There must be a better way for federal agencies to review infrastructure mega-projects.

A few days ago, I asked why, after three-and-a-half years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to give a yea or nay on Dominion Virginia Power’s permit request for the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line. The issue I’m raising isn’t what the Army Corps decides but how long it takes to reach a decision. Because of the interminable time spent pondering the permit application, citizens and businesses on the Virginia Peninsula will be at risk of blackouts this year and next, if not longer.

Today, the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlights the frustrations expressed by Diane Leopold, CEO of Dominion Transmission (DT), sister company of Dominion Virginia Power and managing partner of the proposed $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

“To make these beneficial investments we need certainty from federal agencies. Not a rubber stamp, but a rational path forward with clear processes, reasonable schedules and reasonable decisions,” said Leopold in testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The pipeline requires more than 18 major federal permits and authorizations from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The most visible hang-up at the moment, as judged by Robert Zullo’s article in the T-D, appears to be with the Forest Service.

Dominion says it will use state-of-the-art technology and best practices that will minimize the risk of landslides and erosion on steep mountain slopes. But environmentalists claim that Dominion is under-estimating the landslide risk, and it appears that the Forest Service shares their concerns. Dominion is convinced that it’s right, and its foes are equally persuaded that they’re right. The debate will never be settled by having one side back down.

Why does this have to be so hard?

Instead of a time-consuming bureaucratic battle, why not just specify the desired erosion-and-sediment-control outcomes and require the pipeline to meet them? A reasonable approach would entail careful monitoring of land crossed by the pipeline to detect landslides and other forms of erosion — a cost that ACP would have to absorb. All monitoring data would be made available to the public so government agencies and environmental groups could inspect them to ensure the pipeline was fulfilling its responsibilities. ACP would be required to pay the full cost of restoring mountain slopes and compensate nearby landowners or water authorities for any damages. Perhaps ACP would be required to maintain insurance or post a bond sufficient to guarantee the damages are covered.

There should be one debate over the standards appropriate to steep mountain slopes, and those standards should apply to everyone who wants to build an interstate pipeline in comparable terrain. The purpose of regulation should not be to prescribe how pipelines do their jobs but to ensure that they achieve the desired outcomes. Finally, the review process should not require months and months of review. It should take no more than a week or two to ascertain that the pipeline applicant has the financial wherewithal to live up to its commitments.

Wouldn’t such an arrangement work better for everyone?

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27 responses to “Fix the Broken Regulatory Process”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Dominion is not looking for a permit to build pipeline.

    They want the government to tell people they MUST sell their land to Dominion!

    that’s a whole different kettle of fish!!

    This is not Walmart looking for a permit to build a store.

    This is like Walmart wanting the govt to force the owner of a piece of land to sell it to them so they can build a store – with the right permits of course.

    When you put Conservatives in charge of government these days- it’s pretty clear either they don’t have a clue or they don’t care to have one.

    We just got two Constitutional amendments on Eminent Domain in Va that subjects VDOT to strict standards when taking land but very conveniently exempted Dominion from those standards. Surprise. Surprise!

    Even then – here’s an example of Dominion’s promise to do steep slopes correctly:

    “Dominion/ACP’s lack of transparency and responsiveness in providing requested information to the Forest Service” has been cited as a strong concern in a report by a consultant to the U.S. Forest Service who has been contracted to assist in the agency’s evaluation of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Dr. James A. Thompson, Professor of Pedology and Land Use at West Virginia University, in a February 22 letter to Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde N. Thompson (no relation), said:

    The Forest Service has made repeated requests for information to Dominion/ACP over the course of several teleconferences and in-person meetings; however, Dominion/ACP has not yet adequately responded to these requests. ”

    Does tis give confidence that Dominion would do what was required?

  2. “Why does this have to be so hard?”

    I am not a completely unbiased observer on pipeline issues since I am an intervenor in the proceedings, but I have been on the applicant’s side of things for numerous large utility projects. I am also frustrated with the FERC process but for the opposite reason that Dominion states.

    I am not certain if the problem is with the FERC process, or with Dominion. Probably a little of both. For a year and a half, I have requested information that substantiates the need for the project. It is the type of information that we were required to include in our applications for the other types of projects that I was involved with. If we did not and we received questions about it, the regulators made certain that we provided the information to the intervenors and it became part of the record for the proceedings. That has not been the case with the pipeline. Both Dominion and FERC have avoided this issue by only responding with, “we have precedence agreements (contracts with their own subsidiaries)” without providing the documentation of actual market demand and the inability of existing resources to meet it. An independent consultant made these calculations and showed that we have sufficient existing capacity to meet Dominion’s and Duke’s future needs without building new pipelines.

    A third-party reviewer from West Virginia University hired by the Forest Service to review the impacts of the pipeline in the National Forests has encountered the same problem. He recently wrote a letter to the Forest Service saying this:

    “I feel that it is necessary to share with you some concerns that I have regarding Dominion/ACP’s lack of transparency and responsiveness in providing requested information to the Forest Service, information that is necessary to adequately assess the environmental effects of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project. The Forest Service has made repeated requests for information to Dominion/ACP over the course of several teleconferences and in­ person meetings; however, Dominion/ACP has not yet adequately responded to these requests. The conference call on February 17, 2017, is just the latest example of what I conclude to be Dominion/ACP’s unwillingness to respond to what I consider to be reasonable requests and, more generally, an inability to work collaboratively with the Forest Service to ensure that this review process progresses in an efficient and effective manner.”

    An environmental scientist from UVA has expressed similar concerns. He has told me that despite repeated requests to Dominion and FERC he has not received the specific information that would allow an adequate and accurate determination of the impacts of the proposed actions. It is not that that Dominion is not supplying information. They have submitted thousands of pages. But it is not the detailed information necessary to draw proper conclusions about the impacts of their proposals.

    If FERC had an evidentiary hearing and an Administrative Law Judge for gas pipelines as they do for transmission lines things would move along more rapidly. You do slog it out sometimes about questions that the applicant feels are being overly picky, but you do move forward. The applicant cannot be significantly unresponsive and the intervenors are not allowed to stall unnecessarily. An experienced ALJ keeps things moving along.

    The paper exchange for gas pipelines allows the applicant to be unresponsive which leaves only legal remedies to intervenors who believe that their concerns have not been addressed. This only further delays the process. I have no illusions that these processes are totally objective. But we do have laws that have been in place for over 40 years that spell out how the process is supposed to work. It is discouraging when the agencies that are supposed to provide some balance in the consideration of the needs of the applicant and the public’s interest do not follow the law.

    There is a better way, but it takes both parties to collaborate. That collaboration appears to be missing in the proceedings in Virginia that I have witnessed.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Much of the regulatory process is now designed, built, and operated to stop projects altogether, and/or milk them for everything they are worth so as to drive the costs up so as to force down applications in the future or to harm those who are in the business of building such projects. The Obama Administration was the master of this corrupt practice started 47 year ago with the Alyeska Pipeline.

    We need now a variant of tort reform that severely penalizes those entities that abuse the process, yet another plague that got its start with the trans-Alaska pipeline some 47 years ago.

    1. Reed,

      I sympathize with your opinion. I felt the process was very inefficient as an applicant for major projects. However, I am now seeing a different side of things. We have a good deal of evidence from industry insiders that we are overbuilding pipeline capacity by perhaps 40%. Yet, we have a new administration that is ready to accelerate that even more.

      What is disturbing is that the approval process is going through a great deal of commotion to reach a conclusion that was ordained when the application was filed. FERC has approved every application for a pipeline for the past several decades that had precedence agreements for at least some of its capacity.

      I am concerned that no one is noticing that we are undergoing a great shift in our energy system and that ideas that look good now (or for the past 60 years) might not be such a good idea 10 years from now. Developers don’t care because they can make money now and ratepayers will bear the risk. Somewhere in the process there is supposed to be a consideration of the public’s interest, but I don’t see that happening in the pipeline case. Using what we have first seems to be a more conservative strategy to me.

  4. Jim,
    Dominion’s plan for the pipeline is for it to be mostly self-monitoring. They will respond to problems after they occur. The concern of many, especially as it relates to effects on drinking water supplies, is that there is no real remedy once an aquifer is contaminated or destroyed.

    The best (and usually the cheapest) option is to avoid the problem in the first place. That is why a detailed explanation of nature of the planned activities is required.

    1. The key, I would suggest, is to make the pipeline company liable for cleaning up, or paying compensation for, damages caused by landslides, erosion and runoff.

      1. Jim,

        I disagree. The point I was trying to make is that there is not a good way to remediate the damages in these cases. It’s like saying it is OK to run over your child as long as you are compensated for it. If a karst structure is collapsed by blasting for the pipeline, for instance, that might stop the supply of water for several properties or perhaps an entire community. You can’t dig things up and fix the plumbing in that case. Let’s say a heavy rain occurs during construction and a landslide takes out a 200-year old historic home (we hope everyone is away). Would being paid the value of the structure properly compensate a family that has lived in that home for generations?

        I know we can’t cover every contingency. But experts, given the appropriate information, can decide ways to avoid the danger or say that this is not a good location for a pipeline. The lack of adequate information is keeping this from happening. Here is another quote from the Forest Service consultant:

        “This is but one of a series of instances where Dominion/ACP has minimized, obfuscated, or ignored critical issues related to compliance with Forest Plan Standards and Guides. The effectiveness of the proposed “Best in Class” Steep Slopes Program has been an on-going concern for the Forest Service; however, Dominion/ACP has not been forthcoming with clear and detailed information that directly addresses Forest Service concerns related to compliance with Forest Plan Standards and Guides. In fact, the effectiveness of “Best in Class” Steep Slopes Program was on the agenda for the meeting on February 17, but it was not discussed nor were any documents regarding effectiveness provided in advance of the meeting. These requests have been clearly stated during previous meetings and then formally recorded in the meeting notes; however, there continues to be no resolution on this fundamental issue even after three meetings on the subject because Dominion/ACP has chosen to not provide the requested evidence or substantive justification.”

        You can blame the process, or the NIMBY’s, but these are federal employees (and their consultants) trying to do their job. It is the failure of the applicant to respond to repeated requests for information that is slowing down this review.

        1. You’re making a reasonable point here. If I get a chance, I’ll ask ACP what response they have to the charges of foot-dragging.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” They will respond to problems after they occur. ”

    Once they have the permit – if that permit is THAT open-ended – what recourse would anyone have if Dominion’s position was that they were abiding by the
    permit rules.. and in THEIR opinion they are in compliance?

    I’d submit that’s exactly why permits are not written to be open-ended and have specific stipulations … enforcement and remedies for failure to abide by the terms of the permit.

    Sure.. if I were a company.. I’d want a “do what you think best” permit…

    but there is a bit of irony here in that some are attacking the regulatory process – which is supposed to protect the rights of people.. and protect public resources…

    Once the company has the permit -individuals would not have the financial resources to go up against the Corporate legal resources…

    This is the way things used to work back when Corporations were essentially unregulated.

    sounds like some folks want the benefits of the regulation …without the actual regulation stipulations – which is a dance between the company and he regulators – and does take time to play out.

    the length of time it takes to play out could be dramatically shortened if the company agreed to the proposed rules – initially. It’s their option to engage in negotiations but it’s also their choice and the reason why the process gets drawn out.

    If we got rid of the regulation as some here are advocating… the result would be that Dominion would end up being the de-facto “regulator” and it would decide the contested issues.

    1. Larry,
      I was reading something a while ago that said our environmental regulations essentially give our corporations permission to pollute and harm the environment. It is very difficult to have an organization be responsible for the harm they have done if they can say “we were following the rules”.

      When I was on the industry side of things, I did want clear standards to meet. That is not a bad thing. But we always maintained the attitude of looking for solutions that were the best for everyone. For one new power plant, we found a way to redesign the cooling water intake in a way that saved ratepayers $126 million and produced impacts that were less than what the regulations required.

      Dominion has thoughtful and caring people too. We can’t be too hamstrung by the rules and subjugate our humanity to the corporate dividend. Balance and reason are required but too frequently absent.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        One of the biggest problems in the United States is that the financial services segment of the economy has and is too big. When I started practicing law 40 years ago, companies went to Wall Street to finance growth. Wall Street made money when businesses made money. Now Wall Street is all about twisting and distorting the economy. Wall Street is as corrupt as academia and the federal government.

        1. TMT,

          You have that exactly right. Except for new jobs in energy efficiency and renewables, the primary contributors to US GDP come from Health Care and Financial Services. I read that less than 1% of the money that changes hands on Wall Street is actually used for building new or expanding existing companies. The rest is pure speculation. All that phony money is truly distorting reasonable “Main Street” financial decisions.

          Imagine if the considerable intelligence and willpower of Dominion could be applied to transforming the energy system of Virginia in a way that is good for everyone, instead of developing projects that cost their customers money just to prop up the stock price.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    TomH – I’m not from the green weenie world… I believe in capitalism and “markets” and the right – we NEED the private sector to provide via market processes the goods and services that are needed that govt should not be providing.

    And I think there are GOOD Corporates … but I DO NOTE – that when it comes to contaminates in food and drugs and pollutants in the environment that companies do want that “certainty”… and I do not blame them – but
    the same folks also lobby/argue for lower standards.. and THEN claim their activities are “government approved”.


    so they WANT the public to KNOW the govt has “approved” and that includes those that would sue them for things like “known carcinogens” which if “approved” as a standard – they are more insulated than if therewere no standards and no govt approval.

    I just find in Dominions case – that they are stubborn, and seem uncompromising and self-serving in a lot of their actions.

    I think their stance on the coal ash is grossly irresponsible ESPECIALLY for the Chesapeake Energy Center – which Bacon never talks about and that stance carries over to other sites including Possum Point.

    It’s totally disingenuous for them to talk about the costs of trucking the coal ash when every single one of those sites has rail access.

    that’s unconscionable…

    – and their behavior on the power lines – “my way, we’re not changing the path”.. all of their alternatives are purposely flawed.. they have yet to offer a single viable alternative.. and their excuse basically is the others cost too much which I suspect is like their argument for the costs of “trucking” coal ash. There are existing crossing.. down river from Surry.. I want to see at least one crossing down that way… a real alternative.. on paper from them.

    ACP … Dominion is up in Washington talking out of both sides of their mouth. They’re complaining about regulation – at the same time they are refusing to provide information on how they plan to do steep slopes.

    that’s NOT “balanced and reasonable” at all.

    they need to do better .. this kind of behavior is not acceptable.

  7. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    I think some sort of bond insurance is a good idea, but the compliance issues for community protection are more than financial and they are complicated by the fact that, for gas pipelines, federal law super cedes state law in many decision areas. That is not true for oil pipelines which must obtain approval of the pipeline route on a state – by – state basis, which may make it more difficult for pipeline companies to obtain necessary authorizations, particularly when strong opposition from local landowners and the public exists. Jurisdiction over how, and what, gets built is complicated. Local input is a good thing, I think.

    To address the fiction quoted in the Times Dispatch by Dominion’s CEO ….
    ““The result will be a cleaner environment, lower electricity and natural gas bills for consumers and businesses and more economic opportunity.”

    Here is a part of one of my submissions to FERC ….

    • Gas transported through a new $5 billion pipeline will be more expensive than that supplied by legacy pipelines that are already paid for. The extra cost to Dominion Power for ACP transported gas, listed as the demonstrated need for the project, will be $218.5 M/yr. (T. Hadwin)

    • The price of natural gas in the U.S. will no longer be kept low by the old prohibition on exports. The current trajectory would cause the electricity bills of a typical Virginia household to rise by about 19% over the next 15 years. (GA Tech study 2016)

    • Your own NERC Report says that the structure and technology of our energy system is changing, regardless of what happens with federal regulations, because a clean energy system is fast becoming cost-effective. The NERC report emphasizes the value of efficient buildings. VA has done very little.

    • Georgia Tech authored a 2016 report describing energy opportunities in the Southern states. One emphasis is building retrofits, but also adding DR and wind and solar. The average Virginia household could cut its electricity bill in 2030 by $307 (or 12.6%) and could save a total of $2,899 over the next 15 years. Across all of Virginia’s households over the next 15 years, this would represent a cumulative electricity bill savings of $9.9 Billion.

    • If Dominion receives permission to build the additional natural gas plants they would like to build, Green House Gas emissions will actually be higher in 2030 than they are now. (Power for the People)

    Natural gas is not the most economical or the cleanest way to replace old generation in Virginia. If FERC doesn’t reconsider the overblown need, based and the negative consumer economics of this pipeline, FERC will doom Virginia to continue operating with their old central generation ‘build more, sell more’ monopoly system for an additional 40-50 years. That is not in Virginia’s best interest, nor is it in the nation’s best interest.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    These are GOOD points CAW!

    How can Dominion claim the pipeline will benefit ratepayers if the gas from the new pipeline will be more expensive than that from the legacy pipelines?

    And how can DOminion claim the “need” to obtain a public convenience and necessity certificate that then allows the use of eminent domain – if the legacy pipelines are adequate to supply the need without the need for NEW pipelines?

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Typically,this post cherrypicks its criticism. There’s whining that poor Dominion has to go through a lengthy and thorough process to get approval for a pipeline project whose use is suspect and whose construction and operation will affect thousands of people on either side of the 500 mile-long project.

    Never mind the arguments of eminent domain, fire, karst, ripping through sensitive mountaintop flora and so on. Never mind about adding millions to the cost of the natural gas itself when several reputable outlets say there’s an overcapacity of pipelines.

    Let me ask a question: when Dominion built its Virginia City coal-hybrid station in Wise COunty or its new natural gas plants in Southside did it have to go through such an onerous review?

    And, Dominion is notorious for hiding facts while pushing hard for projects on its own terms. In the coal ash dewatering case, Dominion said this must be done now! That is, done its way. The whole idea that maybe Dominion should seriously consider hauling the ash out of flood zones to inland landfills the way other utilities do or, at the minimum provide liners and seals at the bottom of the pits and not just the tops.

    Dominion deflected those concerns and got its water permits (with the support of the state department whose director was feted at the Master’s golf tournament, all expenses paid).

    So, you have this blog post crying big tears for Dominion just as it did a few days ago over the James River electricity lines.

    Dominion is sure getting its money’s worth from Bacons Rebellion!

    1. The only thing I can conclude from your comment, Peter, is that you are utterly indifferent to how long the regulatory process takes. You are ruling out the possibility that federal permitting can take into account all relevant points of view and protect the environment but in a more expeditious manner.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s important to recognize that Dominion is not proposing to do what thousands of other companies do every day – which is buy a piece of land from a willing seller and then building something on that owned land that conforms to existing routine regulations. Something that occurs every day with minimal regulatory delays – that are actually much shorter than the rest of the timeline the company needs to get the building built on brought online.

    What Dominion wants instead – is the forced sale of land they do not own to build something on that is a business that they DO intend to make a profit off of. The fact that they are claiming that their product will also be used to make electricity – does not mean that there is no other way to make the electricity nor supply it as there are other companies doing that and other existing pipelines already doing that.

    Dominion is not entitled to do that – just because they think there is a need for more capacity AND they want the govt to grant them the authority to take other people’s land on the basis of their own judgement about the wider market for gas of which they are just one player.

    Dominion is not “owed” anything from others who own the land Dominion wants for their own for-profit business for a “need” that is a claim not a proven fact that is agreed with by the govt nor others including the companies that own existing pipelines.

    Contrast this with a company that wants to build a toll road and wants the govt to grant it eminent domain to take the land it needs and it’s argument is that roads are a vital public service and their road will serve the public – even though there are other existing roads – the company makes the argument that their new road will add value and convenience that is “needed” and that if they don’t build it – there will be a “shortage” of road capacity leading to congestion “brownouts” that will cause economic damage if people and goods are delayed.

    Most people would not buy this argument but that’s the basic argument that Dominion is using for the pipeline.

    If we did not build that pipeline – we would still have no shortage of electricity and plenty of gas getting to the plants that burn it … but Dominion is claiming that THEIR gas is important to THEIR electric plants AND that they’ll ALSO be selling it – for profit.

    that’s not a good justification for the use of eminent domain – and that’s what the regulatory process is for – to determine if there actually is justification and if there is that the impacts to other landowners are limited and justified.

    And yet we have Dominion complaining about the “process”.

    I think this, once again, demonstrates a Corporate arrogance on their part.

    Their basic schtick seems to be that because they do a good job of providing electricity that they are “owed” whatever they deem they need to do it without question and without delays and they decide how much delay is “acceptable”.

  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You are still cherry picking. When Dominion wanted to export LNG from its facility at Cove Point, Md. how long did approval that take? Not long at all.

    You still miss the point is that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a different deal. Most pipelines have traditionally run form the Southwest up valleys and along right-of-ways to the Northeast and Midwest. This one runs right across some of the highest mountains in the east in a northwest to Southeast fashion to exploit the Marcellus and Utica shale gas fields. It is going to take longer to evaluate because it has many more impacts that the usual pipeline.

    And, LarrytheG is right that Dominion wants eminent domain when the “public use” is dubious. Let’s assume that there is a serious power shortage on the Peninsula that you’ve been typing away about. One might assume that getting power to alleviate brownouts is a “public” need but the ACP won’t do a damned thing in this case. It will take natural gas to markets already served by natural gas. Don’t believe me? Get a pipeline map.
    With the pipeline, Dominion is involved in scores upon scores of lawsuits with landowners. They want the federal approval process to give them legal edge in these cases.

    And you stand right to whine away in their behalf! Boo-hoo.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: running across the highest mountains in the East.

    it does not have to do that – as the only way to provide electricity … which can be made with plants located where existing pipelines are before they cross the mountains or they can follow the valley’s to where there are passes already crossed with rivers, highways and rails.

    the point of crossing the mountains is a choice – not the only way to get more gas to eastern Va – by a long shot – – it’s clearly a choice driven by costs to build a pipeline that is duplicative of existing pipelines and pipeline rights-of-ways that could much more easily and cheaply be expanded than a brand-new right-of-way through some of the toughest and steepest terrain in the east.

    it’s completely unjustified and is simply Dominion wanting to use the govt to get an advantage over existing competitors.

    It’s Corporate Skullduggery … at it’s worst.

    1. You’re getting carried away with the rhetoric, here. At a fundamental level, we need energy to run a vibrant economy and to keep people warm in winter. There are prime energy sources in this country, fossil sources like the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma, or the Dakota coal and oil sands, or the Marcellus shale; and renewable sources like Western hydro, or west Texas or Indiana wind, or southwestern solar. And there are major sinks: the urban centers. There is no way around it, we have to move the energy from sources to sinks. Now we can have lots of arguments about the details of HOW to do that, but it has to move; and in the east, that means over the mountains! Do we move the oil by rail or by pipeline? Do we deliver the gas directly to homes and businesses, or do we convert it to electricity and deliver the electricity? Do we do that conversion near the source (and transport the bulk electricity) or the sink (and transport the fuel)? There are disadvantages to all; but we can’t do without the energy, and NONE of these choices (except maybe coastal solar) avoids getting the energy over those Appalachian Mountains somehow. Pick your how, but no to all is not an option.

  13. LarrytheG Avatar

    Acbar – I totally agree with the need for energy but Dominion has not made a compelling case at all.. they’re not saying that there will be rolling blackouts or people shivering in the cold – which they surely would do if there was even a hint of it being true just as they are with their scare tactics with Surry and the Peninsula!

    They want to sell gas for a profit as well as compete with other companies who also transport and sell gas in existing pipelines.

    Transco/Williams is the largest pipeline company in the US and it too is competing to bring energy from Marcellus Shale to the east – much of it over existing pipelines and new connections.

    here’s a map of existing rights-of-ways and as you can see they already cross the mountains and they already have the means to expand without cutting new paths over the mountains.

    explain to me why Dominion should be the one to do this rather than the others.

    1. You said, “the point of crossing the mountains is a choice.” I am NOT defending DOM — just making the point that somebody, somewhere, somehow, has to get the energy in some form over those eastern mountains. That is not a choice. It IS a choice to try to do so through redundant or underused crosssing facilities. And the federal law supposedly limits that by requiring a showing of “need.”

      The FERC is the agency we’ve entrusted the licensing of new pipelines to, and they are supposed to take into account whether a new pipeline is needed. As TomH indicates, there’s a history of FERC’s gas pipeline decisions under the Natural Gas Act generally approving the requested license. Interestingly, as he also notes, the same commission also decides electricity cases under the Federal Power Act and yet the staff investigations and hearings procedures and the outcomes are far less applicant-friendly. He describes some discovery obstruction in the ACP case that would never be tolerated by the FERC ALJs I knew on the Electric side, and should not be on the Gas side either. But then I don’t know the details in the ACP case first hand.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    Here’s another map clearly showing existing pipelines coming from WVA and Pennsylvania – east – all the way to Norfolk.

    it’s pretty obvious that Dominion is choosing to not buy gas from existing suppliers and instead do their own.

    That’s their choice as a business but it’s not their choice to do it over the steepest terrain in the Appalachians and have the government essentially subsidize it by giving Dominion the ability to force people to sell their land to them.

    That IS the business of others.. who also have rights.. and should not be subject to being forced to sell their land – primarily for a company to engage in a for-profit business – in competition with other companies also engaged in that same business.

  15. Acbar did a nice summary of the general concepts, but Larry you have it right on this one. The Transco corridor has a least four major pipelines in a main right-of-way that goes 1800 miles from the Gulf Coast to the urban centers in the northeast.

    Enough takeaway pipelines have now been built in the Marcellus for the gas to go directly to the demand centers in the northeast. By the end of this year those new supplies will add 6 Bcf/d of capacity from the eastern Marcellus (the major production zone) to the Transco system serving the northeast. This frees up 6 Bcf/d of southbound capacity all of the way to Alabama. This is 4 times the capacity of the ACP. We don’t need it all but it gives us all we need to fuel every new power plant that Duke and Dominion are proposing through 2030. All the gas we need, at least 3 times cheaper to transport gas on existing pipelines, and no sensitive habitat, or water sources destroyed.

    There is no need to cross the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge. That is being done by the ACP because Dominion has thousands of miles of gathering pipelines and storage facilities there. It is good for their business but very bad for the mountains and the ratepayers.

    Acbar correctly notes that a major advantage of solar is that the “fuel” occurs in the same location as the demand. And distributed energy resources avoid new transmission lines and add resiliency and reliability to the grid. It is a cake with many ingredients. But it is time we start using more of the new ones. They are cheaper and have less of a downside.

  16. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” All the gas we need, at least 3 times cheaper to transport gas on existing pipelines, and no sensitive habitat, or water sources destroyed.

    There is no need to cross the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge. That is being done by the ACP because Dominion has thousands of miles of gathering pipelines and storage facilities there. It is good for their business but very bad for the mountains and the ratepayers.”

    What say you guys Bacon and Acbar?

    Can we get a comment from Dominion?

  17. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Re: the need to move fast …

    The price of a solar panel has fallen 70% in the last 6 years, and that price drop is the cause of the rush to build pipelines NOW all across the country, and across the Appalachian mountains too. The challenge of solar, and wind too, is a frightening thing to fossil owners. Getting the pipelines built is a race against the falling prices of renewable energy … because if the pipelines are built today, those new pipelines will keep the fossil market open for the next 40 years.

    There is risk. A new analysis from the IEA tells us we need a deep transformation “of energy production and consumption needs to occur by 2050.” That transformation includes … “Nearly 95% of electricity would need to be low-carbon by then, compared with about a third today, led by renewables.”

    Whether or not you believe the predictions about global climate change … some level of caution is compelled. If the Dr. told you to stop smoking because you are at grave risk of developing COPD and emphysema, you wouldn’t go out and stock up on cigarettes, but that is what we seem to be doing with pipelines.

    There are alternatives that we can get started on now. Let’s invest in using less. Let’s make on-site solar financing easier, and let’s begin, like North Carolina, NJ, NY and MA to evaluate offshore wind. It has the potential to deliver several times the capacity of the current grid to the 75% of the population that live in our coastal cities. Denmark meets 40% of its current needs with offshore wind.

    Let’s not throw caution to the wind. Let’s begin putting our money into creating the clean energy system.

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