Where’s the pipeline hearing you promised?

February 13, 2019 5:10 am

A portion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site in Franklin County in 2018 (Roberta Kellam)

On Dec. 13, the State Water Control Board passed a motion requiring that a hearing be held to consider whether the water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline  should be revoked.

It is now more than eight weeks later and still no date for the hearing has been announced.

Meanwhile, Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to inflict the same kinds of severe damage on state waters and residents that prompted the state’s lawsuit against MVP and the board’s vote to reconsider the water quality certification.

MVP’s ongoing pattern of violations disproves the assertion that formed the basis for certification, that compliance with water quality standards was reasonably assured. Every day that passes without a stop work order from the commonwealth undermines the board’s intention to reconsider the question of reasonable assurance.

The Department of Environmental Quality’s refusal to issue stop-work orders where harm continues and imminent threats to water quality now exist betrays the state’s duty to use its full authority to protect our resources.

The commonwealth’s enforcement lawsuit, without an injunction to stop work, can only produce penalties after the damage is done — not protect the waterbodies that have so far been spared degradation by MVP or prevent further impairment of waters already impacted. According to DEQ staff Jerome Brooks, construction in Virginia is only 30 percent complete. The time to act is now.

Leadership from the board is needed now more than ever. We now call on the board to meet as soon as possible to make clear with a vote that DEQ and the attorney general act immediately to stop work and prevent damage that is certain to result from continued construction by MVP.

Furthermore, the board must ensure that the hearing, once scheduled, allows citizens to properly represent their interests in a public venue. It is important to stress that the authority for the notice and hearing process lies with the board; DEQ is merely tasked with carrying out the board’s order.

The board is obligated to see that the decision that emerges from the hearing is properly supported by the facts and the law and that the process is fair and open. The hearing must provide the chance for parties with valid interests and rights to present evidence, confront other parties and advocate their legal positions

In this case, participation by citizens is especially necessary to ensure that the interests of the public and the environment are represented. Recent disclosures by a former board member show that DEQ Director David Paylor is hostile to citizens.

Mr. Paylor’s accusation that the board member was “working for the opposition” when she asked for information about water quality protections is shocking. A public servant who views citizens who advocate for enforcement of the law as “the opposition” and baselessly accuses those reporting pollution problems of being “untruthful” demonstrates an unacceptable bias in favor of the pipeline companies and disrespect for both the board and the citizens.

The pollution reports Mr. Paylor dismissed have been well documented by evidence already in the record and, in many cases, are reflected in the commonwealth’s lawsuit against MVP. Simply put, Director Paylor and DEQ appear biased and unable to represent the best interests of Virginia’s waters and the public in the revocation hearing. Citizens are prepared to play that role and must be given the chance to do so.

The State Water Control Board has authority to protect Virginia’s waters. Thousands of Virginians deeply appreciate the board’s initiative to reconsider whether there is reasonable assurance that the MVP can be constructed without causing harm to water quality. While the board’s order did not specify a time within which the mandated notice and hearing are to be held, it must go without saying that the board intended DEQ to act expeditiously in order to protect state water quality standards.

The board should provide an opportunity for meaningful citizen input. In the meantime, work on this dangerous pipeline should stop immediately. Revocation of the 401 Certification will be a mere gesture unless the destruction stops soon.

Tammy L. Belinsky, esquire, counsel for Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and Preserve Craig, Inc.; Anne Havemann, general counsel, Chesapeake Climate Action Network; Ben Luckett, senior attorney, Appalachian Mountain Advocates; David Sligh, conservation director, Wild Virginia.

Views of guest columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Virginia Mercury.

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POWHR Coalition
POWHR Coalition

Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) is an interstate coalition representing individuals and groups from counties in Virginia and West Virginia dedicated to protecting the water, local ecology, heritage, land rights, human rights of individuals, communities and regions from harms caused by the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure