State water board will reconsider water-quality certification for Mountain Valley Pipeline

By: - December 14, 2018 5:01 am

James Lofton, left, conferring with fellow new State Water Control Board member Paula Hill Jasinski, made the motion to reconsider a certification related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline at his first meeting in December. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

The State Water Control Board will consider revoking a crucial water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which was hit with a state lawsuit over several hundred violations related to erosion, sediment and stormwater controls.

James Lofton, one of two new board members participating in their first meeting Thursday, made the motion. It narrowly passed the seven-member board, with new Chairwoman Heather Wood and members Tim Hayes and Lou Ann Wallace voting no.

The vote came on the heels of a lawsuit against the company building the multi-state, 300-mile pipeline. Attorney General Mark Herring filed suit last week, citing more than 300 violations for the project over the past seven months, including some that fouled state waterways with sediment.

Earlier in the board meeting Thursday, activists and environmental groups spoke for more than 45 minutes about the impact the MVP has on their communities. They said there’s no way the Mountain Valley Pipeline can be constructed safely, adding that private property is being damaged by the project.

Many implored the board to revoke the project’s 401 certification and force construction on the pipeline to stop.

“We are extremely grateful to water board members … for taking this action and hearing community members’ first-hand accounts of destruction to waterways during Mountain Valley Pipeline construction, which has been as bad or worse than we imagined,” said Lara Mack, Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, a grassroots, multi-state advocacy organization.

“Since construction of the MVP began, muddy runoff has polluted streams and creeks repeatedly and our watersheds have been degraded as a result,” Mack said.

In August, the water board didn’t take any action on the certification and voted instead to “aggressively” enforce compliance standards and pass some information on to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to which the state ceded authority to monitor pipeline water crossings. The board also required more erosion-control measures borrowed from the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

The Board decided on a 4-3 vote then not to change or revoke the state certification of a Corps permit that allows the pipeline to cross hundreds of waterways.

“From the start, it was clear that this destructive project cannot be built in a way that is protective of Virginia’s waters,” said David Sligh, conservation director for Wild Virginia, a Charlottesville-based environmental nonprofit.

“MVP’s record of causing harm to people and streams shows that citizens’ concerns were valid and that DEQ’s assurances were worthless,” Sligh wrote in a statement.

The water board will hold a hearing on the possible revocation of the 401 certification at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting.

In the meantime, work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline will not stop.

The Department of Environmental Quality only has the authority to temporarily stop work in areas of concern, said James Golden, director of operations for the DEQ.

And not every regulatory citation has a “substantial adverse” effect on water quality, he said, which is the standard for DEQ stopping work on a project.

“While there’s a large number of violations, they vary in their seriousness,” he said of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, referring to the hundreds of citations referenced in Herring’s lawsuit.

Lofton, the assistant chief counsel for airport and environmental law at the Federal Aviation Administration, also made a motion to reconsider the 401 certification issued for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

But some of the board members who opposed the same action for the Mountain Valley project pushed back on that proposal.

They said they weren’t sure the board had the authority to reconsider a certification when there weren’t documented problems with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s construction, since it hasn’t started in Virginia.

“This is a serious decision,” Hayes said. “We’re talking about going back and remaking a decision made a year ago. Whether or not you like the projects, there is a law.”

The board didn’t make a decision on reconsidering the certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.