Virginia’s environmental agency says contractor’s work for dominion doesn’t pose a conflict on pipeline virginia roanoke.com electricity rates el paso

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“The agency learned on June 28, 2017, that EEE conducted an environmental review for a Dominion subsidiary,” the DEQ said in a statement last month. “DEQ is assessing information related to EEE’s existing contracts with Dominion as well as other affiliates of Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, and Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC.”

That revelation prompted DEQ to question EEE about other existing work with any of the various entities behind the projects. On July 19, EEE replied that the only current or pending projects with any of the entities were the microwave tower jobs for Dominion, which it said at the time were 65 percent complete.

According to records provided pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the conflict-of-interest forms the agency required EEE to submit contained provisions against conflicting business and financial interests, as well as use of information for financial gain; and an assertion that the company had not accepted and would refrain from accepting “another contract that would impair the independent judgment of the contractor.”

Questions about whether DEQ should have also inquired about contracts with the large companies behind the pipelines, such as Dominion, that are, in their other business units, major employers of environmental consulting firms, are better directed to DEQ’s procurement panel, she said.

Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the energy giant had no role in EEE’s selection. Both Dominion and EQT, which is building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, are paying for the plan review, an arrangement Ruby described as customary for extensive reviews by regulatory agencies that require outside expertise.

But for Rick Webb, a program coordinator with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, which is fighting the proposed 600-mile, $5.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, EEE’s existing contract with Dominion poses “a blatant conflict” and represents a disturbing trend in the overall process for approving the project.

“This use of contractors with financial ties to Dominion, this is the way the game is being played,” Webb said. “There’s no way that a company with significant financial ties to Dominion is going to be able to answer the question of is it feasible or not.”

Webb and other opponents say it’s impossible for the pipeline — which would carve through some of Virginia’s most mountainous terrain on its way to deliver shale gas to power plants in Virginia and North Carolina — and an extension, which proponents say will fire industrial development in the Hampton Roads area, to be built without significant damage to mountain streams, aquifers and wetlands.

DEQ has also come under fire for how the agency is handling water quality certifications for the projects, which have yet to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, though both the ACP and MVP have received favorable environmental impact statements, a key hurdle to clear in the regulatory process that places them firmly on the path to approval. The monitoring coalition sent a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe last month, telling him that DEQ has “devised a confusing and evolving system of partial and inadequate regulatory measures that do not fulfill its legal duties.”

DEQ is charged under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act with certifying that pipeline construction does not violate state water quality standards. The gas the pipelines would carry isn’t the prime concern; rather, it’s the drilling and blasting that take place during construction, what happens to the fill created and the removal of trees and vegetation that could lead to erosion and, opponents fear, even landslides.

However, DEQ has opted to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, through the Nationwide Permit 12 process, to handle the places where the pipelines would cross streams, rivers and wetlands, albeit using Virginia standards to control erosion and sediment.

In a separate process, the agency has required the pipeline developers to submit detailed, site-specific plans for managing erosion, sediment control and stormwater for review and approval with the help of the contractor, EEE. These, DEQ says, will “address every foot of land disturbance related to pipeline construction, including access roads and construction lay-down areas.”

Webb said separating the erosion, sediment and stormwater plan review from the 401 certification that the Water Control Board is expected to vote on sometime before the end of the year excludes “critical information” from the 401 decision. At least one state lawmaker has urged DEQ to suspend the comment period on the 401 decision, which ends Aug. 22, until more information on the impact the pipelines could have on groundwater is compiled.

“Once the 401 certification is over, it’s essentially game over,” Webb said. “They’ve ceded their authority to protect Virginia streams and wetlands to the federal government. … It’s a regulatory maneuver to avoid strict implementation of Virginia environmental statutes and the Clean Water Act. It’s that simple. There’s no way the state can certify that this project will not violate water quality standards or result in the loss of existing uses of streams and rivers, including wildlife uses, if they look at all the information that’s available.”