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Governor Northam Must Act to Protect Virginian’s and Our Waters

By David Sligh, Conservation Director, Wild Virginia

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Our new Governor has the authority and duty to protect our waters and communities from the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

Governor Northam must uphold the principles he has supported for many months and we ask that you let him know that you will support him in doing the right thing.

Contact the Governor today and urge him to:

  • See that his administration prohibits any construction, including clearing of trees, for either pipeline unless and until all conditions of water quality certifications are met,
  • Order the DEQ to conduct individual Clean Water Act section 401 reviews for stream and wetland crossings covered by the Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide 12 Permit,
  • Ensure that DEQ provides for public notice and comment on additional plans ACP is required to submit and that there is a clear procedure for the State Water Control Board to review and decide whether the certification will become effective.

Call the Governor
804-786- 2211
or
Send an email to his Chief of Staff clark.mercer@governor.virginia.gov

Background

Many members of the public are rightly concerned that pipeline companies will start tree removal and/or excavation any day on either the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) or Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  Currently,  MVP has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) for permission to proceed with construction, while ACP  has requested a partial approval to proceed, which would allow a certain amount of tree clearing.

There are still actors and actions that can prevent  clearing and construction. 

Legal challenges

Wild Virginia and our partner organizations have filed two federal suits against FERC and against the State of Virginia. We’ve asked for injunctions to prevent work on the pipeline until legal questions can be resolved by the courts. Likewise, parties have filed objections with FERC to oppose Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s request to proceed with tree cutting.

DEQ can prohibit construction and clearing 

The State of Virginia through the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could to exert its rightful authorities under the Clean Water Act and prevent tree clearing and construction on either pipeline. So far, the DEQ has been unwilling to acknowledge or use those authorities and we are strongly urging Governor Northam to change that.

DEQ has claimed it can’t prohibit all tree cutting on either project, despite the fact that neither has yet complied with all of the conditions in water quality certifications approved by the State Water Control Board. Without complete compliance with those conditions, which include submission and approval of erosion and sediment control, stormwater management, and other plans, construction cannot proceed.

However, DEQ has drawn an arbitrary and improper distinction between certain types of tree clearing and “land disturbance” and claimed it has no authority to limit or prevent the first class of activities.

DEQ is wrong. States have all the authority they need to prevent any construction-related actions that could affect water quality until all conditions in their Clean Water Act section 401 certifications are met. Destruction of forest stands in preparation for cutting trenches and laying pipe is construction and no false distinction drawn by DEQ can hide that fact. These actions will affect water quality, changing water flows and produce pollutant discharges, no matter how the trees are cut.

Clear direction from our new Governor

Governor Northam must insist that his top environmental officials prohibit any and all activities related to construction of the pipelines that might affect water quality unless and until all
requirements of the Water Quality Certifications are met.

DEQ must perform individual reviews of waterbody crossings

Another issue we are asking Governor Northam to address is the need for Virginia to review individual stream and wetland crossing plans. The Northam administration’s top environmental officials must use their authority to review and approve or disapprove waterbody crossings covered by the Corps of Engineers’ general permit.

The State Water Control Board ensured, through language added to the water quality certifications issued in December, that the State retained the authority to perform individual reviews of proposed waterbody crossings by the pipelines. Despite the Board’s action, DEQ shows no intention of actually exercising that authority, although the Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) fails to uphold Virginia’s water quality standards.

On December 22, 2017, the Corps notified MVP that its crossings would be covered under Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12. It is now time for the Northam administration to exercise the authority it and the State Water Control Board expressly reserved, to review these actions in a way that upholds Virginia’s standards. Otherwise, the Board’s efforts to preserve that authority will have been meaningless and the State will have ceded its rightful powers to a federal agency that has no commitment to protect our state waters and our communities.

Ensure a transparent process for public input

Finally, there must be an open and transparent process through which the State Water Control Board, with public input, decides whether the ACP water quality certification becomes effective.
The Board rejected DEQ’s recommendation that they give final and irrevocable approval to ACP at the Board’s December meeting. Instead, the Board specified that the certification would not become effective until all required plans and analyses had been submitted and both DEQ and the Board had deemed them approvable.

The Board described certain procedural steps that should be taken by DEQ and the Board. In apparent disregard of the Board’s wishes, DEQ posted information on its web site, apparently the day before the new Governor took office, that would exclude the public from any useful role in ensuring the plans are acceptable and that would override the Board’s wish to “have an opportunity to take one more swing at [the pipeline reviews],” an expectation one Board member expressed.

Governor Northam must require that before the ACP certification is deemed effective:

  • Remaining plans submitted by the company are made available to the public for review and comment and that DEQ considers and addresses those comments,
  • DEQ makes a final recommendation to the State Water Control Board, based on its review of the final plans and of public submissions, and
  • DEQ requests formal Board action on its recommendation.

We are calling on the Governor

If you want fair processes and full protection against damages from these pipelines let the Governor know that you support our requests for action.

What Did the State Water Control Board Do?

by David Sligh for Wild Virginia and the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition

After the Virginia State Water Control Board (Board) decisions about the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) uncertainties and confusion remain.  We thought we’d give you our best explanation as to what happened and what might come next.  Before getting into the details of each case, we’ll give you what we believe to be the important headlines from the Board meetings:

⇒ The State Water Control Board recognized what citizens have said for months – that it did not have all of the information to support final approvals and felt it necessary to reserve authority for future actions.

⇒ However,  the Board acted illegally by issuing certifications without all of the information needed to ensure water quality protections. We will continue, without any letup, to challenge those actions and push for rejection of both pipelines.

⇒ We must all recognize and take pride in the fact that the members of the Board acknowledged that the DEQ’s story was not correct or complete and that we made that happen!

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The Water Control Board addressed the MVP on December 7. The Board issued a water quality certification for the MVP, with 5 members in support and 2 members opposing the action. The Board heard much testimony describing the large body of information and analyses that was missing. That should have prevented the Board members from making the required finding – that if the project goes forward there is a reasonable assurance that Virginia’s water quality standards won’t be violated.

“Water is Life” rally in Richmond before the Water Board meetings

This missing information includes details about impacts at stream and wetland crossing points, which the DEQ had excluded from this process and claims will be adequately regulated under Nationwide  Permit 12  (NWP 12) from the Army Corps of Engineers.  Also missing are the final erosion and sediment control plans, stormwater management plans, and plans to protect wells and springs in karst areas.

What is the role of the Army Corps of Engineers?

The Corps of Engineers has not yet decided whether either pipeline can be covered under its NWP 12. Some members of the Board expressed concerns about whether that permit and a blanket certification Virginia issued for it earlier in 2017 could adequately protect our waters from these huge projects. Based on those concerns, the Board revised language in the certification with the intent to allow them to revisit the issue of waterbody crossings if or when that NWP 12 coverage is granted.

⇒  Less than 24 hours after the Board approved the certification for MVP, Wild Virginia, along with Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Sierra Club filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, challenging the legality of the action.

The plaintiffs are represented in the case by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.  While this lawsuit moves through the court, we will be watching to see if the Army Corps of Engineers decides MVP can be covered under its NWP 12. If so, we will insist that Virginia exercise the authority it has reserved and look at individual waterbody crossings under a separate certification review.

⇒ Even though the majority of the Board approved the certification, members were clearly concerned that the review DEQ has done was not as complete and comprehensive as it should have been.

In voting for the revised version, even those Board members willing to approve recognized that they might need to and want to look at waterbody crossings in more detail even if the Corps uses its Nationwide Permit in this case.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The Water Control Board addressed the ACP on December 11 and 12. While we know the Board approved a certification by a 4 to 3 vote and we were able to read versions of the language in that document on screen at the meeting, we still (as of 9 a.m. on December 19th) have no official version of the certification. Therefore, it is risky to make definitive statements about the exact wording in the certification.

⇒ The Water Control Board members recognized that the deficiencies in the evidence DEQ relied on in recommending approval were indeed even greater than they had acknowledged in deliberations over MVP.

Three Board members wanted to reject the certification outright, citing the lack of adequate information and studies. The final version of the certification that was approved delays the effective date until an unspecified time in the future, after a number of additional studies and plans are submitted and approval is given (if it is given).

In the end, ACP walked away from the Board meeting on the 12th with a certification but one that does not allow it to begin construction by the end of the year, as they had planned. Projected dates for completion of the necessary studies is March or April, 2018. Dominion has asked FERC for permission to begin limited tree cutting and DEQ has given an opinion that some cutting may be allowed where the activities do not qualify as “land disturbance” under Virginia regulations. We believe DEQ does have the authority to prohibit any tree cutting that is related to the project and will advocate that view.

In the meantime, we will be pushing hard to ensure that DEQ’s reviews are adequate, that the public has a fair and open comment period, and that the Board knows of and acts on any deficiencies that remain. We will also continue to consider all legal options available to us.

Wild Virginia’s Role / What You Can Do

Wild Virginia led the effort to push the State of Virginia to do its duty under the Clean Water Act to protect our waters from these two destructive proposals.  As bad as the process followed by DEQ has been, it could have been even worse.

⇒ It was our influence both behind the scenes and in public forums, combined with your voices and your support, that forced some improvements.

David Sligh speaking at the recent Water Control Board meetings

At the ACP hearings one Board member cited the testimony of our Conservation Director, David Sligh, as one of the deciding factors that changed his “yes” vote on MVP into a “no” vote on ACP.

We will not stop our efforts to stop these destructive projects. As we end the year, we ask that you consider giving us your support to help us be as effective as possible. Whether a new donor or a reliable supporter who sees fit to increase your contribution, we greatly appreciate any and all donations.

 – Click here to give today –

 

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.

Comment to the BLM Today

Tell the BLM “No Pipeline through our National Forests”.

The BLM is accepting comments on the Mountain Valley Pipeline about the impacts to National Forest Lands.  We know that our national forests will be impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Please take time to contact the BLM by mail or email by the comment deadline of July 31st .

Mail your comments to:
Vicki Craft, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Southeastern State District Office, 273 Market Street, Flowood, MS 39232.
(Comments must be postmarked by July 31st)

Email your comments tovcraft@blm.gov

What to say?
Describe uses you make of our public lands and things that you value that would be affected by the pipelines. Discuss how you use the lands: recreation, aesthetic appreciation, appreciation of large tracts of intact forests, etc. Your experiences using these lands matter.  Tell them you strongly oppose any decisions that would destroy or devalue these features of our forests.

Image Credit: Deidre Skogen

Sample Comments

  • Both the draft and final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) fail to fully describe and analyze many environmental threats, and the BLM has a duty to reject these documents and deny a right-of-way permit until NEPA requirements are fully satisfied.
  • The Purpose and Need for the project and the crossings of federal lands are not adequately analyzed and do not justify the project.
  • The alternatives analysis fails to apply the correct standard at which crossings of National Forest lands must be held, and the proposal cannot meet that standard.
  • Environmental damages that cannot be avoided or mitigated make the crossing of public lands unacceptable. These include forest fragmentation, cumulative impacts to surface waters and groundwater, and impacts to endangered and threatened species.
  • Neither project impacts on global warming nor impacts on the ability of the Forest to respond and adapt to ongoing climate change are adequately assessed in the EIS.
  • Large bodies of additional information were submitted to federal agencies after the public comment period for the Draft EIS had ended, depriving the public of the chance to respond to those documents.

If you need more help with what to say or want help drafting your comments, please contact us.  We’re ready to help.  info@wildvirginia.org 434-971-1553

Forest Service Decision Gives Priority to Private Profit

Today, the Forest Service released a Draft Record of Decision (ROD) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

This terrible decision would authorize the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to construct  21 miles of pipeline on lands managed by the George Washington (GWNF) and Monongahela National Forests (MNF). The proposed pipeline route would also cross both the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Forest Service had to issue this decision because current forest plan standards for both forests do not allow this destructive development.   The Forest Service chose to change the rules for ACP and approved 14 total amendments to standards in these forest plans.  Without amending these standards the ACP project would violate the forest plans for both of these forests.

These  standards were created to protect our forests and water.  The Forest Service has put the integrity of our public lands at risk and goals of private profit ahead of the safety of our watersheds.

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This decision is based on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)

This FEIS is drastically incomplete and in no way addresses the impacts to our lands, air, and water.  Read more from our  coalition press statement released today:   FERC’s final Atlantic Coast Pipeline report a sham.   The FEIS glosses over the “profound and permanent harm to water resources and drinking water supplies, forest ecosystems, wildlife and endangered species habitat, historic sites, agricultural resources, public lands including the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, and local economies”.

This is an important time to make your voice heard:

You have the right to object to this decision if you:

1. Previously submitted timely, specific written comments to the Forest Service or to FERC during comment periods. (If you’re not sure if you did, we can help you look it up).

2. Can raise an issue that arose after the formal public comment period closed.   More information on how to object  Click Here 

Join us for a Objection/Comment Night next week

July 24
Comment Writing Night on Record of Decision in Staunton

July 25
Comment Writing Night on Record of Decision in Charlottesville 

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Quick Facts from the Draft Record of Decision:

-214 acres of Forest Service lands will be will be maintained and operated for long-term use by ACP.

-The Pipeline  would be installed under 17 perennial, 28 intermittent, and 11 ephemeral waterbodies on Forest Service lands.

-ACP will cross about 2.4 miles of karst topography on Forest Service lands.

-The Pipeline could also impact cave invertebrates and other subterranean obligate species (amphipods, isopods, copepods, flatworms, millipedes, beetles, etc.) that are endemic to only a few known locations.

An Assault on Public Lands and Democracy: H.R. 2936

H.R. 2936, The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (more commonly called the Westerman Bill) is currently being discussed in the House of Representatives. This bill is intended to “expedite environmental analysis and availability of categorical exclusions to expedite forest management activities.”
categorical-exclusion

Apart from being destructive to forest ecosystems, the Westerman Bill is designed to benefit industry and ignore public interests. It is similar to other bills that we have seen in the past in that it seeks to bypass environmental and judicial protections. However, this bill is a more urgent issue than similar preceding bills. Not only does the Westerman Bill take much more drastic and harmful action against the forests, it has the potential to be passed into law in the current administration. This step to forgo analyses and categorically exclude certain areas from examination is a blow to public lands and undermines democracy.

The ways that this bill would disregard environmental regulations and judicial review are innumerable. Specifically, the Westerman Bill: undermines the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by creating sweeping and arbitrary waivers at unprecedented levels, limiting consideration of alternatives, and establishing radically short deadlines; eliminates citizen access to judicial review, even when the government fails to follow the law; opens up millions of acres of treasured roadless areas to harmful roadbuilding and logging; reallocates funds away from environmental restoration toward timber production, thus prioritizing industry over public interest and safety; dismantles inter-agency consultation that provides checks and balances integral to protecting critical wildlife under the Endangered Species Act; and finally, threatens national monument designation under the Antiquities Act.

This bill would have catastrophic effects in Virginia.  Expediting environmental analysis and offering categorical exclusions to projects, as the Westerman Bill proposes, would have serious impacts on the environment, cultural history, public interest, and public health.

Wild Virginia and other forest defense groups are monitoring the progress of HR 2936 and encouraging our members to stay informed and to express these concerns to your congressperson.

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