The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has done an about-face on its previously announced intention to “ensure that Virginia water quality standards are maintained in all areas affected” by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).”  The agency is responsible under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to assure that such projects do not compromise a state’s water quality standards.

The DEQ had announced on April 6 that it would “look at each wetland, stream crossing, etc. separately to determine specific requirements that would be necessary.”  This week the DEQ reversed its earlier statement, saying that it will instead individually review only those aspects of each pipeline proposal not covered by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (COE) review of the projects under Section 404 of the CWA.  Under that review, the COE would issue a Nationwide Permit Number 12 (NWP 12) to cover stream and wetland crossings.  The DEQ attributed its earlier statement to an internal “lack of communication and coordination.”

On Wednesday, March 24, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition wrote Virginia Governor McAuliffe strongly protesting the apparent attempt of the DEQ “to evade its responsibilities to make detailed and public individual regulatory reviews of all threats to water posed by these pipeline proposals, including those caused by all waterbody crossing.”  The DPMC letter, authored by David Sligh, Senior Regulatory Systems Investigator for the group, reminded the Governor that he had promised that the ACP and MVP would be the “most environmentally responsible” pipeline projects ever built.

The DPMC said that the DEQ’s “rubber stamp approval of NWP 12 is unsupportable, both technically and legally,” because:

  1. A review of all relevant documents (obtained by DPMC through a Freedom of Information Request earlier in May) shows that the Department did not analyze the suitability of NWP 12 to meet Virginia Water Quality Standards.
  1. DEQ’s information requests and analyses, submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in response to Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEISs) for both MVP and ACP, clearly indicate that work done in wetlands and streams may alter aquatic ecosystems affected by the pipelines in ways that would be very damaging.
  1. To fully understand the water quality risks associated with each pipeline, DEQ must look at the potential cumulative impacts that might be caused in each waterbody and each watershed. The effects of upland excavations and roads, the possible impacts from directional drilling, disturbances in karst areas, and those impacts caused by waterbody crossings cannot be segregated.

To assist your further understanding of the Section 401 issue as it relates to the proposed pipelines, the DPMC has provided a useful compilation of and links to documents on the 401- review issue, as well as on erosion and sediment control, stormwater management and geohazards related to the ACP.  Access that compilation here.  Another useful resource on the 401 issue is a May 15 letter written by DPMC to DEQ Director David Paylor.  The letter discusses the considerations that the agency should take into account in its evaluation of ACP water quality issues.

Virginia DEQ Reneges on Commitment to ACP Water Quality Analysis
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