by: Julia Travers, volunteer writer with Wild Virginia
If you need a refresher or are taking a first dive into learning about the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, Wild Virginia Conservation Director David Sligh is here to help. He explains what’s going on with these projects and why they pose so many threats to Virginians and the Southeast. He also offers some ideas on how anyone who opposes the pipelines can make a difference (down at question four).
- Do We Need the Pipelines?
In short, no. We do not need the ACP, a 600-mile-long pipeline that would carry natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina, or the MVP, a pipeline that would source the same fracked gas and have the same destinations.
“If you look at the growth in overall energy demands in VA and NC in the last decade, there’s been a pretty small percentage of growth over the whole period,” David says. A 2016 study of this area’s energy demand for natural gas found existing pipelines can supply more than enough fuel through 2030.
And, while ACP originally claimed the pipeline gas was intended and needed primarily for VA and NC, it now states the gas may go to South Carolina and other areas. Similarly, after getting their original approval, MVP says it will build an addition spur into North-central NC.
Local energy needs can also increasingly be met with renewable sources — David says while pipeline companies like Dominion give “lip service” to these options, they simultaneously oppose the regulatory changes that would empower growth in the wind and solar sectors. He explains:
That’s because they can make such huge profits from fossil fuel projects — for example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows them to charge ratepayers additional amounts to provide them with up to 14 percent profit just on the cost of building these pipelines, and this profit is not dependent on showing a need for the gas.
Also, FERC has not carried out the legally required “valid needs analysis” relating to energy demand for the pipelines. Because of this, FERC Commissioners Cheryl Lafleur and Richard Glick supported a request for a FERC rehearing.
- Why Are the Pipelines a Bad Idea?
The pipelines directly threaten local drinking water, homes, endangered species’ habitats, parks, economies and other vital interconnected systems and attributes of the Southeast. They simply cannot be safely built. David says:
Building a 42-inch, high-pressure gas pipeline across the Allegheny Mountains, the Great Valley of VA and the Blue Ridge Mountains has never been done, for good reason … The companies would have to build on mountain slopes that in many cases are greater than 50 percent and where landslides are common. They would have to blast away mountain ridges and claim they would restore these areas to former contours, which is impossible. They would cut across large areas where limestone geology, termed karst, lies beneath the soil and forms caverns and conduits through which pollution from land disturbance can move to wells and springs quickly, without any filtering. ACP proposes to bore a hole over 4,500 feet through the Blue Ridge and push the huge pipe through the hole. Finally, together, the two projects would cross well more than 1,000 streams and wetlands, many of which have exceptional resource values and are also very sensitive to disturbance.
Also, if the pipelines are built, the industry will use them to validate an avalanching investment in natural gas for decades to come.
- What Are the Current States of the Projects?
“FERC issued what are inappropriately termed Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity for both MVP and ACP last October,” David says. At this point, the companies were empowered to take landowner’s property rights.
In December 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board issued water quality certifications that require the companies to submit additional plans, some related to erosion and sediment control, before construction. David says the ACP’s certification will not be officially in effect until the plans are approved. The Board also said it might take other actions at that point as well.
Over the winter, both companies began permitted tree felling. In March 2018, the VA DEQ approved the MVP’s additional plans and construction has now begun.
David says “court challenges to actions taken by the Board, FERC, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are still in progress against both pipelines.” One suit already resulted in a court order stating an ACP permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act was wrongly issued and must be redone. This order led to an ongoing dispute between citizens and the ACP over whether it must stop construction overall or only in some areas.
Recently, the VA Board ordered the DEQ to hold a public comment period relating to waterbody crossings, which ended June 15 — over 13,000 opinions were submitted. The more than 1,000 planned water crossings “have so far been covered under a blanket permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers [and] should receive additional scrutiny and regulation by VA,” David says.
“The public is now pleading with the Board to act quickly to head off further work on either project before any additional reviews can be finished,” he adds.
The push for an immediate and thorough review of the ACP’s potential effects in VA is very important because the MVP project has already broken the law, allowing large loads of mud to flow off construction sites into streams and onto private properties.
“While WVA officials have already issued four Notices of Violation, the VA DEQ has been largely unresponsive and has taken no effective action,” David says.
On June 21st, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of a Corps of Engineers permit, which prevents MVP from constructing through any streams or wetlands in West Virginia until court hearings scheduled for September.
- How Can People Help?
Here are three powerful steps David says you can take if you’d like to join the movement against ACP and MVP construction:
- Join in calling on the Water Control Board to conduct the additional reviews of waterbody crossings.
- Volunteer with the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative, or CSI, which looks for and responds to damages and non-compliance by ACP, and Mountain Valley Watch, which does the same with the MVP.
- Join Wild Virginia to help us continue to lead the efforts to stop and/or avoid damage from these pipelines and to oppose any destructive projects in our region, so we can preserve as much of Virginia’s wild and natural land and resources as possible.
Who is David Sligh?
Wild Virginia Conservation Director David Sligh has 35 years of experience in environmental law. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia and a law degree from Vermont Law School. He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar. Dave has worked as a Senior Environmental Engineer for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; Founder and Director of Virginia PEER, the state branch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility; Southeast Regional Representative for American Rivers; Upper James Riverkeeper; Adjunct Instructor of Environmental Science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and as a consultant and adviser to citizen groups around the country.