The latest snub.
One more example of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission saying “no” to residents, organizations and local governments in Southwest Virginia.
That’s how David Perry, the executive director of the Roanoke-based Blue Ridge Land Conservancy, described the recent rejection by FERC of performing an overarching study of the potential cumulative environmental effects of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and up to three other proposed interstate natural gas pipeline projects in Virginia and West Virginia.
Yet it seems there’s nothing personal in FERC’s rejection of preparing a programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS. The commission reports it has never conducted such an analysis.
Perry and many others, including a coalition of 30 groups in Virginia and West Virginia and officials in many counties affected by pipeline routes, have implored FERC to conduct a single, comprehensive analysis that would assess the need for and the cumulative environmental impacts of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and other natural gas pipeline projects in the region.
Proponents say such an assessment could help establish fundamental standards for projects that would bury large-diameter natural gas pipelines in environments that include steep and mountainous terrain, sinkholes, caves and springs, sensitive species, high-quality streams and a host of other features common to the Appalachian and Blue Ridge region.
It would help track the potential for cumulative environmental consequences, they say, and weigh those effects against the need to pipe natural gas to markets.
The Water and Power Law Group, a firm hired by Preserve Craig County, said the National Environmental Policy Act suggests a programmatic environmental impact statement is appropriate given the similar circumstances of the Appalachian Basin pipeline projects that are before FERC and the environments the projects would affect.
“With the recent exponential increase in applications to FERC for new interstate pipelines to transport Marcellus shale natural gas, FERC’s traditional project-by-project NEPA review has proven increasingly ineffective,” the law firm suggested.
The firm said the Council on Environmental Quality’s guidance for the use of a PEIS says that its preparation can be especially useful when similar actions “share common timing or geography.”
As envisioned, project-by-project analysis of the environmental effects of individual pipeline projects would play off the overarching review. The Water and Power Law Group even suggested a title: “Marcellus Shale Pipelines PEIS.”
Projects cited by advocates of this approach include the 301-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, the 564-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the WB XPress Pipeline. A fourth project, the Appalachian Connector pipeline, remains on the drawing board, but it, too, would transport natural gas from Marcellus shale fracking wells in the Appalachian Basin.
Interstate natural gas pipeline projects must receive FERC’s blessing before launching construction.
In a letter dated Nov. 25, FERC Chairman Norman Bay said the commission had determined “it would not be appropriate to prepare a programmatic EIS” for the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would consider other proposed interstate natural gas pipelines affecting Virginia and West Virginia.
Bay’s letter to U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County, who had forwarded Perry’s correspondence, observed that the draft environmental impact statement being prepared for the Mountain Valley Pipeline will address concerns about cumulative impacts.
Bay said the draft “will analyze both the project-specific impacts of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the cumulative impacts of other actions affecting the environment in the region, including other proposed natural gas pipelines.”
Perry noted that FERC also has rejected requests in the past year for additional public meetings and for deadline extensions that would have allowed more opportunities for input about the Mountain Valley project.
“At every opportunity, FERC has turned a deaf ear to the people of Southwest Virginia and their elected officials,” Perry said.
“FERC’s decision not to conduct a programmatic EIS, as conveyed in the letter from Chairman Bay to Congressman Goodlatte, is just the latest snub,” Perry said. “People feel helpless, and this is why.”
In turn, Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC, said the commission has been considering all public input as staff prepares separate draft environmental impact statements for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast projects.
“As FERC Chairman Bay indicates in his letter to Congressman Goodlatte, all comments filed in the respective Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipeline proceedings will be considered and addressed in the commission’s decisional orders,” Young-Allen said.
Young-Allen said FERC has never undertaken a programmatic environmental impact statement. The commission “does not engage in regional planning exercises that would result in the selection of one project over another,” she said.
Instead, FERC’s policy has been to “allow market forces to influence where projects would be situated,” she said.
The route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia would cross the counties of Giles, Montgomery, Craig, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania.
Opponents of the 42-inch-diameter pipeline cite a host of concerns that include impacts to the environment, property values, viewsheds and safety.
Proponents say the pipeline will help the nation convert to the use of natural gas for power generation, enhance energy independence and provide other economic benefits.
Bay’s letter to Goodlatte noted that FERC “does not direct the development of the gas industry’s infrastructure, either on a broad regional basis or in the design of specific projects.”
Bill Wolf of Preserve Craig County responded.
“Whether that’s true or not, FERC most certainly determines the environmental impact of the industry’s infrastructure,” Wolf said.
“The FERC has a clear and public duty and responsibility to perform this broader regional impact study,” he said.
Roberta Bondurant, a member of Preserve Roanoke, agreed. Both she and the Water and Power Law Group cited occasions when a programmatic environmental impact statement has been prepared in years past by cooperating federal agencies for projects requiring federal approval.
“Chairman Bay’s response to Congressman Goodlatte seems to be, in part, that a PEIS is not possible [at FERC] ‘because we’ve never done this before,’ ” Bondurant said.
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley, has said the company does not believe a PEIS is warranted because the project “is not dependent upon, and does not trigger, the other proposed pipeline projects.”