Tag Archives: Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Which Would You Prefer: Pipelines or Trucks?

Scania LNG trucks

Don’t like gas pipelines? Maybe you’ll like LNG trucks better.

As the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline endure the legal agonies of the damned here in Virginia — the odds are increasing that neither will be built — a Pennsylvania company has begun liquefying natural gas for delivery by tractor-trailer.

Edge Gathering Virtual Pipelines 2 LLC began well-site production of LNG and making truck-delivered LNG sales in May. States a company press release: “Without the need for pipeline access, EDGE expects to make LNG a viable and competitive physical energy solution for end-use consumers and gas utilities across the U.S.”

Within the next year, EDGE expects to obtain and deploy a fleet of LNG-fueled tractors, to make customer deliveries even more cost effective. Continue reading

ACP Cost Bill Passes House With Bipartisan Vote

Five House Democrats joined 35 House Republicans in voting against the legislation reinforcing the State Corporation Commission’s authority to decide just how much captive electricity customers must pay once the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is supplying Dominion Energy Virginia generators.

Delegate Lee Ware’s House Bill 1718 passed Tuesday with 57 positive votes, 42 from Democrats and 15 from Republicans, including Ware. The bill now moves to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which has proven a challenging environment for bills Dominion does not want.  Continue reading

SCC Authority Over ACP Costs Reinforced In Bill

Sit down for this shocking news, but for the first time in recent memory a key energy subcommittee at the General Assembly has voted for the ratepayers, for the authority of the State Corporation Commission, and against protecting the stockholders of Dominion Energy Virginia.

The energy subcommittee of House Commerce and Labor Committee has approved a bill from Delegate Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) that reinforces the SCC’s authority to review the construction and operation costs for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline when Dominion starts using it.  If Dominion uses gas from the line in its power plants, as expected, ratepayers will be asked to pay both the commodity cost for the gas and a share of the transportation cost of using the new pipeline.

Continue reading

The Compressor Station: Another Fact-Poor Debate

THis map shows the location of ACP’s proposed air compressor station in relation to houses in the Union Hill community. Source: Southern Environmental Law Center.

The State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4 to 0 last night to approve a controversial natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County that is crucial for the operation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Pipeline foes had argued that emissions from the compressor station would create a health hazard for nearby residents, a majority of whom, depending upon what mapping criteria are used, are African-American. This disproportionate impact upon a minority community, many contended, amounts to environmental racism.

But Dominion Energy and state regulators countered that the compressor station will be the cleanest in Virginia, emitting 50% to 80% less air pollution than any other gas compressor station in Virginia. “The bottom line here is the Buckingham Compression Station will be the most stringently regulated compressor station in the country and the public’s health will be protected,” said Michael Dowd, director of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

As happens so often in such debates, there was no meaningful discussion of the level of risk associated with the project. Regardless of how tightly regulated the station is, how much pollution will it emit? And what health hazards are associated with that level of pollution — are they real or imagined? Numbers may exist deep in the bowels of the DEQ, but they have not surfaced in the public debate. Continue reading

Dominion Energy: No More Mister Nice Guy

Dominion Energy executives are furious about the way environmental groups have portrayed State Corporation Commission’s recent rejection of the utility’s Integrated Resource Plan as a blow to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Dominion describes recent comments by spokespersons for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter as deliberate “deception” and “lies.”

While they often express frustration with environmentalist foes in off-the-record conversations, Dominion government- and public-relations executives stick to carefully scripted remarks in public statements and steer clear of personal attacks. But after numerous false statements by pipeline foes over the past few weeks, said Thomas Wohlfarth, senior vice president of regulatory affairs, the gloves are off. Continue reading

Environmental Racism and Conservation Easements

Farmland real estate values of conservation easements granted to African-American landowners between 2011 and 2015, as tracked by the Black Family Land Trust.

I have to give Governor Ralph Northam credit: It took a lot of guts to remove two members from the State Air Pollution Control Board knowing full well that it would open himself to charges of indifference to environmental racism.

Earlier this week, Northam informed Rebecca Rubin and Samuel Bleicher that they would be removed from the seven-member board, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Environmental groups immediately connected the decision with concerns they had expressed about “environmental justice” in the Union Hill community of Buckingham County, where a predominantly African-American community would be exposed to low levels of pollution from an Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station. Northam has denied that his decision to replace the two air board members is tied to an upcoming vote on the compressor, but that hasn’t stopped some foes from doubling down on the race card as a way to halt construction of the compressor station and pipeline.

“Governor Northam has now officially taken ownership of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and ownership of this compressor station, a facility which involves strong elements of environmental racism,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network & CCAN Action Fund.

Apparently, Northam isn’t buying that argument, although it’s hard to know what he thinks because he has not spoken publicly about the environmental-racism issue. The issue can be boiled down to this: About 80% of Union Hill residents are African-American. While Dominion says that the compressor station will have state-of-the-art pollution controls meeting the strictest standards in the state, foes say residents will be exposed to elevated levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, putting their health at risk. You can read a detailed explanation of the allegations in a Southern Environmental Law Center letter to Michael Dowd with Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.

For purposes of argument, let’s grant the proposition that the compressor station would pose a small but measurable health risk. (I don’t know that to be the case, but I want to set that issue aside to get to the meat of my argument.) In a 600-mile pipeline with three compressor stations routed through demographically mixed counties, it is inevitable that the pipeline will encounter minority communities. The standard under federal law is whether African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by the pipeline route. By focusing on the impact on Union Hill to the exclusion of many white communities along the route, pipeline foes have created a new standard: Does the pipeline route impact any African-American community? And if it does, some critics assert, it constitutes environmental racism.

I’ve made that point in past blog posts, but now I want to expand on it. The irony here is that one can make an argument that the system promotes social inequity — but not in the way pipeline foes suggest. If you’re looking for disproportionate impact, look at the racial distribution of conservation easements that protect landowners from pipelines, highways, transmission lines and other infrastructure projects from intruding on their land. It doesn’t take a planning Ph.D. to predict that conservation easements as well as the tax benefits and land protections they confer are rewarded overwhelmingly to white landowners — especially wealthy white landowners.

The tax benefits are substantial: federal income tax deductions, a state tax credit equal to 40% of the value of the easement, estate tax reductions, and property tax deductions. So generous are the tax deductions that the state has capped the value of tax credits that the Department of Conservation can grant in any one year at $75 million. Easements are in especially great demand by gentleman farmers — owners of horse farms, vineyards and the like — who have spectacular vistas to protect. Small farmers set amidst mundane corn fields and timberland have far less incentive to pursue obtaining the easements.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which holds the conservation easements, does not track the race of landowners granted easements. But the Black Family Land Trust (BFLT), which works to conserve black-owned farmland in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, does have data which, though not comprehensive, gives a sense of the number and value of easements granted to black landowners.

The BFLT website displays data of easements granted between 2011 and 2015 in 28 designated Strike Force counties, 12 of which are in Virginia. Clearly, that does not represent a complete inventory of all the conservation easements in Virginia granted to black landowners. But the targeting of key counties likely does account for a significant percentage.

The four-year total for black landowners in Virginia’s eight targeted counties amounts to $3,o45,000. That works out to an average of $750,000 per year. That’s 1% of the total land value of conservation easements allowed by Virginia law. If we assume that the BFLT captured only half the easements granted black landowners in those years, we can guesstimate that black landowners were granted 2% of the total value of conservation easements and reaped 2% of the tax benefits. African-Americans comprise roughly 20% of Virginia’s population — a disproportionate impact if I’ve ever seen one.

(I could find no figures detailing the percentage of rural landowners, or even farmers, who were black. Nationally, black farmers tend to own smaller farms than the national average. I don’t know if Virginia is in line with national averages or not.)

When plotting their pipeline routes, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline made great efforts to avoid crossing conservation easements (although in a handful of instances it did not manage to do so). If you’re looking for institutionalized white privilege, there you have it. But the privilege is not that of the pipelines, it’s that of the white landowners. Curiously, pipeline foes and their allies in the environmental movement have ignored this gaping disparity. Why would that be? Perhaps because they are among the primary beneficiaries of the system.

Cynics might conclude that the hoo-ha about social justice at Union Hill is purely tactical, not borne of a principled concern for African-American communities. If Virginia’s social justice warriors were truly committed to fighting environmental racism, one might argue, they would target a system of conservation easements that protects wealthy white landowners far more than it protects poor black landowners. But I won’t make that argument.

Here’s the argument I will make: I don’t think the racial disparity in the dispensing of conservation easements constitutes discrimination against African-Americans. And I don’t think that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s selection of a compressor site in Union Hill constitutes discrimination. The Union Hill community comprises only one of many groups affected by the pipeline. I do think the racial justice angle on Union Hill is ginned up by mostly white pipeline foes desperately seeking any weapon they can to defeat the pipeline project — even if it means aggravating already-tender race relations. And I’m betting that Governor Northam is canny enough to see through the ploy.

Update: The Virginia Outdoor Foundation has responded that my view of landowners who take out conservation easements is out of date. Before 2000, a majority of easements were taken out by wealthy landowners who didn’t earn their income from farming/forestry. Today, a majority of landowners getting easements are working farmers. Read the full comment here.

White Savior Complex — or Cynical Ploy?

ACP route through Virginia. Map credit: News & Advance.

I understand the motivations of landowners  opposing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If I lived along the pipeline route, I’d be worried about the impact of construction on my drinking water, and I’d be upset that forest-clearing disrupted my pristine views. I appreciate their arguments that, with the rapid advance of solar power, wind power, and battery storage, maybe Virginia doesn’t need another gas pipeline. Reasonable people can disagree. What’s not reasonable is turning the ACP into a racial issue.

In their desperation to thwart pipeline construction, ACP foes have attacked the project on the grounds of “environmental justice.” ACP plans call for building a compressor station in the African-American community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. Raising the specter of noise and air pollution, the pipeline’s enemies have decried the “environmental racism” involved in the ACP’s siting decision. Governor Ralph Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice recommended that Northam suspend the issuance of permits to ensure that “predominantly poor, indigenous, brown and/or black communities do not bear an unequal burden of environmental pollutants and life-altering disruptions.”

DEQ issued Friday the final permits needed for construction of the 600-mile pipeline project to begin in Virginia, so the issue may be moot. But resentments stirred up by the charges may well linger. And the racism card, once played, likely will be played again in other contexts. Leftist militants have demonstrated that they are willing to use any tool — including the inflaming of racial grievances — to advance their goals.

It is worth asking to what degree the mostly white environmental activists actually speak for the racial minorities whose interests they purport to represent. Derrick Hollie, an African-American writing in the conservative Daily Signal, didn’t see many other African-Americans attending a recent anti-pipeline rally.

It was exclusively white activists with their matching T-shirts and picket signs who were speaking out against the proposed compressor station at a recent hearing, claiming it to be “environmental racism.”

Sometimes, it’s helpful for those with social power to stand up and speak for the disadvantaged—such as when Kim Kardashian used her clout to help free a grandmother with a life prison sentence for a minor drug conviction.

Instead, what I saw in Buckingham County reeked of a so-called “white savior complex.” At one point, I was verbally attacked by a white woman and told that I “should pray for forgiveness.”

As Hollie observes, African-Americans have ample reason to support the pipeline. Many are susceptible to falling into “energy poverty,” which occurs when energy prices rise, as they presumably would with natural gas shortages. Minorities also stand to benefit from access to the construction and pipeline maintenance jobs. And, Hollie could have added, if rural communities along the route succeed in recruiting new industry thanks to more abundant gas supplies, African-Americans have a shot at getting better-paying factory jobs. Pipeline foes have counters to each of those arguments, but that’s not the point. How can it be “environmental racism” if African-Americans are themselves divided on the merits of the project?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is required to look at environmental justice in its pipeline permitting process. The commission found that minorities along the 600-mile route are not disproportionately impacted. To be sure, when a pipeline passes through three states and 28 cities and counties with mixed racial populations, some minority communities will be impacted. In Virginia, however, the only significant instance appears to be Union Hill. The only way to avoid impacting any minority communities would be to restrict the path to white communities exclusively — thus institutionalizing racism in reverse.

The charge of environmental racism — that ACP deliberately didn’t merely impact African- Americans disproportionately but targeted them — is even more impossible to maintain. The ACP is a linear project that starts in Harrison County, W.Va., ends in Robeson County, N.C., connects with local gas-distribution systems at various points in between, and threads the needle through mountainous terrain, national forests, wildlife preserves, historical resources, cultural resources, and conservation districts — all the while traversing the shortest possible distance. ACP picked the Buckingham County site for its compressor station because it was near the intersection with the Transco Pipeline — not because it was the locale of an African-American community. Due to the reality of highly constricted options in mountainous terrain, ACP also is running the pipeline near the resort community of Wintergreen. Does anyone think ACP was targeting rich white people?

Why not re-route around Union Hill? Because adding another 30 miles or so of pipeline would… impact more people. The idea is to impact fewer property owners, not more. Instead, ACP created a community advisory group to develop a plan to reduce the noise and visual impact on Union Hill. The pipeline company will add sound and visual buffers around the compressor station, and it has agreed to air pollution controls that are tighter than for any other compressor station in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The environmental issues associated with the pipeline are real. The economic issues are real. The racial issue is spurious. By raising it, pipeline foes bring discredit to themselves and the entire concept of “environmental racism.” Derrick Hollie may be generous in attributing the “white savior complex” to the white militants making a racial issue of the pipeline. That would imply their hearts are in the right place. To me, the gambit of white militants crying racism looks more like a cynical ploy by people willing to say and do anything.

Pipelines, Fake Racism and the Environmental Justice Hustle

Photo credit: The Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice

A 15-member advisory council has recommended that the state rescind permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline on the grounds of environmental justice, the Washington Post reports.

The Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, created by former Governor Terry McAuliffe, said that Governor Ralph Northam should appoint an emergency task force “to ensure that predominately poor, indigenous, brown and/or black communities do not bear an unequal burden of environmental pollutants and life-altering disruptions.”

Environmental justice advocates have focused in recent months on the community of Union Hill in Buckingham County, a historically African-American area where the ACP wants to build a compressor station. The compressor requires an state air-quality permit, the denial of which would put a serious crimp in the pipeline plans. African-American residents would be impacted by the noise and dust of construction as well as from air pollution emanating from the compressor station. A draft letter (I haven’t been able to find a copy of the final letter) from the group declares that the compressor station “exhibits racism.”

Friends, the environmental justice/social justice movement has jumped the shark. Pipeline foes raise serious issues about landowner rights (are property owners sufficiently compensated for rights of way?) and water quality (will erosion and sedimentation in mountainous karst terrain damage local water supplies?). But the environmental justice angle is hokum.  We live in an era in which labeling someone or something as “racist” trumps all other facts and logic. The anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s has revisited America a half-century later in a new guise. Today, social justice warriors espy racists behind every bush. But tarring the ACP as exhibiting “racism” deprives the term “racism” of any meaning.

Let’s consider a few facts about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline is 600 miles long. Architects of the pipeline route circumvented sites of historical or cultural significance (including those associated with African-Americans), as well as sites of ecological importance, including large tracts of land protected by conservation easements and national park status. Concerned about the impact on local economies and local tax bases, the ACP made efforts (not entirely successful) to minimize impact on sites with economic value. The unavoidable consequence was to steer the pipeline through properties with less economic value.

Steering a pipeline through areas with lower property values means redirecting it from affluent areas to lower-income areas. Insofar as there is overlap between the lower-income population and the African-American population, that means routing the pipeline through areas populated by African-Americans. ACP didn’t route its pipeline with an intention of discriminating against African-Americans, it reconfigured the route in response to pressure emanating from those with political power. If there is institutional racism in the picture, it’s the superior ability of affluent white pipeline foes to protect their property.

Despite this unintentional bias in the routing process, it is difficult to see a disproportionate impact on lower-income or African-American Virginians in the numbers.

According to the ACP Environmental Impact Statementin Virginia 11.5% of the population lives below the poverty line. Thirty-four of the 63 census tracts in Virginia within one mile of the pipeline have a higher percentage of the population living below the poverty line when compared to the state. Consider how elastic this definition is. The pipeline doesn’t have run through a lower-income census district, it can run within a mile of such a district! Furthermore, the methodology fails to adjust the “poverty” line for the lower cost of rural living. Thus the percentage of poor Virginians who are truly poor — and the putative impact on truly poor people — is significantly overstated.

Likewise, minorities in Virginia comprise 30.8% of the population, according to the ACP’s Environmental Impact Statement. The pipeline route goes through, or within one mile of, census tracts with minority populations ranging from o.2% to 100%. In 15 of the 63 census tracts, the minority population is either (1) greater than 50% or (2) is meaningfully greater than the percentage of the minority population in that particular jurisdiction. Nice trick: Create two definitions for describing disparate impact and rather than pick one or the other, use both!

Despite the way the process is loaded, it strikes me that you would have gotten much the same impact if you had plotted the pipeline route by random chance. In 48 census tracts, the disparate-impact criteria do not apply.

In a state in which the African-American population is scattered throughout the countryside, it is impossible using random selection criteria to avoid impacting some African American landowners and communities. As it happens, one cluster of the minority communities in the path of the pipeline is located in Buckingham County near a proposed compressor station, the location of which was picked not because of proximity to African-Americans but because of the availability of an industrial parcel in proximity to the anticipated junction with the Transco pipeline.

The social justice warriors are focusing on one African-American community along a 600-mile pipeline and using it as a stand-in for the entire African-American population along the route. Then the SJWs purport to speak for that community (some of whose members may not share their views), and insist that the alleged injustices visited upon that single community are grounds for scuttling the entire project. If this logic prevails, SJWs will be given the power to exercise veto power over major infrastructure projects — not just gas pipelines, but electric transmission lines, highways, or any major industrial project — on the basis of race.

Of course, as I have frequently pointed out in other contexts, the SJWs are highly selective in assigning racism. One could just as easily describe the SJWs as the racists. Pipeline construction will open up hundreds of jobs for African-Americans working for the Laborers International Union of America. By augmenting local supplies of gas, the pipeline also will make rural counties with large African-American populations eligible to recruit new categories of manufacturing business.

Dominion Energy and other ACP partners would be fully within their rights to accuse the predominantly white SJWs of trying to shut off economic opportunities for blacks to advance their anti-fossil fuel agenda — an accusation which has considerable validity. Dominion doesn’t play the game that way. But I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

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