Tag Archives: Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The Logperch Veto

The Roanoke logperch

Virginia has its very own snail darter — the Roanoke logperch, a threatened species of fish, the existence of which could delay or even obstruct a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project.

The snail darter became a cause celebre for endangered species in 1973 when concerns arose that the habitat of the endangered fish would be obliterated by construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River. Although the dam ultimately was built, the controversy over the snail darter’s fate held up the project through years of legal appeals and eventually required a literal act of Congress to override a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Roanoke logperch is one of six endangered or threatened species whose habitat will be crossed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The ACP won’t obliterate the habitats of the logperch, the Indiana bat, the Northern long-eared bat, the Madison Cave isopod, the rusty patched bumblebee, or the clubshell mussel in the way that the Tellico Dam did the homeland of the snail darter. But the pipeline will cross these species’ habitats, subjecting them to additional stress, and perhaps killing some individuals. A federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had set unacceptably vague criteria for monitoring and complying with the Endangered Species Act. Pipeline foes regard the threat to the species as sufficient grounds to shut down construction.

A question unasked by the media in coverage of the ruling is just how threatened are these species? What impact might pipeline construction have on their habitat? Could the pipeline precipitate their extinction or will the effect be marginal? But alert reader D.J. Rippert raised the issue in a comment to an earlier article on the topic. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCM) Red List, he wrote, “the Roanoke Logperch is one notch above endangered. The key question is whether the pipeline would push it from vulnerable to endangered.”

Good point, Don. Let’s see what IUCM has to say about the six species in question. But first some nomenclature: A “vulnerable” species is one that is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. The next steps up the ladder towards extinction are a “endangered” and then “critically endangered.” The term “threatened” applies to any species “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Roanoke logperch. Precina Rex is listed as “vulnerable.” Its range extends through the upper Roanoke, upper Dan, and upper Chowan river systems. Eight populations are separated by wide river gaps or dams. The fish resides in riffles, runs, and pools with sandy to boulder-strewn bottoms. Despite the ongoing threats of urbanization, industrial development, flood control projects, and agricultural runoff, the population is believed to be increasing. However, siltation from agricultural “and other human activities” remains a concern.

Indiana bat. Myotis soldalis is listed as “near threatened.” The bat has an extensive range across the eastern United States but the range and population have shrunk in recent years.  The most significant threats to the species are habitat loss, forest fragmentation, winter disturbance and environmental contaminants. Half the bats are believed to hibernate in Indiana (hence the name); other major population centers are located in Kentucky and Missouri. Virginia is a minor and peripheral part of the bat’s range.

Madison cave isopod. Antrolana lira is classified as “vulnerable.” This tiny critter is an eyeless, unpigmented freshwater crustacean that lives in flooded limestone caves in the northern Shenandoah Valley, with documented population centers around Staunton and Harrisonburg. The ICUN database contains little information about the isopod. Contamination of underground water is the major threat to the creature’s habitat — definitely an issue in the karst terrain in Virginia mountain terrain.

Rusty patched bumble bee. IUCM does not have this species of bumble bee in its database. But Fish & Wildlife does refer to it as “endangered.” “Rusty patched bumble bees once occupied grasslands and tall grass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but most grasslands and prairies have been lost, degraded, or fragmented by conversion to other uses,” states the endangered species website. The range has constricted to 13 states, of which Virginia is one, plus one Canadian province. The biggest threat comes from intensive farming and the use of pesticides.

Clubshell mussel. Also not included in the IUCM database, the clubshell mussel is described by Fish & Wildlife as an “endangered” species. The bivalve, which lives in small to medium rivers and streams, once was found from Michigan to Alabama, Illinois to West Virginia — Virginia does not warrant mention as part of its range — and now is relegated to “portions of only 13 streams.” The major threats listed are pollution from agricultural run-off, industrial wastes, and extensive impoundments for navigation, all compounded by competition with the Zebra mussel.

Northern long-eared bat. The Northern long-eared bat does not appear in the IUCN’s red list but it is listed as “threatened” by Fish & Wildlife. The bat’s range extends throughout most of the Eastern U.S. and parts of Canada. Its population decline has been caused by the “white-nosed syndrome,” a fungal disease. The disease has spread to bats in Virginia.

Bacon’s bottom line: This is a superficial survey, and I welcome the input of anyone who has more detailed and authoritative knowledge. But it seems reasonable to draw several conclusions.

First, none of these species are “critically endangered.” Only two are listed as “endangered.” The other four are classified as “threatened” or “vulnerable.” Continue reading

Pipeline Runs Afoul of Endangered Species

Atlantic Coast Pipeline foes won a significant legal victory yesterday when the Richmond-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a Fish and Wildlife Service Review of pipeline construction. Limits set by the federal agency for the protection of endangered species were “so indeterminate” that they rendered enforcement of the Endangered Species Act meaningless.

“This puts a stop to any work that could threaten rare and endangered species and that’s much of the pipeline route,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted D.J. Gerken, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who argued the case, as saying.

Dominion officials said they would push ahead with the project. “We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project,” said company spokesperson Jen Kostyniuk. “Although we disagree with the outcome of the court’s decisions, an are evaluating our options, we are committed to working with the agency to address the concerns raised by the court’s order.”

According to Gerken, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s review allowed for a “small percent” of endangered species to be killed during construction, but did not define what constituted a small percent. “A small percent would never get triggered because nobody knows what it is,” he said.

The project will cross the habitats of eight endangered or threatened species, including the Roanoke logperch, the Indiana and long-eared bats, the Madison Cave isopod, the rusty patched bumblebee, and the clubshell mussel.

Bacon’s bottom line: The ruling gives a moral victory to pipeline foes but I doubt it will be a significant blow to the project. Dominion Energy, the ACP’s managing partner, will argue with pipeline foes over how to define what constitutes a “small percent” of loss to the endangered species and what kind of protections are needed. The Fish and Wildlife Service will develop more specific criteria. Unless Dominion appeals the case, it will buckle under and spend whatever money it takes to comply. The company is so deeply committed to the project that it cannot afford to back out.

Update: Dominion issued a statement this morning: “”We remain confident in the project approvals and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled. This decision only impacts activities directly covered by the Incidental Take Statement in certain defined areas along the route. We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project. Although we disagree with the outcome of the court’s decision, and are evaluating our options, we are committed to working with the agency to address the concerns raised by the court’s order.”

No Real Pipeline Story Here, But Read on If You Must

The public relations battle over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues unabated even as managing partner Dominion Energy edges closer to beginning construction of the 600-mile project. The latest flap surfaced in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning after the State Corporation Commission agreed, over Dominion’s objections, to accept expert testimony by natural gas industry analyst Gregory Lander in a hearing on Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan.

Lander, who was retained by environmental groups opposed to the ACP, concluded that the pipeline will cost Dominion ratepayers between $1.6 billion and $2.3 billion. That conflicts with Dominion’s estimate, based upon an earlier study by its own consultants, that the pipeline will save rate payers $377 million annually. Dominion’s estimate will be harder to maintain now that the Duke Energy, an ACP partner, has acknowledged that the cost of project has escalated from $5 billion to between $6 and $6.5 billion as the company adjusted its route and incorporated environmental protections to accommodate the demands of landowners and environmentalists. But that cost increase doesn’t come close to accounting for the discrepancy between the two estimates.

The Southern Environmental Law Center trumpeted the SCC decision to accept the Lander study as a big victory. “This is proof positive that Dominion’s pipeline will not cut costs to customers but instead increase our bills,” said SELC attorney Will Cleveland. “It’s further evidence that Dominion’s original promise – that the pipeline would save customers money and spur job growth in the Commonwealth – has disappeared.”

The Times-Dispatch made the Lander testimony the lead of its story. But I’m thinking that reporter Robert Zullo is reading too much into the SCC decision. Sure, Dominion tried to prevent the SCC from considering the Lander study, but SCC proceedings are full of filings and counter filings. It’s what utility lawyers and environmental lawyers are paid to do.

Moreover, it is silly to read into the SCC’s decision to accept expert testimony into the public record an implication that the SCC is prepared to accept that testimony’s main conclusions. As Zullo quoted SCC spokesman Ken Schrad as saying, “the order merely allows the testimony to be part of the record in proceedings on the plan, which the commission determined is ‘reasonable and in the public interest.”

“That’s not saying it’s right, wrong or indifferent,” Schrad said of Landers’ testimony.

As Zullo further reported: “Last year, pipeline opponents urged the SCC to issue an order requiring the Dominion entities to file an application for the approval of the [natural gas contract with the ACP]. The commission dismissed the petition, stating that if the deal creates unreasonable costs, the remedy is to deny the utility the ability to recover them from customers in a fuel proceeding.”

At some point, the ACP will be built and will start supplying gas to Dominion Energy Virginia. Dominion will petition the SCC for a fuel rate adjustment. That rate hearing will be where the rubber meets the road. Dominion will submit its evidence, environmentalist and consumer groups will submit their evidence, all sides will get an opportunity to critique one another, and the SCC judges will weigh the testimony and decide whether a rate adjustment is justified and, if so, how much.

Zullo knows this — indeed he alluded to it in his article. But he’s a reporter like any other, and he hyped the clash between the SELC and Dominion. Otherwise, it looks like, there wouldn’t have been much from the IRP hearing to report.

ACP Cost Overrun Could Run to $1 Billion

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, originally estimated to cost about $5 billion to $5.5 billion, now is expected to cost between $6 billion and $6.5 billion. That estimate comes from CEO Lynn Good of Duke Energy, one of the pipeline’s four corporate partners, in a Tuesday earnings call, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Due to delays and more stringent conditions in the permitting process, ACP now estimates total project costs between $6 (billion) and $6.5 billion,” Good said. A Duke spokesman affirmed that the pipeline still remains “the most competitive of all the options we evaluated in the early planning phases” and that “consumers in the region will realize significant energy cost savings.”

ACP spokesman Aaron Ruby said he could not confirm Good’s estimate. “We’ll have more information to provide with our financial disclosure next week,” he said.

“It’s no surprise that the cost of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline keeps going up,” said Buppert, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Dominion and Duke chose a route with dozens of complex problems through some of the steepest, most undeveloped lands in the Southeast.”

The big question to Virginians is how much, if any, of this added cost will be passed on to rate payers. At some point, Dominion Energy Virginia (a subsidiary of Dominion Energy, which is the managing partner of the pipeline) will have to file with the State Corporation Commission for permission to build its fuel procurement contract into the rate base. The SCC will have to determine whether the costs embedded in the contract were prudently incurred. That hearing ought to be very interesting.

Laborers Union Recruits, Trains Pipeline Workers

Pipeline worker in Oklahoma. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

I’ve been critical of labor unions on many occasions, but I’m not anti-union out of general principle. Unions can play a positive role in the economy. As an example, look at the partnership between the Laborers’ International Union of North American (LIUNA) and the Virginia Community College System.

LIUNA and VCCS have signed a memorandum of understanding to recruit and train Virginians to work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Pipeline workers will train at six Virginia community colleges near the pipeline route: Dabney S. Lancaster, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, Southside Virginia, Paul D. Camp, and Tidewater. In partnership, LIUNA and the colleges will recruit, screen, and train prospective workers, according to a joint press release issued last week.

Training will provide skills necessary for a range of pipeline work, including installing environmental control devices, clearing ground, coating and installing pipe, and restoring the right of way.

“Through our partnership with Virginia’s community colleges, we intend to hire well over half of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline workforce from those who live in nearby communities,” said Dennis Martire, vice president and regional manager of LIUNA Mid-Atlantic.

“This partnership reinforces LIUNA’s commitment to recruit and train as many Virginia residents as possible to work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This project is going to provide middle class wages and family health benefits to hundreds of our members across Virginia,” Martire added.

Now, I recognize that there are many outstanding issues associated with the pipeline construction — in particular, whether pipeline trenches can be dug without causing significant damage to fragile mountain terrain and water supplies. That issue will not be answered definitively until the project is complete and we can observe, not speculate, how well the job is done.

But everyone should agree about one thing: If the pipeline is to be constructed, which it is 99% certain to be despite last-ditch legal challenges, we want to make sure that the pipeline workers are well trained in their crafts and well versed in the construction plans to minimize environmental harm.

A construction company employing non-union labor would be hard-pressed to pull off the feat of screening, hiring and training thousands of construction workers in remote communities across the state. Fulfilling that critical hiring and training function is a significant value-add. Good for LIUNA.

Water Board Gives Atlantic Coast Pipeline Conditional Approval

In a 4 to 3 vote, the State Water Control Board gave a provisional water-quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today, but added a big condition reports WHSV television: The permit won’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Dominion Energy, managing partner of the ACP, is evaluating the additional conditions and will issue a response later today.

In the meantime, environmental groups were cautiously approving of the decision.

Said Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager of Appalachian Voices: “We are somewhat encouraged by the depth and scope of the board’s discussion about several critical issues today and their apparent recognition of the thousands of citizen voices they’ve heard from over the years, but we are disappointed they did not deny this deficient certification and remand it back to the Department of Environmental Quality for a thorough analysis.”

“We particularly commend members Roberta Kellam, Nissa Dean and Robert Wayland who cast the three dissenting votes,” he added.

Said 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.

And Chesapeake Bay Foundation Assistant Director Peggy Sanner:

We are pleased that the Water Control Board refused to allow the pipeline project to proceed until threats from pollution are more thoroughly examined. This was the right decision. Thanks to the Board for its careful consideration of this vital matter. Building the pipeline without this information would disturb waterways across Virginia and increase pollution to local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. We will continue working to make sure the pipeline is held to the strictest environmental standards possible.

Update: Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the following:

Today the Virginia State Water Control Board approved the state water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a very significant milestone for the project and another major step toward final approval.

The Board reached its decision after the most thorough environmental review of any infrastructure project in Virginia history. After more than three years of exhaustive study by state agencies and extensive public input, the Board concluded that the project will preserve Virginia’s water quality under stringent state standards.

The Board approved several conditions to strengthen water quality protections and require other state approvals before the certification takes effect. We will work closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to complete all remaining approvals in a timely manner and ensure we meet all conditions of the certification.

At every stage of the project we’ve taken great care to meet the highest standards for the protection of water quality. In many cases, we’ve gone above and beyond regulatory requirements and adopted some of the most protective measures ever used by the industry. State and federal inspectors will carefully monitor our work throughout construction to ensure strict compliance with the law. The protective measures we’ve put in place and the regulatory oversight we’re receiving should assure all Virginians that the pipeline will be built safely and in a way that preserves the state’s water quality.

We commend the Board members and DEQ staff for the years of hard work and careful study they’ve dedicated to reviewing the project. We also appreciate the thoughtful and constructive input provided by members of the public. This has been a rigorous and transparent process, and everyone’s voice has been heard. The process has resulted in more environmental protection and higher water quality standards than any other project of this kind.

ACP Foes, Supporters Contend in ACP Environmental Hearing

After issuing a water-quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline last week, the State Water Control Board held a public hearing today to consider a comparable certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Public comment this morning tended to focus on the question of whether new Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rules designed to cover pipeline construction in mountainous “uplands” are up to the task of protecting water quality.

Two hundred or more pipeline foes packed the Trinity Family Life Center in Henrico County to voice their support of speakers critical of the proposed 605-mile natural gas pipeline, mainly on the grounds that it will threaten water quality in mountainous western Virginia communities. But many of the speakers, including state legislators, retired employees of Dominion Energy (managing partner of the pipeline), and others expressed support for the project which they said will promote economic development in eastern Virginia.

Even with speakers limited to three minutes at the podium, the hearing was expected to last into the evening, and the water board was not expected to vote until tomorrow.

Opponents hammered home the argument that DEQ’s regulations were inadequate to protect water quality in steep mountainous terrain with landslide-prone slopes and complex karst geology with sinkholes and underground rivers. In particular, they charged, the Board relied upon ACP erosion-control plans that have not been seen yet to prevent sediment from fouling streams and underground drinking water.

A major sub-theme of those hostile to the pipeline was distrust of the regulatory process, which, given the approval of the MVP project last week, showed every sign of going against the pipeline foes. Typical was Cabell Smith, a Nelson County resident, who said that the regulations provided “no assurance” that water quality standards will be maintained under a “corrupt corporate and political system.”

Some insisted that democracy itself was under assault. Richard Averett, a landowner in the path of the ACP, called the pipeline an “unprecedented threat to eminent domain” and a “threat to democracy.” The pipeline, he said, will scuttle his plans to build a five-star boutique resort in the Rockfish Valley. In an impassioned speech that brought pipeline foes to their feet, he faulted “a corrupt governor more interested in mining the pockets of his pals and future donors than protecting the rights of citizens.”

DEQ devised the certification for upland water quality out of a concern that the existing regulatory framework did not address the unique problems encountered along the proposed pipeline route, said Melanie Davenport, DEQ’s water permitting division director. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates wetlands and streams, while a different set of regulations governs erosion & sediment controls. The 401 water quality certification, she said, fills the gaps.

DEQ acknowledges that the digging of trenches and laying of pipeline on steep, erosion-prone slopes can create problems that pipeline construction does not pose in flatland and hill country. Sediment-generating erosion is particularly problematic in karst terrain when underground water flows are out-of-sight and difficult to track. Therefore, said Davenport, the commonwealth decided to add an additional certification.

According to Davenport, conditions attached to the ACP water-quality certificate provide, among other features:

  • A prohibition against the removal of riparian buffers within 50 feet of surface waters.
  • A narrower construction right of way, 75 feet instead of 125 feet, as pipeline construction nears water and stream crossings.
  • Additional protections to accommodate karst terrain, including the use of dye-tracing studies to update karst maps.
  • Tougher conditions on the withdrawal of surface waters.
  • Tougher conditions on the release of water used in hydrostatic tests (conducted to measure the integrity of pipeline joints and seams).
  • Implementation of water quality monitoring plans to track erosion during and after construction.
  • Spill-prevention plans

A point made repeatedly by pro-pipeline speakers is that the DEQ regulations provide “added layers of protection” to water quality.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, Del. Roxanne Robinson, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Ashland, all spoke in favor of certifying the pipeline. Wagner said that added gas-transportation capacity is especially critical for economic growth in Hampton Roads, where some 100 large customers were called upon to curtail their natural gas consumption during the intense cold of the polar vortex a few years ago. The tight gas supply will make it difficult to recruit any energy-intensive industry to the region, he said.

“There is not enough upstream capacity today to serve existing customers and new customers,” confirmed Jim Kibler, president of Virginia Natural Gas, which serves Hampton Roads. Other than the ACP, he said, “We’re out of options for South Hampton Roads.”

“Our city and region need the supply of natural gas from the pipeline,” said Edwin C. Daly, assistant city manager of the city of Emporia in Southside.

Technology has advanced to the point where the ACP will be “the safest pipeline ever built,” said Paul McCormick with the International Union of Operating Engineers.

While a handful of critics disputed the positive economic impact of the pipeline, most pipeline foes focused on the negative impact on water quality.

Tina Smusz, representing the Virginia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, called DEQ’s regulatory approach a “flawed framework” that ignores the impact of water-born toxins that could pose “grave health threats.” Toxins buried in sediments along stream banks could be exposed by erosion and make their way into local water supplies, she said. DEQ should get predictive data on toxin release before granting certification, she said. While DEQ proposes to monitor water quality and execute contingency plans should problems arise, that’s an inadequate after-the-fact solution, she added. Continue reading

Follow the Dark Money

Yes, it’s a legitimate story when Dominion spend big bucks supporting grassroots groups that favor the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Why isn’t it also a story when out-of-state billionaires underwrite pipeline foes?

We learn from the Washington Post today how Dominion Energy, its partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the American Gas Association poured resources into groups called EnergySure and Your Energy Virginia to “whip up” a grassroots campaign in support of the project.

Quoting from a presentation made by Dominion executive Bruce McKay to an industry conference in Arizona last month, the Post described the scope of the effort:

As of early October, Dominion had compiled a “supporter database” of more than 23,000 names, generated 150 letters to the editor, sent more than 9,000 cards and letters to federal regulators and local elected officials, and directed more than 11,000 calls to outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia’s U.S. senators.

Pipeline foes criticize Dominion for its outsized influence in Virginia state politics, characterizing the pipeline conflict as a David vs. Goliath contest. “Dominion is by far more well-resourced,” the Post quotes Denise Robbins of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as saying. “What we have is public support and the will of the people who don’t want these pipelines in their communities.” Continues the article:

The protesters also have criticized Northam for failing to disclose that several members of his 85-person transition advisory team have ties to Dominion – a company that has given extensively to Virginia politicians of both parties, and in which Northam owns stock. Dominion and its executives gave Northam’s campaign more than $87,000 this year, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Post article highlights a legitimate story. Dominion is a dominant player in Virginia’s political process, and the public has a right to know how it conducts business. If Dominion, a regulated utility whose fortunes depend upon achieving favorable political outcomes, pours money into campaign contributions, lobbying and grassroots activities, that’s a fair topic of inquiry by the press.

What bothers me is that the Washington Post and other media show no comparable curiosity about Dominion’s opponents. What do we know about the groups contesting the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines? What do we know about the resources poured into the campaign to halt the pipelines? Where do these groups raise money for economic studies, cable television ads, and the organizing of protest marches?

To take a concrete example, what do we know about the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), the environmental justice-oriented group quoted by the Post, which has organized many of the anti-pipeline protests in Richmond?

Well, we know that the group is based in Takoma, Md., and maintains offices in Richmond and Norfolk. In fiscal 2015 it listed 22 employees. According to its latest 990 form and a 2016 audited report posted on its website, the group raised $263,000 in 2016 through contributions, another $1,043,000 through grants (including the release of previously restricted grants), and a nominal sum from other sources. While we know how much money it brought in, we don’t know where that money came from. Nowhere on its website, in its audited report, or its 990 form does CCAN reveal how many donors contributed, or who they were. Restricted grants (presumably from foundations) account for 80% of its revenue. Who is CCAN beholden to? The public doesn’t know. The Washington Post is happy to quote CCAN in its article but displays no curiosity about whose interests it serves.

Contrast CCAN to a true grassroots environmental organization like the Piedmont Environmental Council. The 2016 PEC annual report lists every donor — literally hundreds of them — who contributed $100 or more. The PEC makes no secret of the fact that its biggest backers of $100,000 or more include the Aqua Fund, the William M. Backer Foundation, the Loudoun Soil and Conservation District, Jacqueline B. Mars, Jean Perin, the Prince Charitable Trusts, and the Wrinkle in Time Foundation. It’s all there for the public to see and evaluate.

A look at the CCAN’s board of directors suggests that the group’s support comes mainly from Maryland and Washington, D.C., not Virginia. Only two of the 13 board members have identifiable Virginia connections: April Moore, vice-president of Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, and Tony Noerpel, founder of Sustainable Loudoun. Another board member has West Virginia ties, and the rest hail from the Baltimore-Washington area. CCAN lays claim to “public support and the will of the people who don’t want these pipelines” in Virginia. But how do we know that it reflects the will of “the people” any more than does Dominion, which cites the support of construction unions, chambers of commerce, and economic developers?

We know where Dominion’s money comes from — from Dominion rate payers and shareholders. It’s pretty straightforward. We don’t know where CCAN’s money comes from. Could some or most of it come from out-of-state millionaires and billionaires who could care a fig about Virginia’s economic development?

A 2014 minority staff report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA,” reached the following conclusions:

  • The “Billionaire’s Club,” an exclusive group of wealthy individuals, directs the far-left environmental movement. The members of this elite liberal club funnel their fortunes through private foundations to execute their personal political agenda, which is centered around restricting the use of fossil fuels in the United States.
  • Public charity activist groups propagate the false notion that they are independent, citizen-funded groups working altruistically. In reality, they work in tandem with wealthy donors to maximize the value of the donors’ tax deductible donations and leverage their combined resources to influence elections and policy outcomes.
  • Far-left environmental activists, while benefiting from nonprofit status, essentially sell a product to wealthy foundations who are seeking to drive policy and political outcomes.
  • The Billionaire’s Club knowingly collaborates with questionable offshore funders to maximize support for the far-left environmental movement.

The “offshore funders” are associated with Russian energy interests who share the environmentalists’ goal of curtailing U.S. fracking of natural gas.

In their coverage of President Trump, Post reporters frequently allude to findings of the U.S. Intelligence community, in particular the report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” which argued that Vladimir Putin-directed initiatives aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. But I have yet to see the Post cite the passage that says RT (formerly Russia Today) ran anti-fracking programming highlighting environmental issues and the impact on public health. The anti-fracking stance, states the report, “is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”

Ken Stiles, a Virginia Tech geography instructor who used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency, has traced the flow of dollars from Russian energy interests through the Bermuda-based Klein Fund to the California-based Sea Change Foundation, and then from Sea Change to the Charlottesville-based social/environmental activist group Virginia Organizing. Virginia Organizing provides administrative support for anti-pipeline groups such as Preserve Montgomery County and the Friends of Nelson County. (This article in the Daily Signal provides the details.)

Virginia Organizing, which describes itself as “a statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities,” had a 2015 budget of $4.5 million. The group did not acknowledge the fact that it was a recipient of Sea Change Foundation money in either its website or its 990 form.

Stiles approached Bacon’s Rebellion before he contacted the Daily Signal. While I was intrigued by his findings, I thought it was a stretch to link Russian anti-fracking money with what appeared to me to be genuine, NIMBY-inspired grassroots groups like Preserve Montgomery County and the Friends of Nelson County. There was no way to know where the Russian money went once it reached the Sea Change Foundation. In all likelihood, I felt, the Russian money was so co-mingled with the contributions of rich American donors that it was meaningless to trace a trail from Russian oligarchs to an organization like Virginia Organizing, much less to groups one step removed from Virginia Organizing. I think Stiles got impatient with my journalistic standards of proof, so he went to the conservative Daily Signal instead.

Still, I believe that Stiles raised an important pointMuch of the anti-pipeline money in Virginia comes from wealthy out-of-state environmentalists (with a few rubles mixed in). These big donors have funded an archipelago of grassroots groups dedicated to fighting fracking and natural gas pipelines across the country.

When Dominion spends money supporting grassroots movements to influence public policy, yes, that is a news story. When out-of-state billionaires spend money, an unknown fraction of which came from Russian energy interests, to support grassroots movements to shut down fracking and pipelines, that is a news story, too — just not one that the Washington Post is interested in telling.

Virginians have a right to know who is influencing the public policy process in their state, and how much these shadowy interests are spending. It’s easy to follow the dollars going to campaign finances because campaigns are obligated by law to report them. Thus, we know that California billionaire and global warming activist Tom Steyer funneled almost $1 million through his organization NextGen Climate Action into Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign this year, and $1.6 million into Governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign four years before that. But there are millions of dollars of dark money sloshing around Virginia through social-justice and environmental foundations and activist groups which go mostly unreported. The public has a right to know where all the money is coming from and which groups are beholden to that money.

Real Racism and Fake Racism

Real racism: The Short Pump Middle School has shut down its football team after circulation of a Snapchat video showing white players pinning down black players and simulating anal rape while making racist slurs. The only saving grace to this reprehensible episode is that members of the school community are universally disgusted by the boys’ behavior. Henrico County Public Schools convened a meeting last night, attended by 400 people, to discuss how the community should respond. (The Richmond Times-Dispatch has the story here.)

Fake racism: Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam stands by his characterization of Republican rival Ed Gillespie as in league with white supremacists. As the Times-Dispatch describes the slander, Northam issued a mail piece that “superimposes images of Trump and Gillespie over a photo of torch-wielding white nationalists marching in Charlottesville in August. The message says Virginia voters have a chance to ‘stand up to hate’ in the Nov. 7 election.” On the back of the mailer, another message urges voters to “stand up to Trump, Gillespie and hate.”

While Northam did not explicitly call Gillespie a racist or white supremacist, the message was clear. But in actuality, Gillespie had denounced the white supremacist rally, even before it turned violent. “Having a right to spew vile hate does not make it right,” said Gillespie at the time. “These displays have no place in our commonwealth, and the mentality on display is rejected by the decent, thoughtful and compassionate fellow Virginians I see every day.”

(It’s only fair to point out that Gillespie is not an innocent when it comes to slanderous campaign ads. His ads have depicted Northam as a sympathizer of the violent Salvadoran street gang MS-13.)

Sadly, when given a chance to distance himself from the Northam campaign’s slander, Governor Terry McAuliffe responded, in effect, that one vile mischaracterization deserves another: “I think the hatred and bigotry that we saw — and I personally saw firsthand — of the hatred, the white supremacists, the KKK, the ‘alt-right,’ is the same divisive Trump politics that Ed Gillespie is doing in his ads today. There is no difference. They are bringing hatred, fear, bigotry to our state.”

Both candidates need to apologize to the other. The fact that neither is willing to do so is what turns people off to politics today. (I would note that one candidate, Libertarian Cliff Hyra, has taken the high road by refraining from such inflamed rhetoric.)

More fake racism: A self-described “peoples tribunal” will assemble this weekend in Charlottesville to address “environmental racism impacts of fracked-gas pipelines.” A panel of three human rights and environmental pollution experts will preside as judges at a daylong tribunal examining the multiple social and racial injustices afflicted by the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines.

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route will traverse through varied populations: mostly white but also African-American and Native American. Focusing on the impact of African-American and Native American communities, pipeline foes have leveled charges of environmental racism.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) environmental impact statement, minority communities will be exposed to temporary increases in construction dust and longer-term exposure to combustion emissions from compressor stations, though within permissable air-quality limits. States the EIS: “No disproportionately high and adverse impacts on environmental justice populations as a result of other resources impacts would be expected.”

It’s hard to show that the ACP route as a whole disproportionately impacts one group over another. The trick is to adjust the frame of reference as needed. Thus, critics argue that about 30,000, or 13 percent, of the people who live within one mile of the proposed route of the pipeline in North Carolina are Native American, even though Native Americans represent only 1.2 percent of the state’s total population. In this case, critics have narrowed the frame of reference to the section of the pipeline in North Carolina. In Virginia pipeline foes have narrowed the frame of reference to African-Americans living near a compressor station in Buckingham County.

If living within a mile of construction noise and dust is sufficient to characterize a project as environmentally racist in the case of a pipeline, then every construction project near a minority population is racist because any project that requires clearing land and digging will generate dust. This logic is a recipe for shutting down all construction near minority populations, effectively creating economic no-go zones… which sounds pretty racist itself.

Of course, pipeline critics have no desire to shut down all construction everywhere. They just want to shut down the pipeline. Now, there are respectable reasons for wanting to block the pipeline — you can read them in this blog. But tarring the project as environmentally racist is not a respectable reason.

Bacon’s bottom line: As the Short Pump Middle School episode shows, racist words and behavior are not the exclusive domain of torch-bearing white supremacists. What happened at Short Pump was shocking and the community needs to express its outrage, as in fact it appears to be doing. But communities’ efforts to enforce acceptable codes of behavior is undermined when anyone and everyone is being called a “racist” or a “hater” these days. Ralph Northam loses all moral authority to talk about racism when he ties Ed Gillespie to white supremacists. Social Justice Warriors lose all moral authority to talk about environmental racism when they cherry pick their data to heap onus upon a pipeline project they don’t like.

The public discourse has so debased the meaning of the word “racist” that many people distrust the dominant narrative. I would bet that some Henrico citizens, like the villagers who ignored the boy who cried wolf, don’t trust the media and county authorities to provide a fair and accurate account of what happened at Short Pump. And that’s not a result that any thinking or caring person should desire.

Pipelines Clear Another Regulatory Hurdle

Another regulatory barrier to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline has fallen. The board of trustees of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation unanimously approved Monday applications for “conversion of open space” by the two natural gas pipeline developers that propose to cross 11 VOF conservation easements.

From the outset, VOF informed the pipeline companies that their incursions would be incompatible with the conservation values of the easements, therefore triggering a process in state law known as “conversion” of open space. (See the VOF announcement here.)

The two resolutions included several conditions, including restrictions on the footprint of the pipelines and access roads, the conveyance to VOF of more than 1,100 acres of substitute land in Highland, Nelson, and Roanoke counties, and the transfer of $4.075 million in stewardship funding for the properties’ long-term care and maintenance.

The VOF easements will remain in place on the properties with overlaying permanent rights-of-way for the pipeline developers.

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted the ACP and MVP certifications of public convenience and necessity. The VOF vote eliminated one of the few remaining regulatory obstacles to the project. The pipelines still face one significant hurdle, however: meeting state regulatory standards for erosion and sediment control.