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Frequently Asked Questions

Making Comments at the Virginia State Water Control Board Meetings

The Virginia State Water Control Board, a citizen board that has authority over certain permits affecting Virginia’s waterways, will hold meetings this month on permit applications for the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast fracked-gas pipelines. Citizens who previously submitted comments to the State Water Control Board—by signing an organization’s petition, or by writing their own comments, or by speaking at the August public hearings—will be given the opportunity to testify and comment one final time at these meetings. Comments must focus on the VA Department of Environmental Quality’s summary of comments citizens made during the public comment period in July and August.

Public comments will only be received on the FIRST DAY of these two-day meetings. DEQ will present on the second day, after which the Board will consider the permits.

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Can I comment at the upcoming water board meetings?
Only those persons who commented during DEQ’s official water quality certification public comment period (July 3, 2017 – August 22, 2017) may speak. These persons may speak for up to 3 minutes to respond to the summary of the prior proceedings, including DEQ’s summary of comments received during the public comment period.

If you did any of the following, you CAN give a comment at the upcoming water board meetings:

• provided spoken comment at the recent DEQ public hearings back in August,
• sent in a written comment during the public comment period,
• and/or signed an organization’s petition to the DEQ during the comment period.

2. How long do I have to comment?
3 minutes to comment! If you would like to volunteer to pool your comment time with another speaker. See Question 3 below.

3. Can I give my time someone else (like a directly impacted landowner or water expert)?
Yes you can! You MUST attend the state water control board meetings in person and note that you are giving your time to someone else when you sign in.

4. Can I share materials when I am giving my comment?
Yes you may! If you have material that you want to share with the Board, the DEQ staff will distribute to them, but you will need to bring at least 12 copies. Also, remember that comments at the Board meeting are limited to responding to the summary of the July 3, 2017 – August 22, 2017 public comment period that has been provided by the Department to the Board.

Developing Your Comments:
As we mentioned before, it is very important that you review the VA DEQ’s summary of the prior proceedings including DEQ’s summary of comments received during the public comment period and respond to them in your comments. You can also check out the documents attached for important tips and talking points to prepare for the meetings.

Section 401 Certification
Under the Clean Water Act, Virginia has the power to grant or deny water quality certification for the pipelines. The pipelines would cross streams and wetlands all along their routes, potentially impacting all of the above ground and below ground waters in Virginia that are located along the pipeline routes.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) makes recommendations to the State Water Control Board (SWCB) and then the State Water Control Board decides whether or not to grant certification. The SWCB is expected to vote at the December 2017 meetings (details below) to approve, deny, or delay the 401 water quality certification for both proposed pipelines.

Forest Service Clears the Way for ACP

Guest Post by our partners at the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA)

A response to objections raised to the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Draft Record of Decision (ROD) about whether the proposed amendments to the Forest Plans of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests to accommodate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) has been issued by the agency.  In an October 27 letter to 69 objectors who took issue with the proposed amending of the Forest Plan, Glenn Casamassa, Associate Deputy Chief of the USFS, concluded that the ROD met statutory requirements and rejected all filed objections.  Among highlights in the letter are:

“The Forest Service, as a cooperating agency, must make a decision whether to issue a Special Use Permit and amend the Forest Plans for the project. The Forest Service may, and has, adopted the FERC’s EIS as the environmental analysis to make our decision.”

“. . . the Forest Service is not responsible for determining the entire pipeline’s overall purpose and need, nor the appropriate range of alternatives for its route. The Forest Service’s consideration of effects must be adequate for deciding whether to authorize the pipeline across NFS lands; not the effects of the entire pipeline.”

“The Forest Service accepts the overall purpose and need stated in the EIS. . . the Forest Service gave ‘due deference’ to the FERC’s finding of the purpose and need for the pipeline.”

The USFS must still issue a Special Use Permit for the ACP to be built through Forest lands, but the Casamassa letter clears the way for that action.  A similar letter of rejection to objections to the proposed crossing of the Jefferson National Forest by the Mountain Valley Pipeline was issued by the USFS last month.

Contact your representative about H.R. 2936

The House yesterday passed The “Resilient Federal Forests Act,” H.R. 2936 encouraging and allowing more logging on national forests framed as a way to curtail wildfires.  The vote was 232-188. The Virginia delegation voted in a straight party line with all Republicans (Whitman, Taylor, Garrett, Goodlatte, Griffith, Brat and Comstock) voting in favor of the bill and all Democrats (Scott, McEachin, Beyer and Connolly) voting against.

This bill would be a disaster for Virginia’s National Forests.

At this point there is not a companion bill in the senate but it is likely that the substance of HR 2936 could be included in a larger bill like the 2018 Farm Bill.  Keeping this out of the Farm Bill will be extremely important.  Please contact your congressperson and either thank or voice your displeasure with their vote on HR 2936 and encourage them to keep the language of this awful bill out of other legislation.

Find your representative here and see how they voted here!

Check out our previous post about the Westerman bill and read the full text of the bill for more information.

Westerman Bill Creates Loophole to Allow Exploitation of National Forests

 

by Susannah Gilmore

The H.R. 2936 “Westerman Bill” has just entered the process of amendment and discussion in Congress. Proposed last June, it seeks to “improve forest management” by essentially allowing industry to bypass environmental assessment as mandated in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 in order to expedite industrial progress. The bill states that any forest management activities that “produce timber” or “increase water yield” and many others are exempt from conducting any form of assessment or producing an environmental impact statement.

Additionally, when deciding whether an action falls under an “exception” to environmental assessment, important factors like endangered species habitat, potential wilderness areas and cumulative environmental impact will not have to be considered by the Forest Service. While the bill also contains exclusions that may seem beneficial for forest systems, such as allowing controlled logging to prevent  forest fires without having to go through traditional environmental assessments, this creates a loophole for timber industries to exploit national forests under the guise of fuel management.

This bill would also increase the acreage allowed for logging projects to bypass assessment regulation from a previous 250 acres to 10,000 acres, which is the size of more than 7,000 football fields. This would open the door to large-scale industrial projects that could devastate our national forests.

George Washington National Forest

The Westerman Bill would undermine democracy by limiting the time frame for public involvement on large-scale projects on public lands and allowing agencies to eliminate judicial review in federal courts. Wild Virginia encourages you to stay informed about H.R. 2936 and advise your congressmen about the unjust environmental and public health risks of this bill.

For more information on the potential impacts and implications of the Westerman Bill: westerman-hr-2936-factsheet

The Westerman Bill in full: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2936/text

 

Wild Virginia Response to VOF’s Failure to Defend Conservation Easements

We are very disappointed in yesterday’s decision by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) to decline to defend easements on 13 Virginia properties and approve a conversion that will allow the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines to violate standing conservation easement agreements with VOF.

We cannot emphasize how important conservation and trust agreements are in protecting specific conservation values of lands.  As we continue to find ways to permanently protect large areas of lands from development and extraction for the ecological benefits they provide, we concurrently encourage protection of private lands that provide essential protection against habitat fragmentation and opportunities for restoration of migration corridors.

Wild Virginia encourages landowners to seek out and implement both traditional and creative conservation strategies in protecting Virginia’s forests, mountains and waters and the species that call it home.

The Pipeline Fight Continues – No Time to Let Up Now!

Despite recent bad news, the future remains uncertain for two huge, destructive natural gas pipelines proposed to mar our precious mountains and forests. Approvals for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline issued on Friday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are just one step in a continuing battle to determine the fates of these pipelines. The outcome in each case is still to be determined and we, the public, can still act to preserve our natural treasures. We have no intention of relenting in our fight and believe these bad projects can still be stopped.

When FERC granted Certificates for MVP and ACP, it betrayed the public interest in favor of private corporate greed. We understand the disappointment many of you are feeling. It is always discouraging when supposed “public servants” fail in their duties to protect our environment and our communities. But there are a number of reasons to maintain hope. First, in a relatively unusual action, one of the FERC members dissented from her colleagues’ decisions. Such divisions within the Commission in regard to pipeline proposals have been very rare and Commissioner Cheryl Lefleur’s conclusion, that neither project was shown to best serve the public, will be useful in the court challenges that we anticipate will begin soon. The many serious deficiencies in FERC’s environmental analyses and its failure to honestly assess the need for the pipelines could be fatal flaws.

In addition, we continue to pursue formal objections before the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Draft approvals for the pipelines to cross the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and amend forest plans are unsupported by the facts and the law. It is clear that Trump administration officials overruled the resource managers who know our National Forests best. The hard work those scientists did in defining necessary studies and identifying major threats to the forests and users interests was largely discarded and ignored by the political appointees in the Service and the Department of Agriculture.

Another vitally-important forum in which the pipelines can be stopped is the State of Virginia’s process for applying the Clean Water Act. The Department of Environmental Quality will make recommendations for approval or denial of each project in December. Neither Dominion nor EQT has met its burden of proof to show construction and operation of the pipelines will fully protect water quality – to the contrary, the very difficult terrain through which the pipelines would cross and the sensitive resources that could be destroyed or degraded make it impossible to predict that water quality standards can be met, based on the severely deficient evidence provided. Further, the unfair and legally-flawed processes DEQ has conducted have deprived the public of its rights. We will expect and demand that the citizen members of the State Water Control Board do the right thing and veto the projects in Virginia.

 

The pipeline companies would love for us to become discouraged by the news from FERC but we will not give them that satisfaction. From the start, we knew that FERC has traditionally been a mere “rubber stamp” for the power industry. So, while the Commission’s failure to do its duty honestly is disappointing it is not a surprise.

We need you to stick with us to enable us to continue to work to protect Virginia’s natural forests and landscapes.

Click here to to find out what you can do to fight the
Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Click here to to find out what you can do to fight the
Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Suggested Comments – Virginia Water Quality Certifications for the ACP and MVP

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting comments through Aug. 22, 2017.


Comments for ACP should be submitted to:

comment-acp@deq.virginia.gov 
See ACP Public Notice

Comments for MVP should be submitted to:
comment-mvp@deq.virginia.gov
See
  MVP Public Notice

Describe ways you use waterbodies that would be directly affected by pipeline work or are downstream of those areas. If you use a stream for fishing, boating, swimming, or just for aesthetic enjoyment those are valid recreational use that DEQ must protect. Describe waters you know to have valuable and sensitive species (brook trout, mussels, endangered species, etc.).

Other Sample Comment Topics:

The DEQ….

    • Failed to provide adequate public participation: The public participation process is deficient and must be re-started or expanded. The current schedule deprives the public of the chance to play its rightful role.
    • Failed to consider cumulative impacts. DEQ must consider cumulative impacts to state waters from all pollution sources to waters that would be affected by these projects. Such cumulative impacts analyses are conducted by DEQ for all other individual reviews of regulated polluting activities.
    • Refused to consider evidence: DEQ has illegally refused to even consider that the evidence may require it to deny certification for either proposed project. The burden of proof to assure that all water quality standards will be met is on the applicants and DEQ.
    • Must not accept late submissions: DEQ may not allow vital detailed information to be submitted by the pipeline companies after the certification process has been completed.
    • Must limit variances: DEQ must forbid or limit variances to water quality protection requirements in the certifications, not allow open-ended authority for agencies or companies to grant variances after certifications are issued.
    • Must consider impacts: DEQ has not analyzed impacts to recreational and aesthetic uses that would result from construction or maintenance of the pipelines.
    • Must protect existing uses: The activities proposed will impair or deny existing or designated uses that must be fully protected in affected state waters.
    • Must analyze requirements to protect streams: DEQ has failed to analyze whether antidegradation requirements to maintain high water quality in streams can be met in any of its analyses.

Read More:
Legal Bases for Section 401 Reviews

Mountain Valley Pipeline Record of Decision

-The MVP will result in permanent forest fragmentation,
impacts to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail Scenic Corridor, and harm to Endangered Species

-The Record of Decision (ROD) includes 11 exceptions to the existing Jefferson National Forest Plan that would allow:

—-destruction of 51 acres of national forest for creation of the pipeline corridor and access roads and construction areas,  

—-upgrading 31 acres of access roads and creating .8 acres of additional workspaces,  

—-cutting of 4.6 acres of old growth forest,  

—-a 75 foot construction corridor through sensitive wetlands,  

—-violation of existing protection for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail viewshed,  

—-and destruction of habitat of 22 threatened, endangered, or candidate species including the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, 4 species of bats, 6 freshwater mussels, and 6 endangered plants.  

-Mitigation for these serious impacts is to be determined after the project is approved.

-The Forest Service has not considered alternatives or included an analysis of a route that does not cross Forest Service Lands (FSM 2703.2(2)b)

-The ROD fails to include an analysis of a route that utilizes existing energy corridors.

-It fails to demonstrate overall need for the pipeline projects.

-In order for the Forest Service to permit this pipeline, the Forest Service must change the Forest Plan for the Jefferson National Forest.  This plan was developed through public consultation and  is in place to protect our forests.  We should not amend this Forest Plan  to allow this destructive project.