The Virginia DEQ only inspects pipeline projects on a “complaint driven basis.” In an effort to determine just how this works and to address an immediate and serious environmental problem, the DPMC filed a complaint with the DEQ on November 11, 2015 concerning non-compliance with erosion and sediment control and stormwater management requirements at the Columbia Gas of Virginia (CGV) pipeline project on Peters Mountain in Giles County, Virginia. See previous posts: Regulatory System Test and Peters Mountain Revisited.
The DEQ has not responded to our complaint. The only response from any responsible party was included in a Staunton Newsleader article, which reported the following:
Robert Innes, director of communication for Columbia Gas of Virginia, said the complaint by the coalition is misleading. He said there was a piece of equipment which had discharged diesel, but it was immediately cleaned up and they worked with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to address the issue.
“We were not aware it was out of service,” Innes said of the primary water supply. “There was an odor and we were notified about it and we remediated the area as part of our effort we worked with the property owner as well as DEQ to remediate it to their standards.”
Innes said he was not sure the situation was “qualified to be an event” where enforcement action by the agency was needed.
“We work in the right-of-ways, what they call these facilities, to maintain them and we protect the environment,” he said. “We do the right thing and we always have. I don’t know what their motive is behind this.”
Are CGV decision-makers suggesting that a responsible public water utility would continue to distribute diesel-contaminated water to its customers? Do they really consider contamination of a public water supply a non-event? Did they fail to read the DEQ investigation report where the spill site is described?
The diesel-contaminated soil, which had been covered with straw, was only cleaned-up after the water utility brought it to the attention of the DEQ and the DEQ brought it to the attention of CGV. If we can rely on CGV’s own activity logs, the clean-up occurred more than a month after the spill. (See the excerpts from the DEQ investigation report and the CGV activity log in the right sidebar.)
Beyond the Immediate Crisis
Public water supply contamination and continuing drainage from the pipeline corridor into the water supply source is a public health emergency. The DPMC complaint, however, goes beyond this immediate crisis —which involves a 12-inch-diameter pipeline, and illustrates on a local scale what we face on a regional scale.
Our complaint also concerns the multiple 42-inch-diameter pipelines proposed for this region, and the unacceptable environmental risk associated with pipeline construction on an unprecedented scale in steep mountain and karst valley landscape. It concerns the fact that we depend on a dysfunctional regulatory system.
Our complaint to the DEQ concerns the agency’s failure to review pipeline construction plans, to practice meaningful oversight, and to enforce compliance with basic environmental law and regulations. Our complaint to the DEQ is about a particular immediate and serious environmental problem, and it is about regulatory effectiveness in general. We are testing the system. We need to understand how it fails, and we need to find out what we can do about it.