Trump administration proposes new pipeline protesting punishments

The Trump administration has proposed legislation that will make any act “inhibiting the operation” of a gas or oil pipeline punishable for up to 20 years in prison. Current federal law already makes any attempt or action of damaging or destroying a pipeline punishable by prison. The administration now wants to expand on current legislation to any pipeline opposition that prohibits the productivity in construction of a pipeline. Some states have already been enforcing such strict laws on protesters; however, environmental activists question if the law is an encroachment on First Amendment rights. Read More.

Homepage Water News

Court says “NO” to PennEast’s Pipeline in New Jersey

In a decision that could have implications for Pennsylvania landowners in the path of PennEast’s $1 billion natural gas pipeline, a U.S. appeals court on Tuesday barred the company from using federal law to seize properties controlled by New Jersey. New Jersey, which opposes construction of the 120-mile pipeline, did not consent to PennEast’s condemnation of 42 properties preserved by the state for farmland or open space. Read More.

Backyard Talk

Veto Ohio Senate Bill 33

If you live in a state with any type of oil, gas, pipeline, PAY ATTENTION! In fact, if we start seeing bills like the one before the Ohio legislature it doesn’t even have to be an oil/gas producing state.  The Ohio bill lists 73 different “Critical Infrastructures”. 
Below you will see a letter to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine from citizens of Ohio asking for him to veto SB 33 if it comes to his desk.  The letter will help you understand what is going on in many states.  
To Ohio Governor Mike DeWine:
The undersigned environmental justice, racial justice, civil justice, criminal justice, and other civil society groups and individuals urge you to veto Ohio Senate Bill 33 (SB 33). The bill would undermine and silence already marginalized voices. SB 33 is an unnecessary proposal that creates new draconian penalties for conduct already covered by existing criminal statutes and could have dire unintended consequences. SB 33 is part of a national trend of so-called “critical infrastructure” legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that is intended to neutralize citizen activism around oil and gas infrastructures. We urge you to oppose SB 33.
Critical infrastructure bills disproportionately affect some of the most underrepresented communities, criminalizing their right to protest. These bills target many already marginalized voices, in reaction to some of the most high-profile protests in recent history. Communities of color, low-wealth communities and our Native American population are most affected by unchecked environmental pollution; family farms have the most to lose by unfair land-grabs for large infrastructure projects. These communities have a right to peacefully resist environmentally unsafe and unjust policies and unchecked corporate abuse.
SB 33 is purportedly designed to protect critical infrastructure, but the definition of “critical infrastructure” is overly broad and would cover large swaths of the state in urban, suburban, and rural areas, creating the unintended consequence of ensnaring many in Ohio’s already overburdened criminal justice system.
Additionally, the bill does not distinguish between criminal damages of one dollar or a million dollars. At a time when many people, including lawmakers, have recognized the deleterious effects that mass incarceration has had on society and have attempted to rectify laws that have criminalized certain conduct or imposed unreasonable penalties, SB 33 is a giant step backwards. By creating a whole new class of nonviolent offenders who could serve serious prison time, it is antithetical to criminal justice reform.
Environmental advocacy, including civil disobedience, does not threaten physical infrastructure or safety. It threatens profits. Critical infrastructure bills are based on model legislation crafted by corporate interests to establish special protections for some private industries engaged in controversial practices that attract opposition and protest. These bills, including SB 33, are rooted in governments hostile attitudes toward environmental justice advocacy because it threatens the profits of these corporations. Whenever states enact legislation based on these hostile attitudes towards particular political speech, it has a chilling effect that will be felt widely.
We urge you to veto SB 33 if and when it comes across your desk. From a criminal justice reform perspective, this bill is damaging, as it creates new steep penalties for conduct that is already covered under existing criminal law. These new steep penalties and special protections for so-called critical infrastructure are rooted in animus towards anti-pipeline protesters. It is inappropriate for states to seek to legislate in order to penalize individuals for their First Amendment-protected points of view.


Movement against proposed gas pipeline inspires Virginia Episcopalians’

Episcopalians in Virginia are joining a movement to block a proposed mid-Atlantic gas pipeline that they say will disrupt and pollute minority communities and increase American dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the church and others are pushing for greater reliance on renewable energy sources. Read more.


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.

Backyard Talk News Archive

Citizens Take A Stand — While Governors Turn Their Backs

The governor in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia are whining about how they would stop the Mountain Valley or Atlantic Coast pipelines if they could. . . but they can’t.  Their hands are tied.  It’s a lie and they know it.
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Theresa "Red" Terry has planted herself in a tree in Southwest Virginia to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson
Theresa “Red” Terry has planted herself in a tree in Southwest Virginia to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson

Of course, they can stop a pipeline and the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled they can – again.  On April 30, 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Constitution Pipeline Co’s bid to challenge New York state’s refusal to issue a needed water permit for their project; a proposed natural gas pipeline running from Pennsylvania to New York.
Partners in the 125-mile Constitution pipeline includes Williams Cos Inc, Duke Energy Corp, WGL Holdings Inc and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.
While the Governors whine, the citizens take a stand. Theresa Red Terry and her daughter have been living in a tree platform for four weeks. They have been enduring snowstorms, bitter cold, heavy winds and torrential rains. The land was granted to Theresa’s husbands family by the King of England in Colonial times. (Photo credit
Police are charging the Terrys with trespassing on their own land. Waiting at the base of the trees are police ready to grab them when they come down. Food and water is no longer allowed to be provided to either woman.
A company (EQT) is seeking eminent domain to seize a 125-foot-wide easement from the family. EQT has successfully petitioned for a “right to early entry” for tree felling. The company wants the court to levy stiff fines or get federal marshals to bring them down. The judge has ordered the Terrys to appear in court. She’s not leaving the tree to go to court.
Equally disturbing, EQT will locate the noisy polluting compressor station in Union Hill, VA a historical African American community. A former “Slave Cemetery” is located in the path for destruction.
The Terry family is not alone.  Property rights advocates, environmentalists and faith leaders to name a few are standing with them. But time, food and water are running out.
Virginia’s governor Northam, has the authority to protect clean water and his Department of Environmental Quality can halt pipeline construction if standards have not been met, based on a law he signed this year.
However, his own Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has deferred to the Trump administration’s misuse of a “nationwide” Clean Water Act permit allowing the pipelines to alter more than 1,000 streams and rivers.
The governor could make one phone call to his DEQ director and halt the project. But he has not. Instead the “salt of the earth” American family will go to court and maybe jail for defending their rights to their land, trees and environment. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


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

Southern Community Groups Call for the Right to Say No to Natural Gas Facilities

Campaign to Safeguard America’s Resources Today community groups in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia called for the establishment of local veto power over natural gas extraction, transport and use. At rallies, marches and other public events extending from Floyd, Virginia, across North Carolina to Valdosta, Georgia, people joined in a chorus of protests against pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, hydrofracking wells and waste dumps and for the restoration of property rights and local control over energy policy in the Southeast.

Lou Zeller, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said, “Today we launch the campaign to Safeguard America’s Resources because of our nation’s dangerous reliance on fossil fuel, including natural gas, which pollutes the air and water. But we also see a parallel danger to our communities, to our society and to our democracy from a dominant oil and gas industry.”

At press conferences in county courthouses, community buildings, a university and a small church, League chapters called for action to halt natural gas facilities in their communities. Following the speeches, they joined caravans and parades to focus public opposition at the local government level. Events across the region echoed the twin themes of danger and opportunity.

Kim McCall, Secretary of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, North Carolina, spoke against hydro-fracking and the expansion of Duke Energy’s natural gas power plant in Hamlet. She said, “We are petitioning local governments for the ability to veto projects that threaten our homes, our families and our neighbors.” The group has petitioned EPA to deny the air permit to increase toxic air pollution by 36% from the combustion turbine electric power plant in her backyard.

To launch their campaign in Lee County, North Carolina, members of EnvironmentaLEE held a prayer vigil and rally at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, which is located in front of the brickyard in Sanford where the dumping 8 million tons of Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash is proposed. Deb Hall, a member of EnvironmentaLEE, said, “We are already ground zero for fracking, and the North Carolina General Assembly stripped local governments of their ability to control fracking and coal ash dumping. This threatens our health, the environment, community self-determination, and property rights.”

Mark Laity-Snyder, a founding member of Preserve Franklin county, joined others carrying black coffins in a caravan to Floyd, Virginia. He said, “We chose a coffin to represent the loss of a basic American right, the right to be secure in our homes without private companies taking our land.” Jenny Chapman, from nearby Preserve Bent Mountain, said, “For a corporation like Mountain Valley Pipeline to override the rights of private citizens to their land, safety and quality of life is unacceptable.”

Pat Hill, co-founder of Person County PRIDE in Roxboro, North Carolina, said, “My husband and I live next to the Republic mega-dump. We want to have a voice in protecting our water and air quality because we live with it every day.” She continued, “The toxic wastes deposited here endanger our health and the health of our neighbors. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead and many other poisons. Because hydrofracking uses secret contaminants, it could have an unknown number of dangerous compounds.”

Michael G. Noll, President of Wiregrass Activists for Clean Energy in Valdosta, Georgia, sounded a note of hope, saying, “This is the beginning of a new era, where we see the unified efforts of communities across the nation to safeguard America’s resources, to wean ourselves of fossil fuels, and to protect the unalienable rights of citizens to clean water and air. I am convinced that safe and renewable sources of energy like solar and wind will be the lunar landing of our generation.”

Mara Robbins, Virginia Campaign Coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and organizer of the Floyd March and Demonstration, said, “We chose to have this action here because we stand in solidarity with all the counties that are resisting the threat of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” She pointed to many different communities in three states that are calling for community-level veto power over fossil fuel projects. Referring to her success in pushing the pipeline route out of her home county, she said, “Though Floyd is not in the line of fire at the moment, we claim the right to say NO to dangerous proposals that utilize eminent domain over the wishes of the people. And we think all communities deserve that right.”

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League was founded in 1984. The organization has a thirty-year track record of victories over polluting facilities.

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,