Posts Tagged ‘natural gas pipelines’

Public Pushback Against Appalachian Natural Gas Pipelines

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

Critics cite flaws in Mountain Valley Pipeline’s environmental review process

By Molly Moore

pipeline easement illustration

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC is seeking an amendment to the Jefferson National Forest Plan that would reclassify 186 acres of old growth forest as a 500-foot-wide “utility corridor.” This image simulates a such a corridor from the perspective of Giles High School in Giles County, Va. Illustration courtesy Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition.

On a quiet Tuesday evening, nine individuals gathered in the small town of Elliston, Va., for a meeting of the eastern chapter of Preserve Montgomery County VA, a grassroots group formed in response to a proposed natural gas pipeline. Some attendees had known each other for years, while others shook hands for the first time. But these individuals shared at least two things in common: all lived along the steep slopes and rolling ridgelines that distinguish Central Appalachia, and all were opposed to a new natural gas pipeline slicing through their home county.

Dozens of major new gas transmission pipelines are proposed for construction across the eastern United States. Two of these, each 42 inches in diameter, are slated to cross the steep slopes and abundant streams of the Appalachian Mountains while carrying high-pressure natural gas from fracking wells in West Virginia to companies in Virginia and North Carolina. Since applications for the projects were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — in September 2015 by the public utilities backing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and in October 2015 by the private companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline — communities along the route have raised the alarm.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would stretch from Wetzel County in northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County along Virginia’s southern border, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from Harrison and Lewis Counties, also in northern West Virginia, across Virginia to Robeson County on the southeastern edge of North Carolina.

Both would tie in to the Transco Pipeline, which extends between Texas and New York. Transco also connects to a recently approved natural gas export facility in Maryland, opening the possibility that this gas could go to overseas markets.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would also each require the construction of between three and four compressor stations — industrial facilities that maintain pressure throughout the system but pose concentrated health and environmental risks to nearby communities.

Common Cause

In places like Montgomery County, Va., some residents who might have different perspectives on other issues are united in their opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Community member Ellen Darden serves as the volunteer co-chair for Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights — a coalition of local groups along the proposed route of the MVP. “[It’s] totally nonpartisan,” she says of the group’s name. “It’s really all about water, heritage and rights because those were the elements that were important to different groups and we wanted that represented.”

The coalition is working alongside environmental organizations, including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper.

Many of the residents are outraged at the prospect of losing the use of their land to gas companies or utilities while facing the likelihood of diminishing property values.

“The thing about going through properties, in addition to environmental destruction, is we’re in hollers. The only flat land you have is down by the creek,” says Anita Puckett, a member of Preserve Montgomery County VA. “They want to run it down by the creek because it’s easier to build, so they’re leasing prime farmland, garden land, house-building land.”

In eastern Montgomery County, the MVP would claim a right-of-way through a flat portion of resident Jim Law’s land that he intends to use as a future homesite for his granddaughters. Roughly 100 miles further east, the ACP would bisect a pasture on Carlos Arostegui’s dairy farm.

Other nearby citizens cite worries about the risks that high-pressure gas poses to their homes, farms and lives. Natural gas transmission pipelines can be constructed with thinner walls and with shutoff valves spaced further apart in more sparsely populated areas, increasing the safety risk to nearby landowners.

Environmental impacts are also of concern to many. The construction process involves heavy truck traffic, clear-cutting, and crossing and tunneling beneath waterways, which leads to sedimentation and stream disturbances. Both the MVP and ACP would also traverse fragile karst topography, a porous limestone bedrock that amplifies the risk that groundwater would be affected.

New pipelines also have implications for global climate change. Methane is released during natural gas drilling and transmission and has a climate-altering potential 86 times greater than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after emission.

Locally, the projects would negatively affect viewsheds and tourism, according to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Appalachian Trail Conservancy. After months of attempting to collaborate with pipeline officials and other stakeholders to minimize risks, in November 2016 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy concluded that it is “strongly opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project.”

In contrast, pipeline backers emphasize potential for construction jobs and tax revenue — a 2014 economic impact study commissioned by MVP anticipated that a four-year construction phase would contribute to roughly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.

According to the ACP’s website, that pipeline would generate $8.3 million in property tax revenue in 2018, a figure that would rise and top $30 million each year by 2025, when considering all three states. But different projections were reached in a 2016 study by Key-Log Economics, LLC, which predicted the pipeline would result in a net loss of property taxes.

The ACP has the explicit support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and President-Elect Donald Trump’s First 100 Days platform calls for removing barriers to new energy infrastructure projects. But even with such high-profile support, the pipelines still face regulatory and potential legal hurdles.

Federal Procedure

Before breaking ground, interstate pipeline projects must first be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency is designed to be nonpartisan and independent, so instead of relying on financial support from taxpayers, it is funded by fees from the companies it regulates. Pipeline opponents nationwide have alleged that this is a conflict of interest that favors industry.

Since 2009, FERC has approved 170 major natural gas pipelines, though the commission isn’t obligated to review whether or not these pipelines are needed.

Yet even if FERC approves a pipeline, it’s not a done deal. Privately financed projects like the MVP still need to find and retain financial backing. Pipelines can also be denied at a state level even if they have federal approval — in April 2016, the state of New York halted construction on the Constitution Pipeline by denying a water-quality permit.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, FERC is required to prepare an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of significant projects like these and to assess alternatives, as well as consider public input before making a decision and issuing a final environmental review. At FERC, these documents are often prepared by contractors and subcontractors who are paid directly by the gas companies or utilities.

FERC has been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for repeatedly accepting environmental assessments for new pipelines that the EPA deems insufficient. In October, the EPA issued a letter charging that FERC’s review of the LeachXPress pipeline — which would carry natural gas through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — omitted significant information.

The environmental review process is intended to give the public a chance to be heard by submitting public comments or attending formal in-person FERC listening sessions. The draft environmental review for the MVP was released on Sept. 16 and the deadline for public comment set for Dec. 22. Release of the ACP’s draft environmental assessment is expected in December 2016. [Editor’s note: The ACP environmental review was released Dec. 30. Read the full draft here and environmental groups’ press statement here.]

Residents across the country can submit comments for interstate pipelines like MVP and ACP. But the effectiveness of public comments also depends on how thorough the initial assessment is — for instance, if the draft doesn’t describe how pipeline builders plan to mitigate landslides, it’s harder for local residents to weigh in on whether that plan is sufficient. Attendees at FERC’s seven public listening sessions held along the MVP route in November stated that the draft environmental statement was “woefully inadequate.”

Incomplete Review

In October, the nonprofit law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates submitted a letter to FERC outlining shortcomings in the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s draft environmental impact statement. The 15-page letter, sent on behalf of 27 conservation and community groups, called on the agency to revise or supplement the draft and questioned whether the MVP was even necessary.

According to Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, FERC published an incomplete review. “FERC even acknowledges it still needs information about impacts on drinking water sources, as well as important streams and wetlands,” he stated in a press release. “The public must have access to this crucial information if its review of FERC’s analysis is to have any meaning.”

In its application, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, stated that it has secured contracts for the two billion cubic feet of pressurized natural gas it would transport each day. Yet separate studies by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, commissioned by Appalachian Voices, and by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., both concluded that pipelines carrying gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are being overbuilt and that there is enough pipeline capacity to meet demand until 2030.

The Appalachian Mountain Advocates letter also points out that some information — such as surveys for a proposed route change — can be omitted until the end of the comment period, and even more information can be withheld until after FERC grants a certificate of approval. These components include plans for avoiding active mines, mitigating landslides, installing permanent culverts and permanently filling waterbodies and wetlands along the route.

There are many organizations resisting the pipelines, and those listed below can also help identify local groups in your area. Learn more or submit a comment asking FERC to reject the MVP at appvoices.org/no-mvp-pipeline

  • Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Coalition of local groups opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: abralliance.org
  • Appalachian Voices: Advocacy organization fighting against the ACP and MVP
    Visit: Appvoices.org Call: (434) 293-6373
  • NC WARN: N.C. organization working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: ncwarn.org Call: (919) 416-5077
  • Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: Coalition of local groups resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline
    Visit: powhr.org
  • Speaking Out

    FERC’s seven listening sessions on the MVP were held in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania during the first part of November. Some were sparsely attended, while others had high turnout, including more than 150 attendees in Roanoke, Va.

    Instead of speaking publicly before attendees and the commission as is the custom for public forums, individuals were led into a room with just a FERC official and a stenographer, an atmosphere that Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer with Appalachian Voices, calls “sterile and disempowering.”

    Yet as attendees met with FERC individually, community groups and the Sierra Club Virginia hosted alternative meeting spaces in the same building for people to share their comments with one another and learn more about the pipeline. In Weston, W. Va., local organizations also held their own forum with a stenographer taking comments in a public space so that residents could hear each other’s concerns.

    In the face of proposals like the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, building connections — whether between organizations or between neighbors — is key.

    “This is not just a local fight,” says Darden, noting that if one proposal fails, companies will likely try another route. “The [pipelines] are coming. This is just the start. And the companies just all want their own profit, there’s no collaboration, no coordination.”

    Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline draft environmental assessment was expected December 2017. The draft was expected in December 2016, and was released Dec. 30. Read the response to the draft from Appalachian Voices and other citizens groups.

    Across the Years: Updates from the Archives

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    For two decades, The Appalachian Voice has reported on environmental issues from across central and southern Appalachia. In honor of our 20th anniversary, we looked back through our archives to identify important topics that we’ve covered over the years and provide updates on where these issues stand today.

    Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining’s Ongoing Impact in Appalachia

    Mountaintop removal coal mining continues to threaten the mountains and rivers of Central Appalachia. This image of Kayford Mountain was taken in July 2014. Photo by Lynn Willis, courtesy of Appalachian Voices/Southwings

    Mountaintop removal coal mining continues to threaten the mountains and rivers of Central Appalachia. This image of Kayford Mountain was taken in July 2014. Photo by Lynn Willis, courtesy of Appalachian Voices/Southwings

    In our inaugural issue in Winter 1996, The Appalachian Voice ran its first story about mountaintop coal removal mining. In “A View From Kayford Mountain: ‘Seng, Ramps, And The Human Casualties of Burning Coal,” Mary Hufford wrote about a particularly destructive form of surface mining that would grow in scope over the coming years.

    In Winter 2003, we once again covered the issue when Tiffany Hartung discussed the damage already being caused by a recently permitted mine on Zeb Mountain in an article called “Mountaintop Removal by any Other Name… Elk Valley residents voice concern as cross ridge mining comes to Tennessee.” For 10 years, community members and advocacy groups fought to stop this destruction, and in June 2013, we reported on their victory. After repeated violations to the Clean Water Act, a legal settlement ended mining on Zeb Mountain.

    Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 500 mountains and over one million acres in Central and Southern Appalachia to date. In recent years the pace of the mining has slowed, but the health risks to nearby communities remain significant. With many regional coal companies now going through bankruptcy, citizens and advocacy organizations are increasingly focused on ensuring that these sites are properly cleaned up and reclaimed.

    Read more about the continued threat of mountaintop removal coal mining here.

    Hemlocks Under Threat

    The aphid-like woolly adelgid is devastating hemlock populations in the southern Appalachians, leaving behind gray ghosts like these in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Photo by Steve Norman, courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

    The aphid-like woolly adelgid is devastating hemlock populations in the southern Appalachians, leaving behind gray ghosts like these in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Photo by Steve Norman, courtesy of U.S. Forest Service


    Hugh Irwin’s article, “Exotic Pest Invasion Threatens Many Tree Species,” in the Spring 1996 issue contained our first mention of the threat posed by the hemlock woolly adelgid. This non-native, aphid-like insect sucks the sap out of both the eastern and Carolina hemlocks and can damage or kill the trees within a few years.

    Deborah Huso’s article, “Praying for a Good Predator: Biologists introduce beetles, try to save Eastern Hemlock,” in the Summer 2005 issue was one of several we’ve run over the years about the ongoing efforts to save the hemlock trees.

    While the hemlock woolly adelgid is found across much of the eastern United States, its impact in the southern Appalachians has been profound. The U.S. Forest Service is combating this pest by introducing natural predators and insecticides that kill the woolly adelgid and looking for hybrid varieties of hemlocks that are more resistant to attack.

    A recent study of hemlocks in North Carolina by U.S. Forest Service scientists found that once the trees are infested, more than 85 percent are dead within seven years.

    A Haze Over the Great Smoky Mountains

    Air pollution affects the visibility at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as evidenced by these images of clear versus hazy days. Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

    Air pollution affects the visibility at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as evidenced by these images of clear versus hazy days. Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

    The first issue of the publication in Winter 1996 was “partly devoted to the insidious, sometimes invisible problem of air pollution” — a topic that has been a regular theme since.

    The Summer 2004 issue included a story by Matt Wasson and Harvard Ayers called “And the Winner Is… America’s Most Visited Park Is Also Its Most Polluted,” which covered air pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the time it was reported that, “Over the last five years, the Smokies have had more than 100 days when breathing is potentially dangerous due to excess ozone. Even healthy visitors and staff are warned to limit exertion of any kind on such days, including hiking and biking.”

    While ozone levels remain elevated, according to the U.S. National Park Service no ozone health advisories were issued in 2013, the latest year for which records are available.

    Still Cleaning Up Coal Ash

    Our February/March 2009 issue focused on the disastrous coal ash spill that took place in Kingston, Tenn., on Dec. 22, 2008.

    Our February/March 2009 issue focused on the disastrous coal ash spill that took place in Kingston, Tenn., on Dec. 22, 2008.


    Following the catastrophic coal ash spill in late 2008 at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant, the February/March 2009 issue of The Appalachian Voice was devoted to this disaster that brought the problem of coal ash to national attention. We have followed the topic closely ever since.

    Nearly eight years later, toxic coal ash — waste leftover from burning coal — continues to poison the region. In Alabama, communities are struggling to deal with coal ash that was transported to the area after the 2008 Kingston spill. Subsequent disasters, such as the North Carolina’s Dan River spill in 2014, keep the issue in the spotlight.

    In December 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released federal rules for disposing of coal ash, which environmental groups criticized as insufficient. Earlier that year, the N.C. General Assembly passed even stricter regulations, but many of the state’s guidelines have since been overturned. And in towns like Walnut Cove, N.C., toxic compounds are still leaching from neighboring coal ash impoundments into residents’ drinking water.

    Protecting Migrating Birds

    bird

    The cerulean warbler’s population is in steep decline. Conservationists are working to preserve its summer habitat throughout Appalachia. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Migratory birds took center stage in “Less Twittering in the Trees: Migratory Birds Show Alarming Population Declines,” an article from April/May 2009 by Kathleen McFadden that described how the loss of habitat, especially through forest fragmentation, was threatening populations of many migratory birds.

    While many populations are still in decline, conservationists are hoping to reverse this trend. Appalachian Mountain Joint Ventures — a regional coalition of organizations and agencies working to conserve the habitat of migratory birds that was cited in the 2009 article — continues to partner with private landowners to protect the natural homes of at-risk birds.

    In January 2015, the coalition was awarded federal funding for a five-year program to enhance the habitat of the cerulean warbler. This program includes funding to manage and improve 12,500 acres of forest land and 1,000 acres of reclaimed mine land in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland.

    Battle to Save Blair Mountain

    Blair protest

    In June 2011, environmental activists gathered for the March on Blair Mountain in an effort to save the historic site from destruction from mountaintop removal coal mining.


    The largest labor uprising in American history took place in late August and early September, 1921, on Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia. At that time, thousands of miners joined forces to fight for better treatment and the right to unionize.

    In the Summer 2005 issue, Denise Giardina wrote an article called “The Battle of Blair Mountain… Revisited” about the ongoing struggle to save the archaeological remains of the battle from destruction by mountaintop removal coal mining.

    After years of victories and defeats for conservationists, for now it seems the site will be preserved. On July 26, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior dropped its appeal of an earlier case, paving the way for the site to be returned the National Register of Historic Places, which will add some protection to the battlefield.

    Passing on the Pipelines

    pipeline map

    The East Coast is crossed by natural gas pipelines. Blue indicates existing pipelines, other colors are proposed pipelines. Map by Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition.

    The expansion of natural gas pipelines into the Appalachian region was first mentioned in the Late Summer 2003 issue. In “Passing on the Patriot Pipeline: Duke Power Criss-Crossing New River Watershed,” Lynn Caldwell and Jeffrey Scott wrote of their fight to block a pipeline already under construction.

    By the next year, the Patriot Extension was fully operational. The 95-mile pipeline is now operated by Spectra Energy, a spin-off company of Duke Energy, and extends from one natural gas pipeline in Wythe County, Va., to another pipeline in Rockingham County, N.C.

    On July 23, more than 600 people gathered in Richmond, Va., for the “March on the Mansion” to ask Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stand against proposed pipelines in the state.

    On July 23, more than 600 people gathered in Richmond, Va., for the “March on the Mansion” to ask Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stand against proposed pipelines in the state.

    Since then, natural gas infrastructure has expanded across Appalachia, and so has our coverage. Today, community members and environmental groups, including Appalachian Voices, are fighting to block the construction of two more proposed lines — the Mountain Valley and the Atlantic Coast Pipelines, in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. For the latest, read more here.

    Consequences and Need for Natural Gas Pipelines Disputed

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

    By Brian Sewell

    A decision by federal regulators to forgo a comprehensive review of large natural gas pipelines proposed in Appalachia has not diminished opponents’ doubts about the projects, including whether they are needed at all.

    In August, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made clear it would not conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement to consider the cumulative impacts of the region’s proposed pipelines, particularly the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite months of requests from landowners and citizen groups.

    Yet a new study published by Synapse Energy Economics does examine the need for the projects — and concluded that there is none. Based on existing capacity and projected electricity demand, minor pipeline upgrades would be sufficient to meet demand through at least 2030, the study found. In April, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis similarly concluded that the industry tends toward overbuilding, benefitting gas companies and electric utilities but putting ratepayers at risk.

    A draft impact statement for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will arrive in December, with a final statement expected next June. The final statement for the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline will come in March. Citizen groups argue that the draft review released in September fails to fully assess the public need, and likely impacts to water quality and the climate. The release of the draft on Sept. 16 initiated a 90-day public comment period.

    “FERC once again has its blinders on to the full climate consequences of fracked gas,” says Anne Havemann of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, referring to widespread use of fracking to extract natural gas in Northern Appalachia, where the pipelines would begin. Havemann faults the review for acting as if the gas that would be transported by the pipeline “comes from nowhere.”

    Opponents argue that both projects pose risks to the mountainous terrain, watersheds and ecosystems they would cross, including in the national forests that span Virginia’s border with West Virginia. The U.S. Forest Service detailed its concerns about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route through the George Washington National Forest in a September letter to regulators, warning of threats to wild trout streams.

    In order to protect the silt-free gravel stream beds where trout spawn, the forest plan for the George Washington National Forest restricts activities that could disrupt the streams between Oct. 1 and April 1. But the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition reports that the utility intends to request waivers for time-of-year restrictions and other important environmental requirements.

    Dominion CEO Tom Farrell says the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s scheduled environmental review means that “FERC believes that the route is essentially complete.” But opposition has significantly delayed construction and the project’s expected in-service date.
    Read about Appalachian Voices’ involvement here.

    Dakota Access Pipeline Stopped, For Now

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

    Protests continue as Native American nations and environmental advocates face off with Energy Transfer Partners in an effort to block construction of the company’s Dakota Access Pipeline. This $3.8 billion project, which is 60 percent complete, would carry crude oil for 1,134 miles from North Dakota to Illinois.

    The Standing Rock Sioux hope to block construction of the pipeline near their reservation on the grounds that it threatens their cultural heritage and their drinking water supply. As of press time in late September, more than a thousand people were gathered at an encampment in protest.

    On Sept. 9, the Obama administration halted construction of the pipeline near the Missouri River to allow time for the courts to decide on injunctions before them.

    — Elizabeth E. Payne

    Standing Against the Mountain Valley Pipeline

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns
    Hundreds  of concerned  Virginians attended  a series of meetings about the proposed pipeline.

    Hundreds of concerned Virginians attended a series of meetings about the proposed pipeline.

    Throughout September, we met with hundreds of concerned residents along the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline in places such as Summers and Monroe Counties in West Virginia and Roanoke and Montgomery Counties in Virginia. The pipeline would carry natural gas from fracking operations in West Virginia for 301 miles, crossing through public lands, private properties and more than 1,000 waterways.

    At the meetings, which were held along with the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and the Protect Our Water Heritage and Rights coalition and their local member organizations, we discussed the pipeline’s timeline and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s permitting process, as well as current and upcoming opportunities for public comment. We also reviewed county-specific threats including water quality, vulnerable karst geology, property rights and community safety.

    In mid-September, federal regulators released the draft environmental impact statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The draft fails to adequately assess the public need for the project — a recent report shows that existing infrastructure could meet demand until 2030. The federal review also discounts the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate. Read more about the pipelines here.

    “Running a massive gas project through the steep, rugged terrain laced with dozens of rivers and headwater streams is a perfect storm for major damage to our water resources,” says Lara Mack, Virginia Campaign Field Organizer with Appalachian Voices. “FERC also fails to meaningfully address the safety issues and other concerns so earnestly voiced by hundreds of homeowners and landowners along the route.”

    Public comments on the MVP draft environmental impact statement are due Dec. 22. To submit a comment, visit appvoices.org/fight-mvp

    Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing and other shorts

    Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

    Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing

    A June ruling from the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission affirmed the right of rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to buy cost-competitive power from independent generators instead of conventional utilities. This bolsters the prospects of decentralized energy production — often solar power— in rural areas, says Utility Dive.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made available a new low-cost energy efficiency financing program. The Rural Energy Savings Program provides funding to rural electric cooperatives to back loans to electric co-op members for weatherization upgrades.

    — Eliza Laubach

    Mine Drainage Emits Higher Level of Carbon Dioxide

    More carbon dioxide is being released from coal mine drainage than expected.

    In June, a West Virginia University study found that 140 coal mines across Pennsylvania are collectively releasing carbon dioxide equal to that of a small power plant. The greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere when mine waters reach the land’s surface, a WVU press release explains.

    Using a meter designed for measuring carbon dioxide in beverages, the research team discovered there is more carbon dioxide in the water than was measured using previous testing methods.

    Coal mine drainage contaminates drinking water, disrupts ecosystems and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the university.

    — Otto Solberg

    New Pollution Controls for Virginia Natural Gas Plant

    The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality imposed precedent-setting protections against air pollutants by requiring that Dominion Power employ the best available control technology in its proposed gas-fired power plant in Greensville County, Va. The move comes in response to extensive comments from citizens and organizations such as Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The department also decreased allowable carbon dioxide emission limits by more than 10 percent compared to the original proposal, according to a press release from the organizations.

    — Hannah Petersen

    $30 Million for Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Projects

    In July, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf awarded $30 million for 14 projects to reclaim abandoned mine lands that were selected based on their potential to create long-term economic benefits. Funding for the projects comes from a federal pilot program passed by Congress in December. The program is structured similar to the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation that, if passed, would distribute $1 billion over five years to support land restoration and economic development in communities across the country impacted by the coal industry’s decline.

    — Brian Sewell

    Pipeline Would Cross Hazardous Landscape

    If constructed as proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would encounter many geologic hazards as it carries natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to Virginia, according to a recent study commissioned by Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (The POWHR Coalition). Because of its weak soil structure, the possibility of surface collapse and potential for seismic activity, the karst landscape along the West Virginia-Virginia state line makes this area a “‘no-build’ zone for the project,” according to Dr. Ernst H. Kastning, the study’s author.

    Karst topography is formed when soluble rock layers such as limestone are dissolved, leaving behind underground caves and sinkholes.

    — Elizabeth E. Payne

    Renewable Energy Growing

    Renewable energy sources supplied an estimated 23.7 percent of the world’s electricity in 2015, and that number is expected to rise as better funding enters the competitive market, according to a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

    The world added more renewable power capacity than fossil fuel capacity in 2015. Hydroelectric power added a trillion watts, wind added 63 billion watts and solar added 50 billion watts.

    — Otto Solberg

    Coal Production Drops

    The first quarter of 2016 saw the lowest level of coal produced since 1981 and the largest quarter-over-quarter decline in coal production since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA report shows that weaker demand due to above-normal winter temperatures, alongside complying with environmental regulations and competing with renewables and natural gas, have caused production to decline.

    — Hannah Petersen

    Recent Studies Question the Economic Benefit of Pipelines

    Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    New studies raise challenges about the financial harm of two natural gas pipeline projects proposed for West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina — the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

    A study released in May by Key-Log Economics LLC estimated that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would cost local communities more than $8 billion. The study was commissioned by The POWHR Coalition (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), an alliance of citizen groups from eight Virginia and West Virginia counties along the pipeline’s proposed route.

    The study’s authors calculated one-time and annual costs to the eight-county region from lost property values and taxes, and decreased natural beauty and quality-of-life that would result in fewer people moving to or visiting the area.

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the capacity to generate power from natural gas is expanding rapidly, particularly around major shale plays. In the mid-Atlantic, Virginia is projected to have the greatest increase in capacity over the next two years.

    In another study, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis concluded that pipelines from the Marcellus and Utica shale beneath Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — the source for both proposed pipelines — are being overbuilt.

    The study also concludes that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “facilitates [this] overbuilding” and that much of the cost of construction would likely be passed on to ratepayers.

    “None of the economic interests within the natural gas industry have any incentive to seriously consider whether alternatives to natural gas — energy efficiency, renewable energy or other forms of power generation — may be cheaper,” write the authors of the report.

    Environmental advocates and homeowners along the routes continue to voice concerns about the harm the pipelines are likely to cause if constructed. Most recently, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation announced its opposition to the construction of both pipelines, each of which are projected to cross the parkway. And the Board of Supervisors of Augusta County, Va., also asked FERC to reject the current route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    Groups in two states challenge WB XPress

    Thursday, February 4th, 2016 - posted by cat

    Contact:
    Ben Luckett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 304-645-0125, bluckett@appalmad.org
    Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices, 804-536-5598, kate@appvoices.org
    Anne Havemann, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-1984, anne@chesapeakeclimate.org
    Kirk Bowers, Virginia Chapter, Sierra Club, 434-296-8673, kirk.bowers@sierraclub.org

    On behalf of conservation groups in Virginia and West Virginia, Appalachian Mountain Advocates today filed a formal protest and motion to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s permitting process for the WB XPress, an $850 million natural gas infrastructure proposal from Columbia Gas Transmission.

    The project consists of two new compressor stations, 26 miles of pipeline replacement, and 2.9 miles of new pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia. Construction would impact the Monongahela National Forest, as well as privately owned forest and agricultural lands.

    “The WB XPress would fragment prime forest habitat, endanger family farms and homes, and amplify the threats to drinking water and air quality in communities plagued by fracking operations,” explained Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The WB XPress is intended to boost Columbia’s capacity to pipe fracked natural gas from West Virginia’s Marcellus region. The fracked gas would be sold in markets farther south and perhaps abroad.

    “We’re also highly concerned that this project will increase the pressure to build the Mountaineer XPress, which would have even more destructive impacts throughout our region,” explained Luckett. The Mountaineer XPress, proposed by a consortium owned in part by Columbia Gas, involves constructing three new compressor stations and approximately 165 miles of new pipeline in West Virginia.

    This fall, these same groups filed similar challenges to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. These groups hope to shed light on the rash of gas projects currently pending FERC review. “Appalachian communities have been hard-hit by the fracking boom, and now face the threat of a huge build-out of natural gas infrastructure,” explained Kate Rooth with Appalachian Voices. Collectively, the projects involve thousands of miles of pipeline construction and upgrades costing tens of billions of dollars to move fracked gas out of West Virginia.

    The massive network of new gas infrastructure proposed for the region has prompted many to call on FERC to perform a comprehensive analysis of the entire planned pipeline scheme. “FERC should perform one comprehensive review of these massive fossil fuel projects so we can see the entirety of the environmental and climate impacts of this proposal — not a fragmented one that fails to recognize the devastating impacts these pipelines would have,” said Kirk Bowers, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

    “Taken together, these pipeline projects will lock the region into decades of reliance on a fossil fuel that is just as bad as coal for our climate,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. A new report by the Sierra Club found that just two of the pipeline proposals would trigger nearly twice as much total climate-disrupting pollution as all the existing stationary sources in Virginia combined. Climate-disrupting emissions from the WB XPress project will only add to the problem.

    “Every dollar invested in this dirty and dangerous fossil fuel is better spent on clean energy and energy efficiency,” said Havemann. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has found that for the same cost as building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, for example, a utility could instead install solar panels to power over 400,000 homes.

    Columbia Gas Transmission filed its application with FERC earlier this year. FERC is tasked with determining whether the project will serve the “public convenience and necessity” and coordinating an environmental review. Columbia has asked FERC for a certificate decision by Dec. 1, 2016.

    Appalachian Mountain Advocates has intervened on behalf the following groups: Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the West Virginia and Virginia chapters of the Sierra Club.
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    Environmental Groups Challenge How Pipeline Impacts are Assessed

    Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    A coalition of conservation groups is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider the collective impact of four natural gas pipeline projects proposed for West Virginia, rather than evaluating each project individually as applications are received.

    In a Sept. 22 press release, the Southern Environmental Law Center called on FERC “to undertake a comprehensive regional Environmental Impact Statement to study pipeline capacity, the need for new pipelines, and their effects on communities and the environment.”

    The four pipeline projects at issue are the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Appalachian Connector and the WB XPress Project, each of which would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in West Virginia east into Virginia, with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continuing into eastern North Carolina.

    This degree of overlap has led environmental groups — including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this paper — to challenge the need for all four projects.

    Official applications to begin construction on three of the pipelines were filed with FERC in 2015: the WB XPress Project in April, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in September and the Mountain Valley Pipeline in October. Approval of these projects is pending. An application for the proposed Appalachian Connector has not yet been filed.

    “The only way to unravel these interrelated proposals and ensure a careful and deliberate decision that is protective of the environment and local communities is with a comprehensive, region-wide [Environmental Impact Statement],” wrote the SELC in their statement.

    In an Oct. 26 press release, Duke Energy announced its intent to purchase Piedmont Natural Gas — a natural gas distribution company serving North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — for approximately $4.9 billion. Both companies are significant stakeholders in the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    In national news, federal officials are seeking stricter safety regulations governing natural gas pipelines following a series of disasters in recent years. The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing expanded inspections in rural areas and following floods and hurricanes, as well as increased analysis and reporting of inspection results.

    Rallying Against Climate Change

    Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne
    Photo courtesy Wild Virginia

    Photo courtesy Wild Virginia

    In October, we worked with our community partners to organize a rally in downtown Charlottesville, Va. This demonstration was part of the National Day of Action in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference schedule to take place in Paris in December. More than 150 residents gathered to ask their representatives to stop the proposed pipeline projects in Virginia and address the challenges of climate change.

    Learn more about our work on carbon pollution and climate.