Although recent concerns with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s public comment process have spurred local legislators to urge transparency, few of those decision makers have taken an official stance in support or opposition to the project.
Reached by The Nelson County Times in the past week, the offices of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Robert Hurt, Va. Sen. Creigh Deeds, Del. Dickie Bell and Del. Matt Fariss all clarified their positions and offered comments on the proposed pipeline that would transport natural gas about 550 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, through Nelson County.
McAuliffe first stated his support for the project in early September, appearing at a Richmond news conference alongside Dominion Resources executives, calling the project an economic “game changer” that would make Virginia a regional hub for new manufacturers relying on natural gas.
McAuliffe spokeswoman Rachel Thomas confirmed last week the governor remains in support of the pipeline.
“Governor McAuliffe supports the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which will bring significant economic development and job creation opportunities to the region, and will lower energy costs,” she said. “The Governor also supports efforts to ensure that the project is done safely and takes into consideration local community needs and concerns.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, recently got involved with the issue when he sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur on March 23. The letter questions the policies and procedures in which the agency reviews and receives comments from residents who would be affected by proposed pipelines. He reached out to FERC after hearing repeated concerns from residents about FERC’s “scoping” meetings in Nelson and Augusta Counties.
However, he still isn’t taking an official stance on the project itself.
“This pipeline is still very early in the planning process,” said Rachel Cohen, Warner’s press secretary. “Before construction can begin, the proposed pipeline must receive a construction certification from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission. Senator Warner is committed to ensuring that the pipeline approval process put in place by the FERC is full and transparent, which is why he wrote to FERC’s chairwoman last month.”
“… Senator Warner is also committed to listening to the concerns of constituents, taking into consideration the environmental impacts, and carefully monitoring the final pipeline route to ensure it is in the best interest of the state.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, also recently wrote to FERC with concerns about the scoping meetings, and asked that future meetings be provided to give an equal opportunity for all concerns to be heard.
“A number of Virginians who attended these meetings felt that this opportunity was not sufficiently given, due to a lack of clarity over precisely when citizens were able to sign up to offer verbal comment,” Kaine wrote to LaFleur.
Kaine told FERC he had heard from several constituents who had shown up at the announced start times of the meetings, only to discover that all the speaking slots had been taken in earlier hours.
“Senator Kaine and his staff have met with a wide range of constituents and groups regarding this pipeline proposal, including attending a series of recent public forums,” said Amy Dudley, communications director for Kaine. “Senator Kaine believes the concerns being raised are entirely valid and worthy of careful consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission… Senator Kaine expects Dominion to honor its pledge to be open and responsive to concerned stakeholders, and our office is available to assist anyone who does not feel their questions are getting answered.”
Kaine has not taken a stance on the project but is continuing to meet with constituents and groups regarding the proposal.
U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th, whose district includes Nelson County, also hasn’t taken a stance on the pipeline but says he is monitoring the proposal with particular scrutiny to the affected Fifth District.
“While I am and have always been a proponent of a common sense domestic energy plan for our country, I am also committed to ensuring that our quality of life and the rights of our constituents are protected in accordance with the relevant laws that govern this process,” Hurt said. “The process is designed to promote public safety, the health of our environment, and private property rights. FERC and any prospective applicants must fully adhere to this process and afford ample opportunity for public engagement to ensure that appropriate decisions are made.”
Virginia Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, whose district includes Nelson County, said the property rights of residents potentially affected by the pipeline need to be honored — though he has not taken an official stance on the pipeline.
“For me, it’s not about gas, energy or a pipeline,” he said. “It’s about property rights. I just don’t think property rights ought to be trampled on; utilities should be required to negotiate with property owners before surveying or entering anyone’s land.”
Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, whose district includes a portion of Nelson County, contacted FERC in January requesting the commission consider alternative routes for the pipeline that would lessen the impact on landowners and take topography into consideration. He wrote again in March to request the commission extend its scoping period and in an effort to bring more transparency to the process.
Bell introduced House Bill 1696 in the 2015 Session.
“This legislation, if passed, would have made public service corporations subject to the public records provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, with respect to any project or activity for which it may exercise the power of eminent domain,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, this legislation was tabled by the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.”
Bell said he does not generally oppose pipeline transmission of natural gas but does have serious concerns with the ACP.
“I am most concerned about the impact that this pipeline will have on local property owners,” he said. “I am never a fan of eminent domain and believe we should limit its use as much as possible. Unfortunately, the route currently proposed would require Dominion to use its eminent domain authority on a great deal of private property and farmland. Since plans for the pipeline were announced, I have remained in communication with Dominion and have asked them to continue to look at any and all alternative routes, and that they do their best to limit the impact on private property owners.”
Del. Matt Fariss, R-Rustburg, whose district includes a portion of Nelson County, along with other legislators, also wrote to FERC asking for an extension on the scoping period from 60 to 90 days as well as asking for additional meetings in Nelson and Buckingham counties. He also wrote a letter to constituents explaining he would have the same concerns as they do about a pipeline running through his property.
“I have faith that the federal review will give our community a detailed report of the impact, and I look forward to using this study to help make an informed opinion on the merits of the pipeline,” he said. “I understand that pipelines like this one, and the one that runs through one of my farms, are very important to the energy infrastructure to this country.
“I would like to note that I have never had any unbearable problems with my pipeline. However, this pipeline will be here for a very long time, and I am sure none of us will outlive the pipeline on this earth. Therefore, we owe to the community and to the property owners the respect they deserve as this project is being weighed and considered.”