About a year ago James Golden, Director of Operations at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), indicated that applications for water quality certification of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) could be denied “in theory.” (1) We are calling on Governor Terry McAuliffe to take action now to ensure that DEQ’s enforcement of the law is more than theoretical; that the certain damages these proposals would cause to hundreds of our streams and wetlands are honestly acknowledged by DEQ and prevented.

In a letter to the Governor dated July 25, 2017, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) described how the Governor’s top environmental officials have skewed the regulatory reviews of these major pipeline proposals. State records and public statements clearly show that DEQ has failed even to acknowledge its duty to deny water quality certifications for the ACP and MVP, despite the Clean Water Act’s mandate that DEQ do so.

In a recently-revealed letter, Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward wrote to Dominion Power that “there can be no predetermined outcomes” in the State’s actions on proposals for the pipelines. But as David Sligh stated in DPMC’s letter, “[t]hat assurance rings hollow in light of records describing DEQ’s deliberations.” (2)

DPMC has reviewed thousands of administration documents describing deliberations on pipeline reviews and has yet to find any discussion of possible denial of certifications. “That option seems to have been taken off the table at the very beginning of the State’s process,” stated Rick Webb, Coordinator of DPMC. As DPMC’s July 25 letter asserts to the Governor, “[u]nfortunately, your endorsement of these projects before regulatory reviews had even begun set the tone that has led to this result. Your promises and those of your top environmental officials will be broken if the State proceeds as currently planned. Only you can correct this situation and restore the public’s trust in our government’s actions.”

DPMC is calling on the Governor to order Secretary Ward and DEQ Director David Paylor to reject its irresponsible approach. To do so, the premature public comment periods now under way must be re-started or extended and the scheduled hearings must be postponed until the State has gathered all necessary information, made the correct comprehensive analyses, incorporated all findings into its water quality certification review, and formed recommendations that truly meet its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and state laws.

DEQ officials may claim Mr. Golden’s statement was a mistake or was wrongly characterized by the reporter. Perhaps, this is akin to DEQ’s release of false information in April of this year and its refusal to correct the public record for many weeks, and only then when directly questioned about its intentions. However, we cannot credit a claim of mistake, because all of DEQ’s actions contradict such an assertion.

As stated in DPMC’s letter,

DEQ has devised a confusing and evolving system of partial and inadequate regulatory measures that do not fulfill its legal duties. Most of the state actions done outside individual Clean Water Act section 401 reviews exclude citizens from any useful role. By following a piecemeal approach and segregating reviews of various pollution threats, DEQ proposes to avoid unified considerations of impacts.

Through this method, DEQ has merely facilitated the pipeline companies’ plans instead of regulating them to the extent of its authority. Further, DEQ’s reliance on blanket approvals of activities that pose the most serious water quality threats, such as crossings of waterbodies by cutting and blasting through our sensitive mountain streams, ignores the concerns expressed by the State’s own technical experts.

DEQ’s resistance to considering rejection of threats to water quality is not in line with actions it has taken on proposals by other parties. The Department has rejected permit applications for facilities such as wastewater discharges and held other construction projects to stringent stormwater control requirements. In stark contrast, the pipeline companies have gotten special deals. Certainly, other applicants for State approvals will be dismayed to know they’ve been treated differently than the politically-powerful sponsors of ACP and MVP.

Also, other states have faithfully fulfilled their Clean Water Act duties to reject proposals when pipeline builders failed to meet their burdens of proof and show that their projects could meet all water quality requirements. As DPMC’s letter asked the Governor: “Do Virginian’s deserve less protection than our fellow citizens? Will you accept DEQ’s proposals to forego its responsibilities where others have fully exercised their authorities to protect their citizens and environments?”

DPMC calls on our local and state government officials, our fellow citizens, and other regulated parties to join our call to Governor McAuliffe. DEQ must do its job fairly and completely. Approval of damaging projects by DEQ must never be presumed but granted only when all protections are assured. That’s what the law commands and, just as importantly, what the Governor has promised.

For more information, contact:
David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory System Investigator, davidwsligh@yahoo.com, 434-964-7455