State lawmakers again urge Northam to act on pipelines

By: - July 27, 2018 6:16 am

The Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County, pictured in 2018. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

With a crucial meeting of the State Water Control Board looming next month on water-quality reviews for a pair of contentious natural gas pipelines, Democratic state lawmakers again urged Gov. Ralph Northam Thursday to halt the projects and insist on a stream-by-stream review of the hundreds of spots where they will cross Virginia waterways.

“We believe that your clear and bold leadership on pipelines at this critical time can restore the faith that many of our constituents have lost in their governments’ ability to fight for the public’s interest, at a time when that faith is so desperately needed,” the 14 lawmakers wrote.

At several junctures since he was elected last year, opponents of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines have asked Northam, a Democrat who campaigned on holding the pipeline projects to the highest environmental standards, to live up to that promise, thus far unsuccessfully.

Northam and his Department of Environmental Quality have maintained they have subjected the pipelines to the most rigorous review ever performed in Virginia, though the DEQ has acknowledged it has never before handled a project the size and scope of either pipeline.

But a slew of sediment-laden runoff from Mountain Valley Pipeline work, which prompted  violation notices from regulators and a temporary stop work order, have raised new questions about the adequacy of the DEQ’s review. In a separate letter last week, Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, also urged Northam to put a stop to the MVP construction.

“It is not an overstatement to say that science dictates that this pipeline cannot be safely built in this area,” Edwards wrote.

The explosion of a brand new gas pipeline in West Virginia has also stirred fears.

A spokeswoman for Northam did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Among those signing the letter were members of a cadre of first-time Democratic delegates who refused campaign contributions last year from Dominion Energy, the state’s largest utility and the lead partner on the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will carve through a dozen Virginia counties.

However, more veteran lawmakers, including Del. Ken Plum of Fairfax County, who has been in the House since 1982 and counts Dominion as his top donor, and Del. Mark Keam, who conspicuously “broke up” with Dominion earlier this year, also signed the letter.

The lawmakers referenced the massive compressor station Dominion wants to site in a predominately black rural community in Buckingham County and the inadequacy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit the state is relying on for the hundreds of spots the pipelines will cross Virginia waters. As many have before and as Northam himself called for on the campaign trail, they urged for DEQ to conduct its own review of crossings.

“We also ask you to direct the DEQ to stop work on all construction activities for these two projects until those analyses are complete,” they wrote. “Stream-by-stream analysis is a commonsense solution that environmental experts agree is the appropriate process for these circumstances.  You agreed with this standard and forcefully advocated for such analysis in early 2017. We hope you will agree that it is time for DEQ to do this robust study now.”

Letter to Gov. Northam on pipelines July 26, 2018.

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Robert Zullo
Robert Zullo

Robert spent 13 years as a reporter and editor at weekly and daily newspapers and was previously editor of the Virginia Mercury. He was a staff writer and managing editor at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., before spending five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Contact him at [email protected]