All posts by Wild Virginia

DEQ’s Stop Work Order to MVP is Appropriate But It’s Not Enough

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s announcement yessterday, that the agency is issuing a stop work “instruction” for a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is welcome news. However, DEQ inspector’s own reports, supplemented by hundreds of citizen complaints, show that in 2019 MVP has continued the pattern of repeated and frequent violations and infliction of damages documented in Virginia’s lawsuit against MVP last year. These problems are found along the entire pipeline route, have polluted numerous waterbodies, and have violated the property rights of dozens of private landowners.

Action by DEQ to address individual or small sets of violations are necessary and appropriate but they will not force MVP to solve the systemic problems that have existed since the day tree cutting began. We call on DEQ to go further.

The hundreds of new violations committed since Virginia filed suit against MVP in 2018 must be added to that complaint and all appropriate remedies must be pursued in that state court action to stop the violations. Further, the State of Virginia must tell FERC to issue a project-wide stop work order and to either suspend or revoke the Commission’s approval for MVP. Mountain Valley has clearly shown that it is not able or willing to meet all of the requirements established by FERC and other regulatory agencies and it must be stopped.

David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director stated: “Responding to damage after it has occurred is simply not good enough. DEQ and the State Water Control Board have a duty to protect Virginia’s waters and its people – not just to document the damages and seek penalties that can never adequately compensate for the losses imposed.”

Wild Virginia agrees with DEQ Director Paylor that it is appalling that “construction priorities and deadline pressures would ever rise above the proper and appropriate use of erosion control measures.” But that appalling condition has not just been present in the limited area targeted by DEQ’s order today. MVP has simply refused to meet its legal requirements and clearly believes it can continue to push this project through with only minor interference by regulators.

Wild Virginia has reviewed 115 DEQ inspection reports for the period between January 1 and June 20, 2019. On each of these inspection reports, inspectors judge whether “all control measures [have been] properly maintained in effective operating condition in accordance with good engineering practices and, where applicable, manufacturer specifications.” On an astounding 60% of those inspection reports, DEQ inspectors had to answer “no” on this item, meaning that pollution controls were not properly maintained to protect our resources. For 17% of the reports, DEQ inspectors indicated that pollution controls had not been even been “installed or implemented” in accordance with approved plans.

In addition to these overall ratings from each inspection, DEQ personnel looked at many individual sites and, in many cases, document multiple problems on each report. Overall, we counted 302 separate problems cited on the DEQ reports for 2019. According to DEQ sediment was deposited off the MVP right of way 32 times and in nearly a dozen cases waterbodies were directly affected. This does not account for the many additional instances when sediment-laden water muddied our streams and wetlands.

Sligh stated: “We support DEQ’s action today and we acknowledge that DEQ inspectors are documenting many problems on the pipeline. Members of the public are also documenting the horrible damages occurring out there. Now what we need is action that is forceful enough and comprehensive enough to stop the destruction of our resources before more damage is done.” 

Wild Virginia Aids the Common Agenda

What is the Common Agenda?

Every year the Virginia Conservation Network (VCN) releases a briefing book entitled Our Common Agenda. The briefing combines the policy agendas of over 100 organizations across Virginia to form one, concise compilation of conservation goals. The agenda aims to address the most pressing conversation issues with realistic statewide policies. The VCN recently released the 2020 edition of Our Common Agenda, which includes input directly from Wild Virginia

How is Wild Virginia Involved?

This year Wild Virginia helped write a paper with for the briefing book about habitat connectivity. We were honored to help work on this paper because habitat connectivity is a core focus at Wild Virginia. The paper explains the need for increased connectivity in our Commonwealth, outlines the negative effects of fragmented habitats, and shows the benefits of more connected areas. Then, a solution is proposed. The paper suggests establishing a group of experts to analyze potential wildlife corridors in Virginia and creating a strategy that would best protect those wildlife corridors.

How Can You Support Our Common Agenda?

If you are interested in looking further into the briefing book, it is available to download here.  Many of the papers outline specific ways you can help contribute to conservation in Virginia.

Tell Governor Northam NO MORE Fossil Fuel Projects in Virginia!

by Hunter Frakes

Wild Virginia needs your help in signing on to a letter addressed to Ralph Northam demanding that he put a stop to fossil fuel projects in our state!

WHAT THE LETTER SAYS:

Over the past few years, we have seen the approval of multiple large-scale fossil fuel projects here in Virginia, such as the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines.  Since the approval of these projects, we have seen countless examples of their negative environmental impacts.  Unfortunately, the current administration is poised to approve two more fossil fuel projects, the Transco Southeastern Trail Expansion and the MVP Southgate projects.

Doing so would increase Virginia’s dependence on fossil fuels and cause further harm to our wild areas.  In addition to harming the environment, these projects have put our most vulnerable communities at risk, as many of those affected are low-income communities, communities of color, or indigenous communities.

Because of this, Wild Virginia and other organizations have taken to signing a letter addressed to Governor Northam that urges him to do his duty of protecting Virginia’s communities and the future of our environment.  We ask that he publicly opposes all future and current fossil fuel projects in the state and increases our role in the production of renewable energy!

HOW YOU CAN HELP: 

If you are against the fossil fuel industry and instead support clean, renewable energy, sign this letter today!  You have until August 3rd, and both individuals and organizations can sign on.

Pipeline Updates: Where Do We Stand?

By Julia Travers

The efforts to stop the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines (ACP and MVP) have made enormous progress over the last few years, with Wild Virginia and its allies playing central roles. These unneeded pipelines directly threaten local drinking water, homes, endangered species’ habitats, parks, economies and other vital interconnected systems and attributes of the Southeast. The passionate movement-building, legal prowess and conviction of Wild Virginia, its partners and concerned community members have produced incredible results, and these advocates are far from finished.

Legal Victories

In 2018, Wild Virginia and our allies won suits against the U.S. Forest Service, striking approvals for both ACP and MVP. A court found the Forest Service failed in its duty to protect our natural treasures. As the Forest Service returns to the drawing board, Wild Virginia and other committed groups will continue to fight for adequate reviews and rejections of crossings of the national forests.

One of the most important wins of this saga was the courts’ decision that the Forest Service cannot permit crossings of the Appalachian Trail — this could potentially be an insurmountable barrier for both pipelines.

Appalachian Trail, courtesy of Jerry Edmundson, CC 2.0 on Flickr

Also, Army Corps of Engineers approvals for ACP and MVP to cross wetlands and streams are now invalid or suspended. And, the courts struck the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit. A citizen challenge centering on potential harm to endangered and threatened species played a major role in this decision. The Service issued another flawed permit, and citizens again challenged that action. The federal court is currently deciding whether the agency has failed to carry out its duties, once again.

Current News and What You Can Do

“On the ACP, the goal is simple. Construction is now stopped, and we intend that it never start again and that as much of the damage already caused be repaired,” Wild Virginia Conservation Director David Sligh says.

The MVP has been allowed to continue its destruction of areas “upland,” even though work on other parts of the route are prohibited. Wild Virginia is leading coordinated efforts by attorneys from nearly a dozen organizations to push for strong enforcement actions, with a goal to stop MVP’s violations and halt the project.

“On the MVP, we need the Virginia State Water Control Board to intervene in our case before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and support our call for the federal authorization to be revoked or suspended. We also want to see the Virginia lawsuit against MVP result in a corrective action plan and substantial penalties that will be a true deterrent to future bad behavior,” Sligh says.

Sligh says the best action for concerned community members to take right now is to sign the “online petition to tell our Senators to stop Dominion from getting a special deal and being allowed to mar amazing public resources like the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway.”

Sugar Hollow Hike June 23rd

by Cecile Trivigno

On Sunday, June 23rd,  a group of Wild Virginia members went on a hike to Sugar Hollow. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the weather was absolutely perfect for an afternoon hike.

The Hike Begins!

Seven Wild Virginians set off on a hike led by Misty Boos, Hunter Frakes, and I. The objective of this hike was to educate members on what it takes to be an outings leader for the organization. At the trailhead, we went over the rules for backcountry areas such as Sugar Hollow, as well as the rules for wilderness areas. We also stopped to discuss National Forests and their purposes and reviewed leave no trace principles. As we walked through the woods, Hunter provided fun facts about the Sugar Hollow area and captured the attention of the hiking group.

When we arrived at Big Branch Falls, the group took a break and swam in the river. Moorman’s river runs along most of the Sugar Hollow trails and is a designated scenic river in Virginia. We found a lot of interesting things at the falls including moss, salamanders, crawdads, fungi, and mudstone. After the group was satisfied with the time we spent in the swimming hole, we began the hike back to the trailhead.  At the end of the hike, we reviewed the paperwork necessary to execute an outing with Wild Virginia. Finally, we went over how to follow up with event attendees.

The hikers were appreciative of the opportunity to learn about leading and had a wonderful time in the woods. We hope that everyone who came gives leading outings with Wild Virginia a try. We can’t wait to see where our new leaders take the organization! Our volunteers are the future of Wild Virginia.

Get Involved

If you find yourself interested in going on hikes with Wild Virginia, check out our Outings and Education page to see what we are planning next! Our outings include hiking, overnight camping, and fun water activities like canoeing and kayaking.

Comment on USFS rule changes today!

by Hunter Frakes

Last week the U.S. Forest Service revealed efforts to remove the public from the decision making process.  Through proposed rule changes to their National Environmental Policy Act compliance standards, in many cases they would be allowed to avoid thorough environmental review, or any review at all, before mining and logging our National Forests.   

 A public comment period for this amendment to our environmental laws is open until the new, extended deadline of August 26th, 2019.  Cutting corners in protecting our forests is unacceptable, and it is imperative that we tell that to the Forest Service!

WHAT THE RULE CHANGE SAYS:

Under this new rule, up to 4,200 acres of forest, or 6.6 sq. miles, can be completely cleared by logging without any public involvement.  Also, up to 1 sq. mile of land can be mined without notifying the public, and 5 miles of roads built. This would be disastrous for the recreational forest areas we own, love, and share.  

HOW TO HELP:

The first comment period for this proposed change only received ~1000 comments from the entire nation on a law that affects millions of acres, and the current period only has 16 comments as of June 21st.  Let the Forest Service know what you think of their efforts to avoid environmental reviews and public input before the August 26th deadline below:

1. Public participation portal (preferred): https://www.regulations.gov/​.

2. Mail: NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker; USDA Forest Service, 125 South State Street, Suite 1705, Salt Lake City, UT 84138.

3. Email: nepa-procedures-revision@fs.fed.us.

If you have questions about how to make an effective public comment, you can contact us here at info@wildvirginia.org.  You can also refer to this public comment guide by the Brookings Institution.

New Pipeline CSI Website Goes Live

Wild Virginia is excited to announce that the new website for Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance’s (ABRA) Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program is up and running! The purpose of the CSI is “to support citizen efforts to ensure strict application of environmental laws and regulations in the event the pipeline goes forward.” Wild Virginia is a proud member of ABRA. 

The website contains information about how volunteers can become involved in the program. Furthermore, there are examples of non-compliance issues and numerous technical resources, including the unique CSI mapping system. The mapping system uses photos and images taken from planes flying over the pipeline route. Users can manipulate the map to find out more about land ownership, karst, and more along the route. Volunteer pilots who are passionate about stopping the pipeline fly the planes that gather the images.

Have Questions?

If you have any questions about the website, please direct them to: mailto:csi@abralliance.org.

Attorneys urge Board to revoke water quality certification for MVP

Attorneys representing 10 local, state, and regional organizations sent a letter today to the members of the State Water Control Board, urging the Board quickly start a process to revoke the water quality certification issued for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). At the same time, the attorneys strongly urge the Board to use enforcement tools available to it to stop work on the pipeline while the revocation process goes forward.

These attorneys were answering a letter MVP sent to DEQ Director David Paylor on February 12, 2019 that was subsequently given to Water Board members. MVP claims that a “cooperative effort [between MVP and DEQ] on the Project has achieved a high level of environmental protection and overall is in very good order.” However, the evidence demonstrates otherwise.

Today’s letter states: “In truth, the evidence shows a systematic and continual pattern of flouting the law and causing harm as a consequence. When caught in violations, MVP sometimes responds to those individual occurrences but does not seek to find and fix the other locations where those same conditions exist.”

 Today’s letter also provides arguments to counter MVP’s contention that the state lacks authority to revoke the certification. The company claims Virginia passed up its chance to rule on the certification in the first place and that a condition imposed by Virginia allowing revocation is not enforceable – this in spite of the fact that MVP went to federal court to defend this same certification.

Read More:

Letter to State Water Control Board

Attachment A to Letter to SWCB

Attachment B to Letter to SWCB

Attachment C Letter to SWCB

Attachment D to Letter to SWCB

Governor Uses Loophole to Hide Documents in Responses to FOIAs on Air and Water Boards, Meeting with Dominion

In response to requests for documents about meetings and deliberations that may relate to Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Governor’s office has supplied some records but has withheld other, crucial information. When faced with a choice between open government and concealment, Governor Northam made the wrong choice, relying on state law provisions that allow, but do not require, him to shield certain public information from the people of Virginia.

We are disappointed that the Governor has refused to release all the records we requested. The result is, while we have acquired some information, those documents do not answer vital questions that many Virginians are asking:

Did Governor Northam manipulate the process for Air Board appointments to influence the upcoming decision on Dominion’s proposed Buckingham compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)?

Did Governor Northam discuss the ACP and Air Board appointments in a private meeting with Dominion officials on November 19, when a public furor over the changes in Air Board membership was raging?

As we stated in our FOIA requests, while we anticipated that the administration may claim the exemptions provided in the statute, we hoped they would choose to let the public see the records.

Statements from the Northam administration about the Air Board personnel changes have been met with widespread public skepticism (See: Northam’s struggle to explain air board move suggests it’s exactly what it appears to be, Virginia Mercury, December 5; Ugly episode:’ Northam allies slam his decision to alter board before Dominion vote, Washington Post, November 27; Northam can seek independent voices, or mere rubber stamps, for his boards, Virginian-Pilot, November 23). If assertions provided by administration spokespersons are true, the Governor could only benefit from a full public airing of the records. His hesitancy to do so can only contribute to Virginian’s doubts and taint the regulatory process for the ACP.

Here’s what Wild Virginia did receive via emails from the Governor’s office late on December 6th:

Air and Water Board Member Removals/Appointments
The email responding to the FOIA request can be found here The administration states that “the Office is withholding five documents pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2.2-3705.7(2).” This Code section allows for withholding of records deemed to be “working papers” in the possession of the Governor’s office.

At this link is a document combining a series of emails and other correspondence to (and between) government officials regarding both Air and Water Board membership. Many of the records include recommendations from various parties for members of both Boards, applications and resumes from candidates, and correspondence with members of the news media.

It is notable that there are emails from late October through November 7, 2018 where administration officials mention plans to discuss Air and Water Board appointments, indicating that these processes had begun before the Air Board’s November 9 meeting. However, there is a gap in the correspondence within the Governor’s office followed, abruptly, by letters from the Governor dated November 16, 2018 asking the Secretary of the Commonwealth to prepare commissions for the prospective appointees. The key factor, the advice and reasoning followed in making these decisions, is entirely missing.

Excluded Information 
Again, the excluded information could possibly answer some of the questions to which the public demands answers. The bottom line is that we still don’t know whether the Governor’s actions were influenced by concerns that the dismissed Air Board members, Ms. Rubin and Mr. Bleicher, had expressed about DEQ’s proposed Air permit for the Buckingham compressor station.

The Meeting Between Governor Northam and Thomas Farrell
Thomas Farrell, Dominion’s president and CEO, met with the Governor on November 19, a fact that is known to the public only because citizens received a tip and filmed Farrell leaving the office. We and others wanted to know whether the Air Board and ACP were discussed at that meeting.  Again, the Governor’s office withheld two records under the “working papers” allowance (access Northam FOIA Farrell mtg. 12.6.18)

In emails setting up the meeting parties mention an initiative between Dominion and Smithfield addressing “a major methane containment proposal” as the stated purpose for the meeting. Given that the Governor’s office has cited this same reason for the meeting and that the project has now been widely publicized, if no other matters were discussed, we must wonder what those concealed records pertain to.

We believe the circumstances surrounding the Air Pollution Control Board appointments continue to create a question whether principles of due process have been breached for the Buckingham compressor station permit. We hoped the Governor would remove this cloud of doubt.

Wild Virginia calls on the Governor to correct this problem and we call on our members across Virginia and our allies to continue to call for Rubin and Bleicher to be allowed to vote at next week’s Air Board hearing. The people of Union Hill and all Virginian’s are depending on a fair process and this action can help ensure it.

Link to the Wild Virginia Press Release