Herring joins other AGs in call for federal regulators to halt new fossil fuel projects during pandemic

Workers had cleared trees along the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - July 26, 2018)

Along with his counterparts in nine other states and the District of Columbia, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring this week asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to halt all approvals of new and pending fossil fuel projects for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, sent to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, argues that a temporary moratorium “is necessary to preserve the due process rights of interested parties, many of whom are dealing with unprecedented challenges to their health and economic wellbeing from the COVID-19 crisis and whose ability to participate in hearings and proceedings may accordingly be constrained.”

The proposal would maintain the moratorium as long as the Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency declaration is in effect.

Among the reasons cited by the 11 attorneys general are the controversial nature of interstate fossil fuel infrastructure projects, particularly pipelines, and the issues they frequently raise related to eminent domain and pollution and safety concerns.

“In addition, such infrastructure projects may be at odds with the efforts of state and local governments to combat climate change by reducing fossil fuel emissions,” the letter states.

Besides Herring, the letter was backed by attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

In Virginia, FERC-approved pipeline projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline have led to years of legal fights, some of which continue to play out in the courts, that have halted constructions. 

Those projects are unlikely to be affected by a potential moratorium, said several people closely involved in Virginia pipeline issues.

“The letter only calls on FERC to halt any new projects,” wrote Herring press secretary Charlotte Gomer in an email, while the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects “have already been approved.”

MVP also plans an extension from southern Virginia into North Carolina called Southgate that is pending final approval by FERC. 

Mountain Valley Pipeline did not respond to a request for comment.