The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has sent a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe restating questions we asked him in a previous letter dated July 25, 2017. The lack of a response from the Governor forces citizens to guess at his attitudes, based on the actions of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on the two huge natural gas pipelines proposed to cross the state. Unfortunately, DEQ’s continued mishandling of regulatory reviews for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) proposals provides a disheartening hint to the Governor’s position. The questions DPMC continues to ask:
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?
These questions become more relevant by the day. Since that July 25 letter was sent, a federal appeals court has upheld New York’s action to strictly regulate a natural gas pipeline and deny certification under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Our neighboring states have judged the information and analyses supposed to justify CWA section 401 water quality certification (WQC) of each major pipeline to be inadequate. These judicial and state actions further illustrate that Virginia has all necessary authority to reject pipeline projects unless it is proven that water protection standards will be met and that the evidence now before the State fails to meet that requirement for either ACP or MVP.
In DPMC’s letter, David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory Systems Investigator, noted that the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New York State’s denial of a WQC for the Constitution Pipeline, rejecting pipeline company claims that New York had exceeded its authority. In stark contrast to New York’s defense of its citizens and environment, now justified in court, “[r]ecords show that [Virginia] environmental officials have so far refused to even seriously consider recommending denial of WQCs in these cases, apparently willing to cede the powers reserved to states in the CWA,” as noted in the letter.
Other recent decisions, by West Virginia and North Carolina officials, have revealed serious gaps in the information and analyses presented, respectively, for MVP and ACP. Faced with a lawsuit by citizens over its issuance of a WQC for MVP, the West Virginia DEP was compelled to admit it did not have sufficient evidence to uphold its decision and remanded that decision for further analysis. The North Carolina DEQ recently determined it needed a significant amount of new information to properly assess waterbody impacts from ACP.
The flaws in Virginia’s evidence to support draft WQCs for the two damaging pipelines are even more serious than those identified by North Carolina and Virginia must follow the wise path North Carolina has chosen – not continue to continue in flawed processes, such as that West Virginia was forced to abandon for MVP. Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, stated: “Governor McAuliffe must recognize that Virginia’s reviews of these pipelines are fatally flawed. We can only hope he’ll insist DEQ abandon its rush to judgement and restore integrity to these processes; that he not burden Virginia taxpayers with the expense of defending the indefensible in court.”