The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.
The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.
Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”
The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading →
Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.
Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.
GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.
Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.
In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death. Continue reading →
On Wednesday, I was standing next to the Capitol grounds in Richmond watching brightly decorated cars and pickups drive on 9th Street, their horns blaring.
I was attending the drive by protest rally on assignment for Style Weekly and happened to speak to Jason Roberge, a Spotsylvania County resident who is one of several Republicans hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former covert CIA officer who represents the 7th Congressional district.
Roberge was there to protest what he says is Gov. Ralph Northam’s “terrible job” in temporarily shutting down businesses to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. The rally was part of a series of protests across the country that are being set up on cue from right-wing activists.
Roberge told me: ”I hear he’s (Northam’s) down on North Carolina beach while this is going on.” As he spoke the House of Delegates was holding a special session under an outdoor tent nearby while the Senate presided at the Science Museum of Virginia.
Northam at the beach? It turns out that the conservative echo chamber has been peddling a story, firmly denied by Northam’s office, that he was at his house in Manteo, N.C. not far from the beaches at Nags Head during the special General Assembly session. Continue reading →
Governor Ralph Northam has been taking his lumps, especially from critics on this blog, for his performance in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s been described as inept, incompetent, unresponsive and, incredibly, as potentially dictatorial.
What is indeed curious is that while Northam was slow to get moving on virus issues, he has gotten rave reviews from the public, at least according to one poll.
More than three quarters of those contacted, 76%, approve of how Northam is handling the coronavirus crisis, according to a statewide poll conducted by the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Of those, 40% have replied that they “strongly approve” of Northam’s performance. The approval ratings cross party lines, the poll reports, with the highest overall approval ratings being in Hampton Roads. Continue reading →
For weeks, the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., has been seen as the epicenter of the threat of COVID-19 at tightly packed health care facilities. So far, 37 patients have died of the virus.
It hardly gets the national media attention, but a suburban Richmond facility, the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, maybe surpassing Life Care with 35 deaths of the virus as of April 8.
Why so many deaths?
That’s an important question. There have already been signs of mismanagement there. Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas has been unusually scathing in his criticism of Canterbury. He has said that the deaths could have been avoided and administrators at the facility rejected offers of help from the county.
To be sure, early on Canterbury officials had asked for emergency supplies of medical equipment, such as face masks. They asked for state help and the state asked the federal government to let it have supplies from a stockpile it keeps for just such occurrences. Continue reading →
Statue of Gov. Harry F. Byrd on the state capitol grounds.
By Peter Galuszka
Right-wingers in Virginia have been apoplectic for months that Democrats finally captured the General Assembly after years of Republican control.
They also were enraged that the legislature this winter passed a number of reforms that would draw Virginia into the 21st Century such raising the minimum wage, boosting collective bargaining, tightening rules on carbon pollution and raising taxes for cigarettes, a deadly product.
Now such conservatives are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to throttle or delay such needed reforms. They have banded into groups such as the Coalition fort a Strong Virginia Economy. They have used the Virginia Municipal League’s complaints against the reforms, claiming they cost too much, as a way to derail new measures.
According to the left-leaning blog site Blue Virginia, one of the more extreme advocates for scrambling changes is Dave LaRock, a far-right Republican delegate from Loudoun County. A pronounced gay-basher, LaRock wants to squelch all of the reforms made by the more progressive General Assembly. Continue reading →
For years after the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” made millions of federal dollars available for states to expand Medicaid health coverage, Virginia Republicans steadfastly blocked Virginia from using the money.
Led by former House Speaker Bill Howell and Sen. Tommy Norment, the GOP claimed that expanding Medicaid to nearly 400,000 people would be too expensive and would blow out state funding.
This skinflint approach was finally put to rest after Democrat Ralph Northam became governor in 2018, foreshadowing a Democratic sweep of the General Assembly in elections last year.
Thank God the Democrats prevailed.
Virginia’s formerly robust economy has been shattered by the COVID 19 pandemic. Last week, some 110,000 Virginians filed for unemployment support. It was 46,277 the week before.
Who covers them is an open question but many would qualify for Medicaid. Expansion has boosted lower-income Virginians so that they may be able to better ride out the pandemic. Continue reading →
John Maynard Keynes, the British economist, advocated government spending and monetary intervention as suitable for modern economies.
When I was a student at a liberal college in New England in the early 1970s, we were taught that Keynes very much had the right idea. As evidence, we had the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson and, strangely, the Vietnam War. They all relied on vast amounts of deficit public spending.
Since then, free-market types came into favorable light and it all became the magic of the market, little regulation and other panaceas.
According to whom you read, pro-capitalism economist Milton Friedman admitted the necessity of Keynes’ thinking by stating, “We’re all Keynesians now.” President Richard Nixon, a Republican, is also credited with the quote when he took the U.S. off the gold standard.
The phrase is taking on increasing relevance with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia is no exception. Continue reading →
Veteran photographer Karen Kasmauski, who grew up in Norfolk, has a brilliant online project that shows the human and environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
She is a senior fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, a non-profit group that funded her project that centers mostly in rural Nelson and Buckingham Counties that would be dissected by the natural gas pipeline.
She combines spectacular aerial photos with deep close ups of people.
One of her subjects is Ella Rose, a retiree who lives in a small house in Union Hill. She was living a quiet happy life in her natural setting until she got a letter from Dominion Energy stating that they would be routing the ACP about 150-feet from her house.
Union Hill is a touchpoint for pipeline controversy since it is largely African-American community that ACP officials have selected for a compressor station. It is one of similar localities that seem to be targeted with other loud and disruptive equipment along the pipeline route. Continue reading →
For more than a decade, hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas and oil has transformed the American energy picture, leading to big revivals in such energy fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the Bakken field in the Dakotas.
It has prompted Dominion Energy and its utility partners to push forward with an $8 billion or so Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will take Marcellus gas through Virginia all the way to South Carolina. The project, tied up in court fights, has been enormously divisive as property owners have protested the utilities’ strong arm methods of securing rights of way.
But now there’s clear evidence that the fracking boom is over, and that has huge implications for the ACL project. The reason? Oil and gas prices have dropped thanks to a perfect storm of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic tanking the U.S. economy, bitter energy wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that fracking gas and oil rigs are enormously expensive and wells can produce for only a short period.
The Hill reported last week: “Oil sank to $23 (a barrel) from a high of $53 in mid-February, far below the break even point that producers need to drill new wells to maintain supply, and with volumes rapidly diminishing at existing wells.”
The newspaper points out that a fracking well can cost more than $10 million while a traditional well is only $2 million. As price pressure mounts, the number of wells nationally has plummeted from 790 to 772 in one week. At the Bakken field, reports The Washington Post, producers are cutting costs.
The situation has clear implications for the ACL project which was conceived at the height of the Marcellus boom. Dominion claimed that the gas would be badly needed in coming years while others claimed there isn’t enough demand. Continue reading →
These are some pejorative and racist names being bandied about for what is technically known as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. The disease associated with the virus is COVID-19.
These distinctions are part of a column written by the Virginia Asian Advisory Board in today’s Virginia Mercury. They write: “In an already anti-immigrant environment, Asians, particularly Chinese, are reportedly facing increasing acts of racism.”
They report that businesses with Asian-sounding names are being shunned, Uber and Lyft drivers are not giving rides of people based on their names and the social media is filled with stories critical of Asians, which is nuts because Asia is even more diverse than Europe.
Donald Trump, our Incompetent in Chief, is leading the charge for demeaning Asians by insisting on calling the virus the “Chinese Flu.”
During the 2016 campaign, he constantly put down Mexicans and other Latinos. That summer I was taken aback when I was at my neighborhood swimming pool. A group of what looked like eighth-grade boys was splashing around shouting “Mexico sucks!” I stopped them and asked them why they were saying that. They said, “That’s what Donald Trump says.” Continue reading →
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