Va. says it erred on rule for nat­u­ral-gas pipe­lines

Scru­tiny for two projects won’t be what ac­tivists, and Northam, sought

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY FENIT NIRAPPIL

Vir­ginia Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Ralph Northam, un­der pres­sure from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to op­pose two nat­u­ral-gas pipe­lines, told vot­ers for weeks that he had won as­sur­ances from state reg­u­la­tors that they will in­crease scru­tiny of the projects by as­sess­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts along spe­cific sites in­stead of re­ly­ing on a “blan­ket” ap­proval from fed­eral of­fi­cials.

But this past week, the state agency in charge of the re­view said it mis­com­mu­ni­cated its plan.

The Vir­ginia Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity will not is­sue in­di­vid­ual per­mits for ev­ery wa­ter­way the pipe­lines cross but in­stead will rely on the de­ci­sion by the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers on whether the project com­plies with wa­ter qual­ity rules at wet­land and stream cross­ings. State of­fi­cials say they will scru­ti­nize the projects by eval­u­at­ing ar­eas out­side the purview of the Army Corps, but the ex­tent will be far less than en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists had be­lieved.

The re­ver­sal com­pli­cates Northam’s po­si­tion in his neckand-neck June 13 pri­mary race for the party’s nom­i­na­tion against for­mer con­gress­man Tom Per­riello.

Per­riello is op­posed to the pipe­lines, one of the few pol­icy ar­eas where he clearly dif­fers from Northam. Per­riello, who has been praised by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists for his po­si­tion, has also pledged not to ac­cept cam­paign do­na­tions from Do­min­ion En­ergy, a spon­sor of one of the pipe­lines and the state’s largest po­lit­i­cal donor.

Northam, who has ac­cepted more cam­paign cash from Do­min­ion than any of his ri­vals and owns shares of the util­ity, has said he wants a rig­or­ous, trans­par­ent re­view of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the pipe­lines.

The Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion has fi­nal say over the

project, although state reg­u­la­tors can with­hold ap­proval if they de­ter­mine that it vi­o­lates clean­wa­ter pro­tec­tions.

A spokesman for Northam, the state’s lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, said the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity’s newly an­nounced ap­proach to re­view­ing the pipe­lines still meets his cri­te­ria.

“This is a rig­or­ous reg­u­la­tory process that goes above and be­yond what the state has re­quired in the past, lever­ag­ing the ex­per­tise from the Army Corps while re­quir­ing ad­di­tional con­di­tions to be met through an in­di­vid­ual cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is­sued by the State Wa- Con­trol Board,” said the spokesman, David Turner.

But en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists dis­agree.

Northam “was mis­led along with the rest of us,” said David Sligh of the Do­min­ion Pipe­line Mon­i­tor­ing Coali­tion and a for­mer DEQ em­ployee. “That’s not a rig­or­ous re­view, and he can’t ac­cu­rately con­tinue to say that. He can­not live up to his pledge that he’s go­ing to push for thor­ough and trans­par­ent pro­cesses un­til he says to DEQ, ‘You have to do what we un­der­stood you were go­ing to do.’ ”

Per­riello said he wants more in­for­ma­tion about DEQ’s plans.

“Frankly, its mind-bog­gling right now to fig­ure out what is even go­ing on,” Per­riello said. “This shows why clear lead­er­ship on these is­sues is im­por­tant.”

The con­fu­sion be­gan in early April when DEQ spokesman Bill Hay­den said the state would re­quire cer­ti­fi­ca­tions for each seg­ment of the pipe­lines that crossed wa­ter­ways.

Per­riello and Northam hailed the de­ci­sion, which en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists be­lieved would slow or poster sibly stop the project.

“I was the one who stepped up and wrote a let­ter and com­mu­ni­cated with the DEQ and rec­om­mended that rather than a blan­ket per­mit, that we have site-spe­cific per­mits, and be­cause of that, they have de­cided to do that,” Northam said at a can­di­date fo­rum in Ar­ling­ton on May 2.

But af­ter re­peated ques­tions from re­porters and ac­tivists, DEQ of­fi­cials be­gan back­track­ing.

They said they would rely on the fed­eral “blan­ket” per­mit in­stead of re­quir­ing in­di­vid­ual state cer­ti­fi­ca­tions for ev­ery wa­ter­cross­ing site. And they said they would in­crease to­tal scru­tiny by re­view­ing the ef­fects of pipe­line con­struc­tion on ar­eas far­ther from the wa­ter­ways that could still af­fect wa­ter qual­ity but would oth­er­wise not be ex­am­ined by the Army Corps.

Me­lanie D. Daven­port, the head of DEQ’s wa­ter per­mit­ting di­vi­sion, said reg­u­la­tors didn’t change their ap­proach.

“There were mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions in terms of how we ex­plained to the pub­lic af­fairs of­fice what we were do­ing, and per­haps a lapse in over­sight in mak­ing sure how they an­swered ques­tions,” she said.

Hay­den, who was out of the of­fice this past week, was un­avail­able to com­ment.

Do­min­ion, Vir­ginia’s en­ergy gi­ant and largest po­lit­i­cal donor, is propos­ing an At­lantic Coast pipe­line that would run 600 miles from West Vir­ginia through Vir­ginia to North Carolina. The sec­ond pipe­line project would run 300 miles and does not in­volve Do­min­ion.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who can­not seek con­sec­u­tive terms un­der the Vir­ginia Con­sti­tu­tion, sup­ports the pipe­line projects as a source of jobs.

Gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Ralph Northam “was mis­led along with the rest of us.” David Sligh of the Do­min­ion Pipe­line Mon­i­tor­ing Coali­tion

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