Please note: this post concerns developments prior to the Virginia State Water Control Board’s decisions in December 2017 on Section 401 Water Quality certification. For information on the Water Control Board’s public hearings, decision, and later developments on certification, please see this Water Central News Grouper post.
On May 24, 2017, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) acknowledged that the agency will not require individual permits for stream and wetland impacts of the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, should the projects be approved (both proposed projects are under review (as of May 2017) by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Instead, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be responsible for determining whether such impacts required individual permits or could be authorized under the Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12 process, a general permit that would cover all of a project’s wetland and stream crossings.
The agency had announced on April 7, 2017, the it would require individual state permits for each stream/wetland crossing in addition to the Corps’ process, but the agency asserted on May 24 that the April announcement was an error resulting from miscommunication between the agency’s technical staff and public affairs staff.
The DEQ said in May that it still intends to require certifications–known as 401 certifications after the relevant section of the federal Clean Water Act–of the potential water impacts of each project as a whole, and that it will hold public hearings on that process. That process would focus on water impacts beyond the jurisdiction of the Corps, according to news reports on May 24-25, 2017. On June 30, 2017, the DEQ announced a series of public comment sessions on the 401 certifications for both proposed pipelines; the public comment period will ran July 3-August 22, 2017. See Public comment period and public hearings scheduled on draft water quality certifications for proposed natural gas pipelines, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality News Release, 6/30/17. In October 2017, the DEQ announced that the State Water Control Board would hold public hearings in December 2017 to consider whether or not to grant Section 401 water-quality certification (see State Water Control Board meeting dates announced, Va. DEQ News Release, 10/3/17).
In early June 2017, three groups—Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, Bold Alliance, and Preserve Craig, Inc.—filed suit in Richmond Circuit Court, challenging the DEQ’s decision.
In an interview on June 6, 2017, DEQ Director David Paylor defended his agency’s decision to have the Army Corps of Engineers direct permitting for potential impacts of the proposed pipelines’s waterway and wetlands crossings, saying that the DEQ will focus on potential impacts in watersheds upstream of the proposed crossings.
In a mid-June 2017 e-mail communication reported by The Roanoke Times, Virginia Deparment of Environmental Quality (DEQ) spokesman Bill Hayden detailed steps that the DEQ intends to take in reviewing potential environmental impacts of the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, should those projects receive approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). According to the newspaper article (Virginia DEQ pledges thorough review of pipeline impacts, Roanoke Times, 6/18/17), “Hayden cited a host of requirements and conditions reflective of the “additional measures” deemed necessary by DEQ — ranging from a demand for water-quality monitoring before, during and after construction to details about the pipeline companies’ plans for construction and operation of the projects in karst landscapes featuring sinkholes, caves, underground streams and the like. …As one example of anticipated scrutiny, Hayden said DEQ is requiring developers of the two pipelines to submit detailed, site-specific erosion and sedimentation control and storm water plans for every foot of land disturbance related to pipeline construction, including access roads and temporary staging areas.”
More details on DEQ communications, decisions, and actions regarding the agency’s potential environmental impacts of the proposed pipelines are available in “A very confused, inaccurate picture is being spread”: Why did Virginia DEQ wait seven weeks to correct inaccurate pipeline statement?, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/20/17.
For more information on the federal Clean Water Act’s required Section 401 state certification process, see “401 Certification,” Association of State Wetland Managers, online at https://www.aswm.org/wetland-programs/regulation/401-certification.
Sources and ongoing list of news items about the permitting issue:
Virginia’s environmental agency to press ahead on pipeline permits as other states hit the brakes, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/18/17; and North Carolina environmental agency delays decision on water quality permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Roanoke Times, 9/15/17 [regarding decisions by West Virginia and North Carolina stopping or slowing Clean Water Act Section 401 water-quality certification for the proposed Mountain Valley pipeline (West Virginia) and Atlantic Coast pipeline (North Carolina)].
Va. to expand review of proposed gas pipelines, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/30/17.
Virginia DEQ pledges thorough review of pipeline impacts, Roanoke Times, 6/18/17.
Montgomery County to ask Virginia DEQ to reconsider pipeline permit policy, WDBJ TV-Roanoke, 6/12/17.
Top Virginia environmental official defends pipeline reviews, Associated Press, as published by Virginian-Pilot, 6/8/17.
Group sues Virginia environmental agency over pipeline permitting, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/7/17.
DEQ draws ire of pipeline opponents, The News Virginian [Waynesboro], 5/25/17.
Virginia DEQ denies backpedaling on pipeline water-crossing reviews, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/24/17.
DEQ acknowledges error, clarifies approach to review of pipelines, Roanoke Times, 5/24/17.
As gas pipelines roil Virginia governor’s race, regulators backtrack on their role, Washington Post, 5/25/17.
A Brain-Frying Foray into the Regulatory Maze, Bacon’s Rebellion, 4/19/17 [discussing differences between “nationwide” and “individual” permits under the federal Clean Water Act, relating to potential stream/wetland impacts of the proposed natural gas pipelines].
DEQ will require additional individual 401 certifications for natural gas transmission pipeline projects, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality News Release, 4/6/17.
Virginia pipelines will be subject to Department of Environment Quality water-quality review, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/6/17.
DEQ to require pipeline projects to secure state water quality certification, Roanoke Times, 4/6/17.
What’s Next for the Pipeline Controversies?, Bacon’s Rebellion, 4/14/17.
For more details about natural gas developments in Virginia, please see the Water Central News Grouper post, Natural Gas Drilling and Transport in Virginia under Close Scrutiny in 2014-17.