The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition has initiated the Twelve Days of Accountability. On each of 12 days beginning in mid-December we are submitting at least one Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) to Virginia state officials and agencies responsible for oversight of pipeline construction.
With regulatory approvals for both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipeline proposals seemingly on the fast track for the coming year, we are alarmed by the lack of state agency engagement and by apparent political interference.
The Twelve Days of Accountability is an information-gathering prelude to our pending challenge to federal reliance on Virginia’s implementation of Clean Water Act requirements. We intend to petition the EPA to withdraw delegation of authority to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.
One of the first of the FOIA requests was submitted last week to Governor Terry McAuliffe for all pipeline-related documents exchanged between the Governor’s office and state agencies and between the Governor’s office and companies associated with the two pipeline proposals. This request follows the Governor’s recent requirement that all state agencies inform his office before public comment on the pipeline proposals.
Given the Governor’s earlier promise of support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline prior to environmental review of the proposal, we are concerned that political considerations have preempted objective analysis by state agency scientists. We have asked the Governor to honor his even-earlier promise to establish a new standard of transparent and accountable state government.
Among our FOIA submissions to state agencies, we are asking the DEQ for all erosion and sediment control plans, agency inspection reports, and notices of violation for pipeline construction projects for which variances for critical open-trench limits have been granted.
It seems that the DEQ, which has oversight authority for construction projects in Virginia, does not obtain or review erosion and sediment control plans for pipeline projects and it only inspects pipeline projects in response to complaints.
It seems that DEQ involvement with pipeline projects is limited to granting variances for critical regulatory requirements.
Virginia’s Erosion and Sediment Control regulations establish minimum standards, including the requirement for construction in utility corridors that limits the length of open trench to 500 feet at any given time. This is critical for trenching on steep mountainsides where erosion and stormwater control are especially problematic. Pipeline companies, however, routinely apply for and routinely receive waivers to the open-trench limitation. The DEQ evidently does not consider slope steepness, difficult topography, soil erodibility, or project design factors when approving requests for waivers.
Among open-trench variances granted for pipelines since 2012, nine authorized open-trench lengths of more than a 1,000 feet, and six authorized open trench lengths of more than a mile.
The longest variance approved by the DEQ allowed an open trench of 15 miles.
The variance issue will prove critical to effective regulation of the proposed ACP and MVP, which both cross multiple steep mountains and will both require much wider and deeper trenches than previous pipelines in the region. The developers for both pipelines are expected to seek variances.
DEQ’s responses to our information requests should serve to definitively establish the degree to which the agency is fulfilling its responsibilities under state law and the Clean Water Act.