How “Homegrown Activism,” “Shifting Political Winds,” Trump Administration Screwups,...

Three Articles Explain How “Homegrown Activism,” “Shifting Political Winds,” Trump Administration Screwups, Changing Economics, Legal Effort, Virginia Clean Economy Act, etc. Killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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Since Dominion Energy’s multi-billion-dollar, fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle was cancelled on July 5, I’ve read several analyses of how this longshot victory came to be. Some were off base, some were ok but not particularly interesting, and a few were really spot-on/excellent. [Note: Also, here on Blue Virginia, see “One Down, One to Go: There Is No Atlantic Coast Pipeline and There Will Be No Mountain Valley Pipeline” by Jon Sokolow and “Armed with the Truth, ‘No ACP’ Movement Prevails” by Adam Siegel]  Here are three of the best ones I’ve seen, with highlights (bolding added by me for emphasis). This doesn’t cover everything, of course, but it gets us a long way towards understanding how a “ragtag army” (as Jim Webb used to talk about in 2006) of activists ended up prevailing over the most powerful company in Virginia, with massive resources at its disposal, as well as the Trump administration, etc. Amazing!

Yale Environment360

  • HUMAN, POLITICAL, GEOGRAPHIC, ECONOMIC OBSTACLES: “What the engineers and executives at Dominion and Duke Energy, the other giant utility backing the project, didn’t account for was just how challenging the human, political, geographic, and economic terrain would prove to be.”
  • THREE FACTORS: “…in recent weeks, several major oil and gas pipeline projects — including the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines — have hit legal and regulatory walls. Energy analysts, activists, and attorneys who worked against these ventures say three factors played a role in their demise or delay. The first was the Trump administration’s zeal to push through new fossil fuel infrastructure, which led to rushed federal approvals that left large legal vulnerabilities for opponents to exploit. The second was overconfident, slipshod route planning by pipeline developers, fueled by unconditional support from Washington and a history of compliant state regulators. And the third was shifting political winds that have left some states to embrace more aggressive decarbonization targets, undermining the long-term economic viability of pipelines that would lock in large amounts of planet-warming emissions for decades to come.”
  • KEY PERMIT REJECTED: “In announcing the abandonment of the project, Duke and Dominion specifically cited a recent ruling by a federal judge in Montana that rejected a key Army Corps of Engineers permit that had been used to provide blanket authorization — more than 37,000 times since 2017 — under the Clean Water Act for oil and gas pipelines to cross wetlands and water bodies.”
  • TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S SLOPPY FAST-TRACKING: The Trump administration’s slipshod “fast-tracking is precisely what created openings for lines of legal attack that doomed ACP and other major pipelines.”
  • VIRGINIA CLEAN ECONOMY ACT: “Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents also benefited from a recent shift in political power in Virginia. Last year, Democrats took control of Virginia’s state legislature. In March, the state passed a new law, the Clean Economy Act, that includes a mandate that Dominion Energy supply 100 percent carbon-free electricity to its customers by 2045.” As Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Greg Buppert – who is superb, by the way – explains: “We can’t [over]estimate the importance of both the grassroots opposition and the importance of the Virginia Clean Energy Act…If there was any doubt about demand, that legislation resolves that.”
  • SOCIETAL MOVEMENT TO ADDRESS THE CLIMATE CRISIS: Also, excellent comments by David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit climate and fossil fuel watchdog group: “If you’re trying to find a grand unifying theory that nicely wraps together all the things that killed the ACP, you could do a lot worse than saying it was the growing incredibly diverse, broad societal movement to address climate change…The pipeline was always a house of cards. Many people were pointing out all the ways that the house was flimsy. And as some of those big cards started to get knocked down, the logic to keep going with the pipeline became totally unsustainable.”
  • OPPOSITION FROM DIVERSE COMMUNITIES IN PIPELINE’S PATH: “From the outset, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline sparked opposition among diverse communities in its proposed path, from Union Hill, Virginia, a settlement founded by Freedmen and Freedwomen emancipated after the Civil War, where Dominion sought to build a 54,000-horsepower compressor station; to lands owned by members of the Lumbee tribe of rural Robeson County, North Carolina; to conservationists and advocates for the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail, which the pipeline would have crossed.”
  • FLAWED ROUTE AND APPROVAL PROCESS: “A fatal flaw with the ACP, these opponents said, was the route itself, and the haste with which ACP’s backers and federal and state agencies sought to grant approval for it. The pipeline would have crossed dozens of waterways and steep mountainsides and eventually would have tunneled under not only the Appalachian Trail but also the wide James River.”
  • ESCALATING COSTS; INVESTORS GROW RESTLESS: “As the legal battles slowed the project timetable and Virgina’s Clean Economy Act cast a new shadow over the demand case for the project, investors were growing restless with Dominion and Duke. When the ACP application was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2015, the companies expected to have the pipeline filled with gas by late 2018, at a total cost of about $5 billion. Early this year, they pushed back the in-service date to early 2022, and revised the full price tag upward to over $8 billion.”

DeSmog

  • OVERSUPPLY; GAS EXPORT ECONOMICS NO LONGER PENCIL OUT: “…the oil and gas industry in America is facing an era of losses, bankruptcies, canceled projects, and declining demand…America is awash in natural gas from the fracking boom. That includes the gas that shale drillers intentionally sought out, as well as the large amounts of ‘associated gas’ that comes from fracked oil wells. Due to this oversupply, at times the price for natural gas in the Permian region of Texas has gone negative...With so much cheap natural gas in America, the industry has been racing to build out hugely expensive LNG export terminals and the supporting infrastructure needed to export this gas to the world. However, as DeSmog reported in May, the U.S. is just one of many countries flushing the global market with LNG, and the economics here no longer pencil out.”
  • FINANCIAL DECISION PLUS ACTIVISM:  “…the cancelation might have also been a financial decision and not one driven solely by opposition from activists.”
  • FALLING CLEAN ENERGY PRICES: “Despite President Trump’s policies and ongoing rhetoric, the U.S. fossil fuel industries are in decline and serious financial trouble. At the same time, the costs for wind and solar power and energy storage have fallen dramatically, making them competitive with fossil fuels for power generation.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch (great work by reporter Michael Martz on this article!)

  • HOMEGROWN ACTIVISM PLUS LEGAL STRATEGY: “Six years later, the $8 billion, 604-mile project is dead, thwarted by homegrown community organizing and a legal strategy that took root in the June 2014 meeting at Francisco Farms, which the original route of the pipeline would have come near in Augusta…The massive legal effort that stopped the Atlantic Coast Pipeline grew directly from the communities in the path of the project, including the law firms that worked to stop it.”
  • SOUTHERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER KICK BUTT: “Supported by a philanthropic endowment and $131 million in net assets at the end of 2018, the law center took the lead role in a legal alliance that stymied federal and state permits for the project in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, despite a high-profile defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court on a permit for the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. Opponents lost only one case at the 4th Circuit, which upheld Virginia’s water quality certification for the project…The partners, Dominion and Duke Energy, made clear that no matter how the Supreme Court acted on the issue, they had no more appetite for legal battles that had delayed the project’s anticipated completion by more than three years and added more than $3 billion to its cost.”
  • OTHER ENVIRO GROUPS ALSO HELP: “The Sierra Club, one of the organizations represented in the suits, also brought its legal resources to bear on its own behalf and that of Wild Virginia…The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, another well-established nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, also joined lawsuits against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
  •  THE UNION HILL COMPRESSOR STATION FIASCO: “[Jon] Mueller [of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation] cited the research of Yogaville resident Lakshmi Fjord and other activists in persuading the 4th Circuit to reject a state air pollution permit that would have allowed construction of a natural gas compressor station next to the predominantly Black community of Union Hill in Buckingham.”
  • DEMOCRATS TAKE POWER, PASS VIRGINIA CLEAN ECONOMY ACT: “A Democratic takeover of the General Assembly this year led to passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act to promote the use of renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, and the state this month became the first in the South to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”