We have been promised that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be environmentally responsible.
Governor McAuliffe made that promise when he joined Dominion in announcing the ACP project in September of 2014. Dominion has since informed us of its commitment to protection of natural resources in a series of full-page ads.
Pipeline construction on this scale, however, is unprecedented. The ACP would be the largest pipeline ever built across the central Appalachian region. It will cross dozens of steep mountains and high-quality streams. It will cross hydrologically sensitive karst landscape and groundwater supply recharge areas.
But Dominion says not to worry: water resources are protected by strict government oversight. We are told that pipeline construction will be subject to a well-tested, transparent, and effective regulatory system where the public has ample opportunity for input.
The reality for pipeline construction, however, is quite different. With respect to critical state regulatory requirements there is no actual agency review, oversight, or compliance enforcement. There is no real opportunity for public input.
Consider, for example, erosion and sediment control (E&SC) requirements, which should protect downstream waters from sedimentation and protect the integrity of stream channels from increased runoff that can persist long after construction. These are requirements that apply to almost every other land-disturbing development in the state.
Virginians will be surprised to learn that pipeline construction projects are essentially self-regulating when it comes to E&SC. Pipeline construction companies operate under general Annual Standards and Specifications, which allow them to perform their own E&SC plan review and conduct their own inspections —with company-hired reviewers and inspectors.
The Virginia DEQ has the authority to request and review site-specific E&SC plans, but it has not allocated staff resources to do so. The DEQ also has the authority to conduct inspections, but the DEQ is short on staff, and its inspection program is strictly complaint driven. DEQ is also supposed to review and approve submitted Annual Standards and Specifications, but again, resources are limited, and since assuming the program in 2013, the DEQ has simply extended previous approvals —despite the fact that more-protective regulations have since been adopted.
Dominion, it seems, expects that it will be able to continue to operate under out-of-date Annual Standards and Specifications. And strangely, a Dominion spokesman has explained that the DEQ will not require submission of E&SC plans due to an exemption provided by the federal Natural Gas Act.
Actually, the DEQ doesn’t seem to know whether it will request E&SC plans or not, and it’s not clear when a decision will be made.
Meanwhile, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition has asked Governor McAuliffe to direct the DEQ to take steps to obtain E&SC plans for the ACP and to make them available on a timely basis to citizens and local governments.
The Coalition and other conservation groups are prepared to step in and provide the expertise to support citizen review of these critical plans for compliance with Virginia laws and regulations.
The DEQ may not have the resources to review plans for the ACP, but what can be the justification for denying access to the public?
How can Governor McAuliffe keep his promise to the citizens of Virginia if he allows Dominion’s ACP to go forward without meaningful public oversight and accountability?
The above commentary was published on June 25th in the Staunton NewsLeader and in The Recorder. To date the only reply from the Governor’s office has been a form-letter expressing thanks for sharing ideas and concerns.