Tuesday 26 September 2017

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 independent local organizations, expressed serious concerns today that the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement fails to put enough specific measures in place to assure meaningful improvement to the Bay and our rivers. Representatives from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. will sign the new agreement today.

The first Chesapeake Bay Agreement established the numeric goals to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Bay ecosystem and was signed in 1987 by the governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and the mayor of Washington, D.C. Several updated agreements have been adopted since then. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, today’s new Agreement establishes “a set of goals and outcomes for the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them.”

In response to the draft Agreement, Waterkeepers Chesapeake says the Agreement now includes some laudable new goals, such as reducing toxic contaminants, and addressing environmental justice and climate change. However, the Agreement allows the jurisdictions to opt out of these goals, and, in fact, allows them to opt out of any of the goals.  The Agreement also provides no accountability for jurisdictions that fail to meet the goals they do choose to adopt. Since the draft Agreement was introduced, citizens submitted thousands of public comments, many specifically asking for the jurisdictions to be held accountable for implementing these goals. 

“Each and every jurisdiction in the Bay has to do their share,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “We need a Bay Agreement with enforceable terms, not one that provides loopholes.”

“This new Bay Agreement should be a contract with all of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” said Michael Helfrich, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper based in York, Penn. “Without a commitment to goals before signing, this is by definition neither a contract nor an agreement.”

The Waterkeepers also expressed disappointment in the lack of specifics regarding how the signatories will achieve the goals in the Agreement. 

“The Bay States have included some important principles in the Agreement, but how will we achieve these goals on toxic contaminants, climate change and environmental justice?” asked David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.  “For this agreement to work, states must have concrete and transparent paths to reduce pollution and protect water quality and public health.”

Waterkeepers in the Chesapeake Bay area vowed to continue their role as watchdogs in the Bay cleanup effort, using their expertise to hold polluters accountable and enforce environmental laws.

“While we are disappointed that the Bay Agreement does not provide the levels of accountability and enforcement we feel are necessary, Waterkeepers will continue doing what we do best – fighting pollution to protect our waterways and our communities,” said Jamie Brunkow, the Lower James Riverkeeper, based in Richmond, Virginia.

Waterkeeper organizations are grassroots groups that conduct water quality monitoring, implement restoration projects, use citizen enforcement tools and bring legal action to fight for clean water.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the Citizens Bay Agreement

Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake issued this statement about the CSX train derailment and crude oil spill and explosion on the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 30, 2014:

“Our thoughts are with the residents of Lynchburg and first responders as they deal with explosion and toxic oil spill. Thankfully no one was injured.

Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert has an office about 150 yards from the crash site. He and Lower James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow responded immediately and are now assisted by staff from Waterkeeper Alliance, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and other local Waterkeepers. They will monitor the impact on the river and assist in the clean up and future mitigation of this toxic oil spill.osion and toxic oil spill. Thankfully no one was injured.

This train derailment in downtown Lynchburg is a stark reminder that we need a national discussion about the safety and regulatory oversight of the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas and sensitive environmental areas, especially along rivers that supply drinking water to cities such as Richmond.

We agree with Pat Calvert, Upper James Riverkeeper, who wants to see a larger discussion on what is appropriate for us to be transporting by rail, especially along our rivers. The amount of crude oil being transported by rail has grown exponentially due to the fracking boom. The federal rule making and oversight has not kept up. 

In addition to the Lynchburg derailment, yesterday our region experienced a coal train derailment near Bowie, Maryland, and a sink hole that compromised CSX train tracks near Baltimore. These incidents along with the other train explosions involving crude oil in the U.S. and Canada over the past year are more than enough of a wake up call. We need a true assessment of the risks and costs of our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and real protections for our waterways.”

Read James River Association’s statement here: http://www.jamesriverassociation.org/what-we-do/Publications/press-release/TrainDerailmentPressStatement.pdf

 

 

            
Oil tanker cars in James River, May 1, 2014

 

 

Monday, June 16 marked the end of a contested 30-day public comment period on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the controversial $3.8 billion plan, proposed by Virginia-based Dominion Resources, to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Cove Point Maryland. Dominion’s plan is to convert an existing import facility into an export facility and to pipe fracked gas from the Marcellus shale to southern Maryland, liquefy it, and export it to be burned in Japan and India.

FERC’s environmental assessment has been widely criticized for failing to address the project’s role in speeding fracking across Appalachia, worsening the climate crisis, and threatening the safety of nearby residents in Calvert County with potential explosion and fire catastrophes. The facility, located next to a residential community, is only 3 miles from a nuclear power plant and 50 miles from Washington DC.

More than 150,000 comments flooded FERC, arguing that it is clear that without analyzing the reasonably foreseeable cumulative impacts this project would have on the environment throughout the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed, FERC’s determination of a “Finding of No Significant Impact” is arbitrary and capricious and violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) says that FERC should weigh gas production stimulus effect of the Cove Point export facility. In its comments filed on Monday, the EPA states “Both FERC and DOE [U.S. Department of Energy] have recognized that an increase in natural gas exports will result in increased production.” But somehow FERC concludes "it is not feasible to more specifically evaluate localized environmental impacts."

Upstream Impacts

It is clear that the Cove Point export facility will drive expansion of fracking for natural gas across the entire Chesapeake region in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and in Maryland, where no drilling has yet occurred.  The export valve will open and the race to frack will explode. In many states, fracking has resulted in drinking water contamination, air pollution, fish kills, illness, forest fragmentation and even earthquakes. In addition, each fracked well requires millions of gallons of water, often depleting local waterways, and produces millions of gallons of toxic and radioactive wastewater.

This project will mean more landscapes and communities will be transformed with fracking wells, pipelines, compressor stations, and new roads carrying thousands of trucks, turning once rural and pristine areas – including farms and public parks and forests -- into industrial sacrifice zones so energy companies can ship our natural gas elsewhere. Further, the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, would be highway for thousand-foot long tankers to transport the liquefied gas, exposing the treasured Bay to invasive species and worsening the “Dead Zone” in the Bay through dumping of polluted ballast water.

FERC has shown it rubber stamps projects and is beholden to the gas industry by already approving a new compressor station in rural Myersville, Maryland, despite intense community opposition. This 16,000-horsepower compressor station that Dominion wants to construct, will be located just a mile from an elementary school. Next up would be an expanded compressor station in northern Virginia.

A major Pennsylvania fracking company – Cabot Oil & Gas – has already committed to pipe gas to Cove Point for export. Dominion’s plan includes connecting to the interstate natural gas transmission systems of Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company, Columbia Gas Transmission and DTI which would pipe gas to Cove Point from a wide range of regions in the U.S.. Pipelines, which are also under FERC’s jurisdiction, are being proposed throughout the Susquehanna River basin, and across the Gunpowder River watershed – which includes the drinking water source for the city of Baltimore – all to pipe natural gas to Cove Point. These pipelines, which inevitably leak and rupture causing dangerous explosions and fires, would snake through our waterways, drinking water sources, backyards and farms. Yet, the EA fails to analyze impacts of natural gas development, despite information about where Dominion's customers will source the gas and plans for new pipelines designed to shuttle gas to Cove Point.

The fact that FERC did not relate the facility at Cove Point to the “fracking process” and analyze the consequences is a fundamental flaw, making the analysis meaningless. The over 150,000 comments that were sent to FERC on Monday say loudly and clearly that they don’t buy FERC’s meaningless assessment.

What You Can Do

The fight against this fracked gas export facility has been long, but it’s not over. The week of June 16, several organizations and individuals participated in a blogathon to reach out across the Chesapeake Bay region and the nation to decry the unchecked march to export our natural gas at the expense of our rivers, streams, bays, forests, farms, and communities. The week of June 21, hundreds of people joined a week-long picket line at FERC to protest the rubber stamping of this project. On July 13, thousands of people gathered in Washington DC to rally and march against fracked gas exports at Cove Point and beyond.

To learn more, go to www.stopcovepoint.org and follow #stopcovepoint on Facebook and Twitter. Also, go to www.stopgasexports.org and follow #stopgasexports.