Virginia’s State Water Control Board invited the public to submit new comments on two massive natural gas pipelines that will impact Virginia’s waterways. Waterkeepers Chesapeake were among over 13,000 groups and people who submitted comments to the board.
In our comments on the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, we asked for a swift review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) and requested that the State Water Control Board (Board) direct the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to conduct stream-by-stream analyses of crossings and to impose the necessary standards to ensure full protection of Virginia’s water resources. We also requested that the Board put on hold MVP and ACP development until all legal and regulatory challenges are resolved.
These fracked gas pipelines will cross rivers, streams, and wetlands more than a thousand times in Virginia. Instead of relying on insufficient permits, the State Water Control Board should direct the DEQ to conduct stream-by-stream analyses of crossings using its authority under § 401 of the Clean Water Act and impose the necessary standards to ensure full protection of Virginia’s designated water uses, including aquatic life, recreation, wildlife, and drinking water supplies.
DEQ and the Board should also put on hold the § 401 “upland” certifications for both the ACP and MVP until the Board has completed its review of public comments on the adequacy of NWP 12 and the Board has determined whether it will take additional action. Likewise, while petitions for rehearing are pending before FERC and court challenges to Virginia’s § 401 certifications, FERC permits, and other critical permits are pending in the federal courts of appeals - all development activities along the pipeline routes in Virginia should halt.
Nationwide permits are appropriate for certain routine projects that have only minimal effects on water quality. The MVP and ACP are not appropriate candidates for coverage under NWP 12 because they are major construction projects that will each cross hundreds of waterways, including some of the most pristine rivers and streams in Virginia.
Further, NWP 12 does not consider cumulative impacts to water quality where there are multiple crossings along the same stream and its tributaries (i.e. the cumulative harm to these watersheds). Therefore, it is appropriate—and necessary—for the Board to direct DEQ to conduct its own more thorough, site-specific review that considers the cumulative effects of multiple crossings within individual watersheds.
Virginia’s response to the NWP and the §401 WQC will determine the quality of hundreds of local waterways across the state. Given our recent torrential thunderstorms, it’s even more critical that we ensure our waterways are protected from the exposed terrain and other harms along the construction path for the ACP and MVP. Without detailed review and research of our headwaters, there is no way for the pipeline developers and regulators to know what our frequent hurricane deluges do to the river bottoms and stream banks where the pipe is proposed to be buried. It's up to Virginia to step up in this process and require a stream-by-stream review of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.