BREDL Calls for Investigation of VA Governor Around Environmental Justice

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League called upon Virginia Inspector General Michael Westfall to investigate the firing of two State Air Pollution Control Board members by Governor Ralph Northam.   The request also cites threats by the state attorney general to disband the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.  The request centers on a proposed natural gas pipeline compressor station air permit.

Sharon Ponton, BREDL’s Stop the Pipelines Campaign Coordinator, stated, “Governor Northam’s actions to replace Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bleicher are unethical and corrupt.”    The letter of request written by Ponton to the IG details events she observed during the last few weeks.  She concluded, “We believe that when the Governor sees a decision being made he doesn’t like, he puts his thumb on the scale to ensure Dominion Energy gets its way.”
Lou Zeller, BREDL’s Executive Director stated, “Governor Northam, throughout the pipeline permitting process in Virginia, has tried to straddle the fence, but his true position has been made clear in the last few weeks.  He is disregarding the environmental racism being perpetrated on the freedmen community of Union Hill.”  BREDL has a case on the compressor station now before the Virginia Supreme Court, with arguments set for December 4.
Ponton’s request to the IG also pointed to recent actions by Northam to dismiss the findings of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.  She said, “We have asked the Inspector General to complete a thorough investigation into the Governor’s actions.  We believe the Governor abused his power, corrupted the permitting process, and broke with the public trust,” Ponton concluded.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League is a Virginia corporation with members and projects throughout the state.  Its chapter in Union Hill, Virginia, Concern for the New Generations, was founded in 2016 to oppose the natural gas pipeline and compressor station proposed by Dominion Energy.


Top FERC To-Do List – Gas Pipelines

Now that its quorum has been restored, one of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission‘s top priorities will be breaking the logjam of natural gas pipeline projects needing approval that built up over the six months since the body was last able to perform its duties. 
The U.S. Senate brought FERC back to fighting shape earlier this month with the confirmation of commissioners Republicans Robert Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and Neil Chatterjee, a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The two men, along with sitting Commissioner and acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat, give the five-member agency the three commissioners it needs to decide on any action requiring a vote.
While there’s a lot for the commission to catch up on, from projects to policy and regulatory matters, gas pipeline proposals are likely to be at the top of the list for quick action, said David Wochner, a partner at K&L Gates LLP and the firm’s policy and regulatory practice area leader.
“Pipeline infrastructure in the natural gas space … certainly provides one of the best opportunities for a newly constituted FERC,” Wochner said. “It’s an opportunity to really advance President Trump’s infrastructure initiatives, which obviously he talked about all through the campaign.”
There are five projects that are ready to be reviewed by the commission:
·        The $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a Dominion Energy Inc. project
·        The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline — a joint effort between EQT Midstream Partners LPNextEra Energy Inc. subsidiary NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Consolidated Edison Inc. subsidiary Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Holdings Inc. unit WGL Midstream, and RGC Resources Inc. unit RGC Midstream LLC
·        The $2.2 billion Nexus Pipeline, a DTE Energy Co. and Enbridge Corp. venture
·        The $1.8 billion Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline, a TransCanada Corp. project
·        The $1 billion PennEast Pipeline, a joint effort between Southern Co. Gas subsidiary AGL ResourcesNew Jersey Resources Corp. subsidiary NJR Pipeline Co., PSEG Power LLC, South Jersey Industries Inc. unit SJI Midstream, Enbridge Corp., and UGI Corp. subsidiary UGI Energy Services LLC

All have received their final environmental impact statements from FERC and are waiting for commissioners to decide whether to issue certificates of public convenience and necessity. Those certificates, issued under Section 7 of the federal Natural Gas Act, convey the power of eminent domain to the project owners to use as they construct a pipeline along a right-of-way approved by FERC.

Wochner said he thinks the Nexus and PennEast projects are the best candidates to be handled first, saying they’re both significant infrastructure projects that should be prioritized.
Dena Wiggins, president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association, said there’s no FERC meeting until September, so that would be the earliest any project could be aired in a public meeting. She said the projects could be certified “notationally,” meaning the members can vote on paper — outside of a meeting — and issue a certificate that way. But she added that’s unlikely.
“For big orders, usually staff makes a presentation to the commissioners,” Wiggins said. “Sometimes commissioners will want to make public statements.”
While the pipeline projects have made it through most of the FERC process so far, Kelly Martin, deputy director for the Sierra Club‘s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said that won’t be the end of the story.
“There is major pushback from communities around use of eminent domain, especially in Virginia and in West Virginia,” Martin said. “There are landowners that don’t want their land taken through the use of eminent domain when there’s no public good in the state where they are, or any need.”
In fact, both the Mountain Valley and Nexus pipelines are the subject of new lawsuits, both targeting FERC’s authority to grant eminent domain powers to pipeline companies.
Ohio residents are suing FERC and Nexus Gas Transmission LLC, the company created by DTE and Enbridge to develop the project, alleging the pipeline will primarily export gas, disqualifying it from meeting the “necessity” component of a FERC certificate of approval. The plaintiffs say exporting gas is not a public use for purposes of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment and is beyond the scope of the Natural Gas Act and FERC jurisdiction in cases involving eminent domain.
Separately, Virginia residents are suing FERC and Mountain Valley LLC, the company created to carry out the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, in another Fifth Amendment takings clause constitutional challenge to the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act.
Eugene Elrod, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, said the lawsuits show that landowners and other parties are looking for new ways to stop pipeline projects.
“If the lawsuits are successful, they would have far-reaching effects, because all pipelines that get certificates of public convenience and necessity from FERC need to exercise this power of eminent domain to condemn the property over which the pipeline will run,” Elrod said.
Martin said groups like the Sierra Club could also ask FERC to reconsider any authorizations granted on climate change or cumulative impact grounds.
“A major concern for us is the climate impacts of methane, which is released at the drilling site, from the pipelines along the way and then from a power plant, if that’s the end use,” she said.
–Additional reporting by Adam Lidgett, Michael Phillis and Keith Goldberg. Editing by Philip Shea and Katherine Rautenberg.
By Juan Carlos Rodriguez  Law360, New York (August 14, 2017, 8:48 PM EDT) —

Backyard Talk

Guest Blog: Fracking Impacts Without Drilling

Guest blog by Ann M. Nau, Vice President, Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community

In talking about ‘fracking’, oftentimes the industry tries to limit the discussion to the actual process of injecting liquid at high pressure into rock formations to extract gas. However, there is a broad network of infrastructure that is required to support that process, including storage facilities, compressor stations, metering stations, processing facilities, gathering lines, and intrastate and interstate pipelines. And regulatory oversight of those components falls to various local and federal agencies, if it is regulated at all. Very generally speaking, activities related to drilling fall under state authority while the federal government has oversight of interstate pipelines and associated facilities.  And what that means for towns like Myersville is that while there is currently no fracking in Maryland, the natural gas boom has already negatively affected our community.

Myersville is a picturesque rural community of approximately 1,600, nestled in the Middletown Valley of Frederick County, MD about 40 miles north of Washington, DC. It is a place where families have lived for generations and where newcomers have settled, seeking the serenity and closeness a small town offers.

And it is here, approximately 1 mile from our only elementary school that Dominion Transmission (DTI), a subsidiary of Virginia-based power giant Dominion, sought to build and operate a 16 thousand horsepower natural gas compressor station to move gas along its interstate pipeline. This station would annually release 23.5 tons per year of Nitrogen Oxides in addition to particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and green houses gases.

The citizens of Myersville were overwhelming opposed to this plan. We held rallies, wrote over 600 opposition letters, hired an attorney, and formed a community group.

In August of 2012, the Town Council unanimously voted against Dominion’s application to amend the Town Master Plan, finding among others things that the project posed a risk to the citizens.  And by doing so, the Town denied Dominion the necessary local zoning approval required by Maryland Department of the Environment to issue an air permit.  Despite all of this, in December of 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC authorized the project.  Armed with that certificate, DTI sued both the Town of Myersville and MDE, using the power of federal preemption granted in the Natural Gas Act to override local and state zoning.

FERC is an independent regulatory agency within the US Department of Energy with jurisdiction over interstate electricity sales, natural gas pricing, and oil pipeline rates.  It also reviews and authorizes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, interstate natural gas pipelines and hydropower projects. The   Commission is composed of five embers, or Commissioners, who are appointed by the President and

In spite of our best efforts, as you enter Myersville, you are greeted by Dominion’s toxic-emission spewing gas compressor station. And while Myersville may be one of the first communities in Maryland impacted by build out from fracking, I can assure you it will not be the last. Already, our friends in Cove Point, MD are battling the LNG export plant and Williams Transco seeks approval to increase compression capabilities in Howard County. In fact, an industry group states that to support natural gas drilling nationally, they will need PER YEAR for the next 25 years1:

•           850 miles of new natural gas transmission mainlines,

•           Over 800 miles of new laterals to and from power plants, processing facilities and storage fields

•           14,000 miles of new gas gathering lines

•           More than 580,000 hp for pipelines and gathering compression

To put that into perspective, here is a 2008 map of natural gas pipelines and compressor stations.

So when we discuss fracking, we need to consider all the impacts associated with it– from drilling rigs, compressor stations, pipelines, processing plants, storage facilities and export plants.  We must not allow separate regulatory schemes to divide and conquer us.  Because what happens to our neighbors in West Virginia, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Western MD, in Myersville, in Howard County, in Lusby, affects all us.


Ann M. Nau is the Vice President of the Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community,