Gas Pipeline Approvals Out of His Hands, Guv Says


Governor Terry McAuliffe says he can’t stop the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline even if he wanted to — and he really doesn’t want to. Responding to a question on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor,” McAuliffe said he supports the project as a boon to manufacturing jobs and as an alternative to transporting natural gas over roads or rails, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Whether he likes it or not, McAuliffe said the matter is largely out of his hands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decides whether to approve or deny interstate gas pipelines. The state plays a secondary regulatory role, and state air and water permits are decided “statutorily.”

Said the governor: “I cannot deny an air and water permit as governor. I don’t have the authority. It’s done by statute. If you don’t like the regs and they get approved, then you need to talk to the legislature to change the law.”

Pipeline foes have pressed Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to take a more forceful stance in the regulation of pipeline construction over steep mountains and in karst areas with sinkholes, underground streams and other complex geological phenomena. They are particularly concerned that DEQ will issue ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipeline permits for blanket plans to prevent erosion and sedimentation while crossing rivers and streams instead of permits for plans that address the specific characteristics of each water body. Also, they worry that DEQ will allow pipeline contractors to dig trenches longer than the regulatory standard of 500 feet.

The pipeline companies say they have ample experience digging pipeline trenches in rough terrain in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states, and that any disturbance is temporary, occurring only while construction is underway.


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18 responses to “Gas Pipeline Approvals Out of His Hands, Guv Says”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    who is doing the Eminent Domain? The Feds or the State?

    1. I’m pretty sure (not positive) that it’s federal eminent domain.

      1. Yes. The FERC Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity allows for use of federal eminent domain. Dominion will probably offer at least $3000 for the easement for each parcel which gives them access to federal courts and no juries. The only issue considered by the court is the proper value for the property. Need, impacts, etc. are not considered.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      I thought the rule about surveying was a state law, no?

      1. Yes, but that’s for surveying only, not acquisition of ROW.

  2. Did he really say the only alternative to the ACP was “transporting natural gas over roads or rails”? I don’t think he has been following this issue very closely.

    The people I have spoken with about the sedimentation and erosion effects of the pipeline are only asking that the Governor be sure that the DEQ properly executes their statutory obligation to enforce the Clean Water Act. As the Governor of New York did with his Department of Environmental Conservation and the Constitution pipeline. When the standard 401 requirements were presented to the pipeline developers they were not able to meet them and the water quality permit would not be issued until they did. So construction could not proceed.

    DEQ had one year to respond to FERC as to how they were going review and monitor the pipeline construction. They went within a day or two of forfeiting Virginia’s ability to perform their statutory authority because they had not responded to FERC. A last-minute letter from Dominion said their application was not complete so it stopped the clock before time ran out.

    FERC and the pipeline developers want to use “blanket permits” and standard practices to meet the requirements. UVA environmental scientists say that those standard practices were not designed for the type of steep sensitive terrain that will be encountered by the ACP. Blasting in the karst terrain presents special hazards to individual and public water supplies. In one segment of the pipeline, Dominion has identified that the possibility of landslides is either “highly likely” or “extremely likely” over 96% of the right-of-way. A former Maryland environmental regulator lives near an area of pipeline construction and has said the only way for the pipeline to be safely constructed is to essentially do mountaintop removal.

    The stream crossings of pristine trout streams, the staging areas for the horizontal drilling under the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail and other locations all present special protection and mitigation issues. If any one of the activities were done by a Virginia contractor for a local project they would have a specific engineering plan developed for full protection of the watershed during and after construction. Why is the same requirement not applied to the ACP when the consequences of not taking proper precautions so much greater?

    The request to the Governor has simply been to have the DEQ follow the law and require that all of the planning and precautions that would be required for any other project be applied to the ACP. Many experts believe that the requirements for the 401 water quality permit cannot be met on the terrain that has been selected for the ACP. Dominion’s monitoring program is designed to kick in after a problem has occurred, not to prevent it.

    “The pipeline companies say they have ample experience digging pipeline trenches in rough terrain in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states, and that any disturbance is temporary, occurring only while construction is underway.”

    One of the “temporary” construction disturbances was the runoff of a construction spill that was washed into a sinkhole and appeared in a public water supply and high school miles away. The town’s water supply had to be shut down for several weeks and water brought in from another location. Blasting in the karst can create long-term effects on water supplies and water quality even though it took only a moment of construction activity to do the permanent damage.

    Here is what it looks like when the no erosion control is in place and the 500′ open trench standard is not applied. Imagine what this would look during a period of high rainfall that has occurred often in this region (hurricane Camille).×945.jpg

    These water quality standards were developed with the public interest in mind and have been applied for decades. Why are they suddenly irrelevant when we want to build a pipeline?

    The 1100 mile Dakota pipeline did not even have an environmental impact statement prepared for it. The Corps of Engineers chopped the pipeline route into thousands of 1/2 acre parcels so that none of them would have to be studied or have a mitigation plan prepared. The sacred Indian burial grounds would have been discovered had such a process taken place.

    Most people are not “do-nothings” they are for “doing the right thing”. And that is not happening with most of these pipeline projects. And it is sad to see the highest state official in Virginia supporting the avoidance of regulations designed to protect the land that he has sworn to protect.

    It is so sad because with a little cooperation and creative thinking most people can achieve what they want – adequate supplies of energy and protected land and water resources.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      My three year old grandkid would love that picture….all those vehicles! It sure doesn’t bother me. Tom, you need to get some of those scary explosion pictures that the pipeline opponents love. Much more effective propaganda…

      1. I would have loved it too as a boy, as did my four boys. But we were playing in a sandbox not ripping up someone’s farm that has been in the same family for 200 hundred years.

        I am not interested in propaganda. I am disappointed that Dominion has resorted to that. We didn’t feel it was necessary at the utilities I worked for. We published items that favored our interests, but we didn’t resort to outright distortion of the facts to get what we wanted.

        I am not opposed to energy development. I spent a good chunk of my life doing that. I am for the best way of developing an energy system that has the lowest cost and least impact. That is not happening here.

  3. I always listen to WTOP’s “Ask the Gov Show” if I can, as I did yesterday.

    The main thing that struck me was, yes, McAuliffe’s comments about over-road transport of nat gas, which is not really feasible. However, the general idea of pipeline better than rail or truck is probably true where possible.

    In the case of nat gas, the valid argument is, we cannot use the natural gas resource unless we have adequate pipelines. In the U.S. past years, we have under-utilized natural gas and wind power in favor of coal. Now we are needing to adjust to the new energy realities.

    I do agree with McAuliffe that adequate natural gas supplies could help establish Virginia as a player in the U.S. manufacturing “renaissance” that many of us have been hoping for (due to cheap nat gas). Virginia is potentially in a particularly good position for job growth given the anti-fossil fuel attitudes of most of the states north of us. Keep in mind, I believe today we can have industry and a clean environment at the same time, if we work at it.

    TomH there is a problem with your photos, in that for those of us with engineering degrees, this looks like progress and jobs and clean technology coming. Somehow you are showing construction activity, and suggesting it is horrific unless it is for wind or solar. My house looked like a hole in the ground at one time. When it rains we have tons of silt going to the Potomac, sometimes unnecessarily, due to local gov’t refusal to “slow down” home/business construction activities for these concerns.

    I acknowledge your suggestion that the construction activity in the picture was an example of damaging the environment due to management disregard for the environment. I am also concerned about eco-mismanagement, and I do not condone such.

    1. TBill,

      I understand the viewpoint. It was the predominant one in the utilities I worked for. The job of the department that I led was to find a way to provide the energy everyone wanted in a way that created the least disruption.

      The point of the picture was not to point out the hole in the ground but to show that this project lacked any erosion control and had a long open run of trench (more than the regulatory standard of 500 feet). If several inches of rain fell at one time, which is common when the mountain tops intercept the moisture-laden air from seasonal storms, a huge load of sediment would land in the streams at the base of the mountain. For the ACP these streams are recreationally and ecologically valuable trout streams. Erosion control has been common practice for decades. Why shouldn’t it be properly used with these huge projects as well as the small projects? There is no good reason for Virginia regulators to allow less stringent controls to apply to the ACP compared to any other project. They will claim they do implement controls. And that is true. But they are not adequate to protect the sensitive areas that the ACP passes through. Just meet the full requirements of the regulations is what is being asked.

      I do support energy efficiency, solar backed by gas-peakers, then batteries, because that scenario is cheaper and far cleaner than gas combined cycle plants without the risk of stranded costs.

      My issue with the pipeline is that it is causing all of this damage when it is not necessary. The same amount of natural gas can be supplied by planned expansions of existing pipelines that are a much cheaper means of transporting the gas and avoid the disruption. This is not an issue of opposing “progress”. Obviously, this is a point that needs proof. But the only proof that the pipeline is needed is the claim that the pipeline has customers that are captive subsidiaries of the owners of the pipeline. The need for and the alternatives to the project should be fully evaluated as federal law requires. This has historically not been done by FERC and has not been done for the ACP.

      My Dad was an engineer, my training is in science. We used to go around and around on issues like this. My perspective is that giant holes in the ground do not signify progress. They illustrate our need for progress in how to create the energy we need in a cheaper, cleaner, less damaging fashion.

      I think most people agree on the outcome we want. The disagreements come from how we get there. I am only trying to point out different ways to achieve the outcome that you and many others desire in a way that is cheaper for ratepayers and better for the environment. That is the kind of win-win situation that I strive for.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Oh I LIKE the natural gas and pipeline is the only real feasible way to move it and yes it could be a boon to industry – but you don’t use ED for that – that’s no different that any other business proposition.

    ED is justified when the need is compelling and and benefits widespread beyond just the private sector – for profit folks and the customers they serve – at a profit.

    that’s how you justify a new road – that it will benefit everyone and condemnation saves tax dollars – for everyone.

    who does condemnation save money for – for a pipeline – not taxpayers … and really not even customers – as any kind of guarantee of lower rates…. even then – lower rates for customers – those customers are the ones that should be paying for the rights of way -not property owners to provide lower prices for end-use customers.

    I’ve asked before and will again – what is the difference between WaWa making the case for condemning property for a new WaWa to “serve the public” and the NEW natural gas pipeline rather than use existing – “for-profit” gas transmission companies to expand their existing pipeline footprints to handle the increase?

    Should WaWa or Walmart use eminent domain for a site for one of their stores because it will “serve a public purpose”?

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Yes, these are private companies but they are by definition and by law a particular kind of private firm – called a public service corporation. WaWa and Walmart are not public service corporations. Gas, electricity, telephone and broadband, these are utilities. They often have defined territories. Their prices are often regulated. They also get different tax treatment than other private entities. And absent access to eminent domain under proper circumstances, they would never get built with all the wailing…

    1. I agree that eminent domain has a useful public purpose. But it requires appropriate use. The developers of the pipeline are not regulated utilities. They are unregulated subsidiaries of utility holding companies that are not regulated either. Although the pipeline does qualify as a natural gas company to meet the standards for the VA survey law, federal eminent domain, etc.

      My concern is they have not proven the need for the project. Is it appropriate to seize land from unwilling landowners when the gas can be supplied by pipelines already in the ground for a much lower cost to ratepayers? The concept underlying the application of eminent domain is that the project serves the greater public good. If the project costs ratepayers more and causes more harm to property than the existing pipelines, is the ACP truly serving the greater public good?

      The Virginia amendment to the state constitution does not allow the use of eminent domain purely for private profit, which appears to be the case with the ACP. Unfortunately, by having access to federal eminent domain that same threshold does not exist.

      My great hope is that ratepayers and policymakers of Virginia are aware that access to an abundant supply of natural gas is not dependent on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. And if they choose the ACP it will costs ratepayers hundreds of millions per year more than using existing pipelines. The cost figures are based on information that Dominion provided to FERC. This information should be widely known and fully considered in the process to approve the pipeline.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      your definition does NOT apply to the ACL though… and that’s the problem…. it’s a private sector for-profit company that intends to market gas as fuel like any other fuel – like gasoline that WaWa sells or Amergas selling propane…

      public service means the corridor is necessary because there is no other feasible way to provide it…

      I SUPPORT Eminent Domain and we have thousands and thousands of miles of existing pipeline and powerline and roads that exist because of ED – not like it’s been stopped at all…

      this project is not like those. this is a for-profit at-will venture which is not regulated as a monopoly and will sell gas for whatever the market price will bear.

      And they’re making a significant profit – in no small part by subsidizing their own costs on the backs of private property owners…

      there’s a big difference…

  6. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    AND … they the utilities, have other choices … other pipelines with whom Dominion’s 2 new plants have contracts … and other ways to meet customer needs. The southeast is the only part of the country going overboard for gas-generated electricity. Why does that make eminent domain OK?

    Nor will gas necessarily lure corporations to Virginia. Here are a couple of paragraphs from a new paper from Sullivan and Worcester about corporations directly buying renewable power. Utility generated electricity from gas is NOT what they are looking for.

    “Several factors are driving this explosion in interest in direct purchases of clean energy. Reasons range from pure cost per kWh purchased, to market and regulatory certainty, to the brand value of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, to concerns over the future of specific markets in the face of a changing climate. Consistent in every one of these motives is an underlying economic case: replacing electricity generated from burning fossil fuels with electricity from wind and solar is a good business strategy.”

    “Companies across the business spectrum – ranging from Apple, to Dow, to General Motors, to Bank of America – have set goals for 100% renewable power for their global operations. These companies have built major branding and advertising campaigns around their sustainable investments. Consumers, both individuals and businesses, place real value in their buying choices on the energy and climate footprint of brands. Forward-thinking companies are committing to buying clean power in an effort to build competitive advantage with these consumers.”

    More gas isn’t going to lure any of these major companies.

    The Governor says he “loves democracy” and then dismisses the demonstrators with … “I am the Governor of 8M people. How many of them were there? 10? 15?” Oh my!

    1. GM is a member of a group of 69 companies that have committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2050 (the RE100). They and many other corporations are moving towards that goal very rapidly. Walmart and IKEA are putting solar on the roofs of their big box stores and others will soon join them. It would be very disruptive for a utility governed by cost-of-service rates to have this much load defection. And it will happen faster than expected.

      We must encourage the SCC and Dominion to consider new ways of managing our energy system as is being done in many other states. A modern plan will better serve the ratepayers and the utilities. Otherwise, Virginia will fall behind as an attractive location for innovative enterprises.

  7. I can assure you the Utilities are on my concern list. There was a time when we lived in NJ and around 1990 NJ state policy was changed to go full out on coal-fired power, worse yet, in my own back-yard. The South Jersey site was A-OK for the environmental groups in North Jersey, so we had to go it alone on opposition. That’s when I became a public supporter of nat gas, and I also generally believe in smaller distributed facilities, as well as conservation.

    I do not have the answer for ED except I know it happens: in NJ we had to site a landfill in our County. The answer in that case was, with recycling and a small trash-to-steam plant, there really was not a big burden. One thing we can do is – make the project be small neat and acceptable, no matter who’s backyard is picked.

    Of course, having promised small-neat, the County went ahead years later and opened the landfill for out-of-county trash. Argh!

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’ve NEVER had a problem with legitimate ED. There are things that are absolutely necessary and ED is entirely appropriate.

    This is not one of them. You actually have two competing companies both of whom are at-will, for-profit ventures that fully expect to make significant ROI on whoever they can sell the gas to …for whatever purpose the buyers want the gas for .

    This is no different than any other for-profit company that sells products for a profit to the public – claiming that because they do that – it makes them a “public service corporation” and the facts are that they are clearly not.

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