Two contentious Virginia pipeline projects hit more snags Friday, with Dominion Energy voluntarily agreeing to stop construction on its Atlantic Coast Pipeline after another permit was vacated and the separate Mountain Valley Pipeline smacked with a state lawsuit over environmental violations.
Attorney General Mark Herring and the Department of Environmental Quality filed a lawsuit in Henrico County Circuit Court against the company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline for repeated erosion, sediment and stormwater violations during rainstorms in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties.
That pipeline will run 303 miles from West Virginia to Pittsylvania County.
The lawsuit said DEQ inspectors found violations from May to October of this year while investigating complaints. In addition, other inspectors found more than 300 violations related primarily to erosion and stormwater control from June to November of this year.
“This suit alleges serious and numerous violations of environmental laws that caused unpermitted impacts to waterways and roads in multiple counties in Southwest Virginia,” Herring said in a statement. “We’re asking the court for an enforceable order that will help us ensure compliance going forward and for penalties for MVP’s violations.”
In one case, sediment overflowed onto a road in Franklin County and closed it, according to the suit. In the same county, DEQ inspectors found dirt in surface waters, which wasn’t permitted. Inspectors contracted by DEQ found 16 instances between June and November when sediment was found in nearby streams.
“The Northam administration has empowered DEQ to pursue the full course of action necessary to enforce Virginia’s environmental standards and to protect our natural resources,” said David Paylor, director of DEQ.
“In this case, we determined referral to the Office of the Attorney General was prudent in order to seek faster resolution to these violations.”
The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter said in a statement that Herring’s lawsuit was reassuring.
“Without real consequences, the polluting corporations behind these fracked gas projects will keep running roughshod through our commonwealth, putting the health and safety of Virginians in jeopardy,” Kate Addleson, chapter director, said in an email.
In total, Herring’s office is charging Mountain Valley’s developers with 10 counts of illegal actions.
Herring is seeking the maximum amount of penalties, with the dollar amount to be determined in court.
“Today’s lawsuit holding the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline accountable for environmental devastation in Southwest Virginia is the show of leadership we’ve been waiting for from this administration,” wrote Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
“While fining this company for being a bad actor in Virginia is a welcome and necessary step forward, it’s important not to forget that Virginians who live along this route are still the ones paying the real price — in land taken from them repaid with mud-filled streams and rivers, and in a forever-marred mountainside and rural landscape.”
DEQ can issue a stop work order if there is a “substantial adverse impact” to water quality, said DEQ spokesman Greg Bilyeu.
“Despite the important nature of the complaint, the issues have not risen to these substantial adverse impact levels at this time,” Bilyeu said in an email. “That said, the complaint is being taken very seriously, which is why the matter was referred to the Attorney General’s Office by DEQ, and why they are moving forward with today’s actions.”
The League of Conservation Voters said it hopes the state will use its experience with Mountain Valley “if and when Dominion’s destructive and equally unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline moves forward. At more than triple the footprint of the MVP, this project poses three times the threat to our waterways, our land, and our way of life, with no benefit to anybody but Dominion shareholders,” Town wrote.
But Dominion Energy faced a different hiccup on its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project on Friday, when the U.S Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued a stay of a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The company later voluntarily suspended construction on the entire project.
The Southern Environmental Law Center argued the permit — which allows Dominion to harm or kill some endangered species along parts of the 600-mile pipeline route — shouldn’t have been issued in October 2017. The permit was thrown out by the 4th Circuit in May after the court concluded the agency failed to set enforceable limits, among other issues. It was re-issued in September.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service scrambled to reissue this permit and its haste is evident in its analysis,” said Patrick Hunter, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This is yet another instance of government agencies rushing out ill-considered permits for this project.”
When the permit was first thrown out, Dominion said the company could continue work on the project because it only pertained to a small portion of the pipeline.
Dominion’s spokesman Aaron Ruby couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Permits for the project from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now on hold.