The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled Monday that work could resume on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which opponents call "unnecessary and a boondoggle," the Charlotte Business Journal reported.
Work on the controversial pipeline halted last month after a federal appeals court vacated two permits required for the project to complete its 600 mile route from West Virginia, through Virginia, to North Carolina.
The pipeline is a project backed by Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and Southern Co. to carry fracked natural gas.
The permits in question, from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service (NPS) were redone Sept. 11 and 14 respectively, the FERC said in its letter authorizing construction.
"We fixed those issues and FERC lifted our stay. So our folks are back to work, starting today," Dominion Resources State Policy Manager Bob Orndorff told the West Virginia state legislature Tuesday, MetroNews reported.
But pipeline opponents were skeptical of the new permits.
"These two agencies got into trouble once for making rushed decisions on a political timetable," Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) lawyer D.J. Gerken told the Charlotte Business Journal. "The agencies turned very fast and, as far as we can tell, without much concern for whether they were done correctly."
SELC brought the court case that led the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the permits.
The court found that the original NPS permit was invalid because it did not explain how the tree-cutting necessary for the pipeline's passage through the Blue Ridge Parkway would not contradict its scenic purpose.
The original FWS permit, meanwhile, did not adequately address the pipeline's impact on endangered species, the court ruled.
Gerken told The Charlotte Business Journal that the SELC is reviewing the FERC decision and will decide promptly whether to appeal or not.
The Sierra Club agreed that the new permits seemed rushed.
"Rather than taking the time to address the major problems we have seen in federal agencies' reviews of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, these agencies continue to rush through a rubberstamp process that ignores legal requirements—not to mention the public interest," Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Kelly Martin said in a statement.
The Sierra Club said the original permits were rushed through due to pressure from utilities and the Trump administration.
"We don't even need these fracked gas pipelines in the first place, so not only should the stop work order remain in place, all construction should be permanently halted," Martin said.
"We are closely monitoring weather conditions across the project footprint and will of course only resume work in areas where it is safe to do so and where weather conditions permit," pipeline spokesperson Aaron Ruby told the Charlotte Business Journal.
#Trump Team Tied to Atlantic Coast Pipeline Now Being Pushed by White House https://t.co/nc0ihn5DYS @SierraClub @350 @foe_us @billmckibben— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486476259.0
Hurricane Florence, downgraded to a tropical depression, pummeled the Carolinas this weekend, killing 18 so far and instigating flooding that officials said could last through mid-week, CNN reported Monday.
Florence, which scientists predicted would be more than 50 percent wetter due to climate change, is expected to dump 40 inches of rain on parts of southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina, with some swollen rivers not cresting until later in the coming week.
"The storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Sunday, as BBC News reported. "Wherever you live in North Carolina, be alert for sudden flooding."
North Carolina officials are telling people not to travel in the state, and sections of I-95 and I-40 are closed, CNN reported.
More than 900 people have been rescued from rising water in North Carolina alone, and about 532,338 households in North Carolina and 61,000 in South Carolina are without power.
Between Sunday and Tuesday, six more inches of rain could fall in North Carolina and Virginia. Forecasters predict the storm will then move north, dumping two to four inches of rain on West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and New England beginning Tuesday.
The city of Wilmington, North Carolina is entirely cut off by flood water, BBC News reported.
"Do not come here," New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White said, as BBC News reported. "Our roads are flooded, there is no access into Wilmington ... We want you home, but you can't come yet."
The town of Lumberton, North Carolina was flooded for the second time in two years, The Huffington Post reported.
In 2016, flooding from Hurricane Matthew forced evacuations and damaged homes, and the residents are now reliving the ordeal.
"There's a lot of houses in here that haven't been put back together from Matthew yet," Lumberton resident Diana Collazo told The Huffington Post after being rescued from rising flood waters Sunday.
Flooding was made worse when attempts to reinforce a temporary bern in the levee protecting the city from the rise of the Lumber River failed Sunday afternoon.
The collapse occurred at the closed L.V. Sutton Power Station used as coal ash storage by Duke Energy, which was the company behind the devastating coal ash spill in Eden in 2014.
Company officials said contaminated runoff likely ended up in a cooling pond, and they do not yet know if any spilled from the pond into the Cape Fear River.
Environmental groups had warned that Duke Energy should do more to protect its coal ash storage sites from extreme weather."Unfortunately, Duke Energy has spent years lobbying and litigating and still has not removed the coal ash from its dangerous riverfront pits in the coastal area, some of which are in the floodplain," Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Frank Holleman told The Associated Press. "When a hurricane like Florence hits, we have to hope and pray that our communities do not suffer the consequences of years of irresponsible coal ash practices by the coal ash utilities."
Please Retweet: Half Dozen Nuclear Power Plants in Storm's Path As 1.5 Million Flee Hurricane Florence https://t.co/AK5Ht4pC28— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1536759842.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
The 2015 rule, also known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS) defines which waters can be protected from pollution and destruction under the Clean Water Act. It protects large water bodies such as lakes and rivers, as well as small streams and wetlands.
But last year, President Trump declared WOTUS "a horrible, horrible rule" and tasked then-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt to replace it. In February, Pruitt issued a "Suspension Rule" that delayed WOTUS until 2020 in order to craft a looser and more industry-friendly rule.
On Thursday, South Carolina District Judge David Norton sided with a coalition of conservation groups that challenged the delay, and placed a nationwide injunction on Pruitt's suspension rule. The decision does not apply to 24 other states where legal challenges are pending.
Norton said that the EPA violated rule-making procedures, specifically by failing to provide an adequate public notice and comment period required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
"As administrations change, so do regulatory priorities. But the requirements of the APA remain the same. The court finds that the government failed to comply with these requirements in implementing the Suspension Rule," Norton wrote.
The court also cited the affidavit of Bob Irvin, president and CEO of American Rivers, which described the many different states where he has fished that would be affected by the suspension of the Clean Water Rule.
Irvin hailed the judgment as a "tremendous win."
"The court made clear that the Trump administration cannot ignore the law, science, or the views of the American people in its rush to undermine protection of rivers and clean water," Irvin said in a statement.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which represented the conservation groups, celebrated the decision.
"This is a victory for families and communities across America who depend on clean water, and a rebuke to the polluting industries trying to gut this nation's bedrock health and environmental safeguards," said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at SELC, in a statement. "Water is a way of life in the South, where clean water is the lifeblood of our economy. We are thrilled the court rejected this administration's blatant attempts to undermine safeguards that are critical to our nation's welfare without being accountable to the American people."
Trump Administration Sued for Suspension of Clean Water Rule https://t.co/65gwNGTOFE #CleanWaterRule @Earthjustice… https://t.co/5Q4LBjAMSL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518026901.0
A federal appeals court on Monday vacated two permits required by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to complete its 600 mile project beginning in West Virginia and traveling through Virginia to North Carolina, The Associated Press reported.
"There is no right way to build these dirty, dangerous fossil fuel projects, and people in Virginia and across the country will continue to come together to fight them until they are permanently halted," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told The Associated Press.
The Sierra Club was one of the groups, along with Defenders of Wildlife and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, that brought the case that led to the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was argued by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The court ruled that the a National Park Service (NPS) permit allowing the pipeline to pass under the Blue Ridge Parkway was invalid because it did not explain how the pipeline's construction would not contradict the scenic purpose of the parkway, which connects Virginia's Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Construction would require cutting enough trees that a gap in the forest would be visible from at least one parkway observation point.
Chief Judge Roger Gregory called the permit "arbitrary and capricious" in his ruling.
"Arbitrary and capricious" were also the words used by the court to justify vacating a second permit granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because it didn't specify any limits to the pipeline's impact on five threatened or endangered species.
The revoking of the second permit built on a ruling in May, in which the court initially found that the "incidental take statement," which is the statement that sets limits on the impact of projects on vulnerable species, was not sufficiently clear.
Following that initial ruling, the pipeline's builders said they would suspend construction along 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until a new "incidental take statement" was completed.
In a footnote to Monday's ruling, the court said that revoking the permits meant that FERC's approval of the pipeline was invalid until new permits were issued, since that approval was contingent on satisfactory permits.
"Absent such authorizations, ACP, should it continue to proceed with construction, would violate FERC'S certificate of public convenience and necessity," the footnote said, according to The Associated Press.
Environmental Law Center senior attorney D.J. Gerken thought the ruling would be a huge stumbling block for the project.
"Today's decision means Atlantic has to go back to the drawing board," he told The Associated Press.
Dominion Energy, the company leading development on the project, disagreed.
"We believe the Court's concerns can be promptly addressed through additional review by the agencies without causing unnecessary delay to the project," the company said in a written statement reported by The Associated Press.
Coal ash contains toxic metals like arsenic, lead and mercury and is often left in ponds where it has been known to contaminate groundwater.
The rule change gives states greater authority over regulating one of the nation's biggest sources of industrial waste and allows companies to forgo annual groundwater tests if they can prove their coal ash is not polluting nearby aquifers.
"These rules will allow yet more tons of coal ash, containing toxics like arsenic and mercury, to be dumped into unlined leaking pits sitting in groundwater and next to rivers, lakes and drinking water reservoirs," Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Frank Holleman told CNN.
The new rule was signed July 18 and was the first rule signed by new acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler, Reuters reported.
"Our actions mark a significant departure from the one-size-fits-all policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs," Wheeler said, according to Reuters.
Revisions to the Obama-era coal ash regulations put in place in 2015 were sought by coal CEO Bob Murray, who Wheeler used to lobby for.
In March 2017, Wheeler helped organize and was present at a meeting between Murray and Energy Sec. Rick Perry in which Murray presented a plan to "assist in the survival of our Country's coal industry" which included giving states more control over coal ash disposal, CNN reported.
"It is now apparently the goal of EPA to save industry money by allowing them to continue to dump toxic waste into leaking pits, which is exactly what the new rule accomplishes," Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans told CNN.
The obama-era coal ash regulations were written following two coal ash spills.
In 2008, a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston plant broke and released a billion gallons of coal ash into the Clinch River, covering 300 acres with sludge and contaminating fish with arsenic and selenium for months afterword.
In 2014, a pipe at Duke Energy's Dan River steam station leaked 39,000 tons of coal ash into North Carolina waterways, extending 70 miles and leading to mercury levels in fish so high that authorities still recommend against eating them.
But even in the absence of a single disaster, coal ash can have devastating effects on human health.
Tracey Brown Edwards, who grew up next to Duke Energy's Belews Creek Steam Station in Walnut Cove, North Carolina which had a coal ash pond next to a neighborhood lake, told CNN that in the five homes on her block, four had experienced cancer in the family.
"There's been a lot of young people with cancer, certain kinds of cancers, brain cancer, stomach cancers, breast cancer," she said.
Doctors say they cannot confirm if the cancer is caused by coal ash, but they also cannot exclude it as a possibility, CNN reported.
Newly released emails show that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Scott Pruitt has routinely been in contact with one of the most prominent climate denier groups, the AP reported this weekend.
The emails, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center, show that John Konkus, a deputy public affairs official, routinely reached out to senior staffers at the Heartland Institute to collaborate on denier invitee lists for a proposed public hearing on climate science last May.
Konkus and EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman also regularly commiserated with Heartland officials on negative press coverage of the agency, and collaborated on ways to amplify positive messages. Then-Heartland president Joseph Bast celebrated the retirement of New York Times climate reporter Justin Gillis in an email shared with EPA staffers last fall, writing that he is "still waiting for Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin at the WaPo and Seth Borenstein at AP to flame out."
As reported by the Associated Press:
"The emails underscore how Pruitt and senior agency officials have sought to surround themselves with people who share their vision of curbing environmental regulation and enforcement, leading to complaints from environmentalists that he is ignoring the conclusions of the majority of scientists in and out of his agency especially when it comes to climate-changing carbon emissions."
Majority of Americans Want Climate Education in Schools https://t.co/FTHnKdNLBA @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523667004.0
For a deeper dive:
Builders of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline told federal authorities they will delay construction along 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issues a revised "incidental take statement," which limits the number of threatened or endangered species that might be accidentally killed or harmed during development activities.
Lead developer Dominion Energy filed documents Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in response to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last week. The court sided with environmental groups and their lawyers that the FWS' initial review was not clear enough in the case of the $6.5 billion pipeline and vacated one of its key permits.
Environmentalists worry that the 600-mile fracked gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina could pose risks for a rare bumblebee, the Roanoke logperch and Indiana and Northern long-eared bats and other threatened or endangered species. It will also cut through through forests, pristine mountains and involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
In its letter to FERC, Dominion said construction will be avoided along those 100 miles in West Virginia and Virginia where protected species might be put at risk until the revised incidental take statement is issued.
Dominion did not disclose the specific areas it will avoid "because this information contains the locations of sensitive species which are customarily treated as privileged and confidential," the company stated in a news release quoted by The Exponent Telegram.
The Southern Environmental Law Center—which argued on behalf of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Virginia Wilderness Committee at the appeals court—believes all pipeline construction cannot continue without a valid permit.
"According to the Federal Regulatory Commission's own certificate, FERC's previous notices issued to Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers to proceed are no longer valid," said senior attorney D.J. Gerken in a statement. "If what FERC is now saying is that developers can proceed to construction without the Fish and Wildlife Service's valid permit, it is undermining its own requirements."
SELC recently sent a letter to FERC outlining the impact of an invalid permit on pipeline construction and requests it fulfill its obligations to stop further construction until its resolved.
However, backers of the pipeline insist that construction will move forward as planned. "We will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled and fully comply as required with all permits and agency requirements. We remain committed to taking all reasonable measures to protect the environment and the species while ensuring progress on a project that is essential to the economic and environmental well-being of the region," Dominion stated.
As The Exponent Telegram noted, Dominion contends that the appellate court's May 15 ruling only impacts construction in areas where at-risk species and their habitats may be present. Furthermore, the company believes the incidental take statement invalidated by the court does not impact the pipeline route or other required permits.
"It simply removes the shield that protects against an otherwise unlawful take, and for that reason, we will avoid any activities in any areas identified by (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) that would be likely to adversely affect any of the listed species," Dominion said in the news release.
FERC will determine the next steps once the Atlantic Coast Pipeline documents are officially entered into the record, commission spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen told The Exponent Telegram.
The Southern Environmental Law Center's requests to halt all construction on the pipeline "are under consideration," Young-Allen said.
In the meantime, Young-Allen noted, all previously issued notices to proceed are in effect, with the exception of the areas with threatened or endangered species habitat that the pipeline builders agreed to avoid.
Nonetheless, grassroots resistance against pipelines is growing. Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline launched the ninth aerial blockade this week to stop progress of the proposed natural gas pipeline running from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia.
Opponents of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia's Highland Country and into North Carolina, won a reprieve Tuesday when a federal appeals court invalidated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) review of the pipeline, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The ruling was issued by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, VA and agreed with environmental groups and their lawyers that the incidental take statement made by the FWS, which limits the number of endangered species that can be killed during construction and operation of a project, was not clear enough in the case of the pipeline.
"We conclude, for reasons to be more fully explained in a forthcoming opinion, that the limits set by the agency are so indeterminate that they undermine the incidental take statement's enforcement and monitoring function under the Endangered Species Act," the judges wrote, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The case was argued by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Virginia Wilderness Committee. The pipeline opponents argued that the ruling meant the pipeline had to halt construction.
"This fracked gas project has been proven to be perilous to our health, our communities, and wildlife, and now, thanks to tonight's ruling, must be stopped," Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews said in a press release.
But Dominion Energy, the company leading pipeline construction, disagreed with that interpretation of the ruling. "[W]e will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled," Dominion Energy director of communications Jen Kostyniuk said in an email obtained by U.S. News and World Report.
The pipeline could harm eight threatened or endangered species, including the Roanoke logperch and Indiana and Northern long-eared bats, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Southern Environmental Law Center attorney D.J. Gerken explained the decision in more detail. According to Gerken, the FWS had said a "small percent" of threatened or endangered species could be killed during the pipeline's construction without ever defining what that percent was.
"A small percent would never get triggered because nobody knows what it is," he told The Richmond Times-Dispatch "This is an unnecessary and destructive project. And sending them back to the drawing board is a necessary step to asking those fundamental questions about whether we need it," he said.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is one of two pipelines in the region that has sparked opposition in the past year due to concerns about their impact on mountain streams and springs, the use of fracking to obtain the gas, the need for more fossil fuel infrastructure given the threat of climate change and the use of eminent domain to force the hand of landowners who didn't want the pipeline traversing their property.Opponents of the other pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, resorted to tree-sitting in April to try and stop its progress.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
The lawsuit centers around the EDF and SELC's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for communications between the EPA and the Heartland Institute in August and October of 2017, respectively.
The requests were made after Heartland Institute Communications Director Jim Lakely said last July, "The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached out to the Heartland Institute to help identify scientists who could constitute a red team, and we've been happy to oblige."
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, has long insisted on a nationally publicized "red team-blue team" debate that would pit climate skeptics against scientists who accept the facts about global warming. However, news emerged this week that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has reportedly put a stop to Pruitt's plan.
According to the complaint, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the EPA acknowledged both requests and asked for some initial clarification, but has subsequently stopped communicating with SELC and provided vague responses to EDF's outreach that do not indicate any expectation of near-term progress on EDF's FOIA request.
There certainly appears to be some—and even extensive—contact between the EPA and the Heartland Institute. As seen below, the complaint states that the EPA's own search for correspondence between agency employees and Heartland yielded between 200 and 600 records.
The complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Environmental Defense Fund
Under the law, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days.
"EPA's efforts to promote climate change deniers and undermine peer-reviewed science behind closed doors is not only a failure of its mission, it is illegal," Kym Hunter, an attorney for the SELC, said in a statement. "The public has a clear and protected right to know what the EPA is doing and with whom they are communicating, including those pushing a climate-denier agenda."
The Heartland Institute has been labeled as "the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism." Frontline reported that the think tank sent out 25,000 copies of its book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, and an accompanying 10-minute DVD to 25,000 science teachers.
"Even as Americans face growing risks from climate change, Scott Pruitt continues to stonewall common-sense solutions and deny decades of mounting scientific evidence that the problem is real and serious," said Ben Levitan, an attorney for the EDF, in a statement. "Americans have a right to know who is influencing Pruitt's decisions, and who is shaping the agenda at the agency in charge of protecting our health and safety."
Pruitt’s Climate Change Debates Nixed by Kelly https://t.co/bQ6K1JyGQk @ewg @EnvAm @EnvDefenseFund @greenpeaceusa… https://t.co/JY8SSTpAZ0— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1520865040.0
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put a two-year suspension on the rule, also known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which protects large water bodies like lakes and rivers but also listed smaller waterways such as streams, ponds and wetlands for federal protection.
The decision to withdraw and replace WOTUS was advocated by industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Petroleum Institute, as well as Republican politicians and farmers, ranchers and real estate developers who viewed the rule as an infringement on property rights.
WOTUS was supposed to take effect in the coming weeks after the Supreme Court decided last month that cases regarding the matter should be heard by district courts. However, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's action halted the rule from implementation to come up with a more industry-friendly alternative.
But environmentalists say the suspension will allow uncontrolled pollution and destruction of our nation's rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is leading a coalition of 11 Democratic attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia to block the move.
In their suit filed in the Southern District of New York on Tuesday, the attorneys general charge that in suspending the Clean Water Rule the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law by taking action "with inadequate public notice, insufficient record support and outside their statutory authority."
"Clean water is fundamental to New Yorkers' health, environment and economy," Schneiderman said. "The Trump Administration's suspension of the Clean Water Rule is clearly illegal, threatening New York's decades-long efforts to ensure our residents have access to safe, healthy water. We will fight back against this reckless rollback and the Trump administration's continued assault on our nation's core public health and environmental protections."
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation filed in the New York southern district, contending that the Trump administration's attempt to prevent the enforcement of needed protections for lakes, rivers and wetlands, including streams that feed into the drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans.
Jon Devine, director of federal water policy and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "These safeguards should be working to protect our nation's drinking water and recreation resources, but the Trump administration has instead pursued a rushed and illegitimate process to try and stop them."
"The administration's attack on clean water violates the law and runs roughshod over public concern about their waterways. It's dangerous and that's why we're going to court," Devine said.
Jan Goldman-Carter, director for wetlands and water resources for the National Wildlife Federation, added, "The American people have made it crystal clear they want to see our rivers and streams protected. They want to be able to fish in the local stream, swim in a nearby lake and turn on the tap and get a glass of safe, clean water to drink. The Clean Water Rule provides that protection and the Trump administration is working to take it away. We have no choice but to defend America's waterways in court."
The Southern Environmental Law Center also filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
"Clean water is a way of life we take for granted in this nation thanks to bipartisan laws passed almost 50 years ago, but large polluters now want to dismantle it all," said managing attorney Blan Holman. "The administration is pretending that pollution dumped upstream doesn't flow downstream, but their plan puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, cooking and recreation at risk. We are going to court to protect clean water across the country."
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the challenge on behalf of American Rivers, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Charleston Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Coastal Conservation League, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and One Hundred Miles.
In response to the lawsuits, the EPA said the 2015 rule never went into effect.
"It's worth noting that these lawsuits are over an embattled regulation that's been put on hold by the courts to prevent it from taking effect," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told The Hill. "Our delay rule will keep in place that status quo."
EPA Blocks Clean Water Rule to Replace With 'Industry-Friendly' Alternative https://t.co/w7Z0xcjRAf @circleofblue… https://t.co/HOhs0oIAbH— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517626826.0
Federal regulators approved plans for two controversial new natural gas pipelines along the East Coast Friday.
In a divided 2-1 vote, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the green light to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipeline projects, which would carry shale gas through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, the only dissenting vote, expressed concerns in her written dissent on the redundancy of the collective 900 miles of pipeline, the potential environmental impacts and the relatively small accounted demand for the Mountain Valley project.
Both pipelines have been met with severe local opposition, and some activists expect backlash and increased fights against the projects following FERC's decision.
As reported by the Charlotte Business Journal:
"Greg Buppert, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the FERC order a long-anticipated 'rubber stamp' and said his organization intends to challenge the decision.
'The utilities involved in the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline claim utility customers will save money, when in fact this pipeline will drive up ratepayers' bills—and cause harm to national forests and to rivers and streams while threatening to commit our states to fossil fuels for decades to come," he says.'"
"This poorly-planned pipeline will hurt the local economy, pollute central Virginia's clean drinking water supply and scar the Appalachian National Scenic Trail," Ron Tipton, president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy said in a statement.
"Central Virginia does not need another pipeline to fulfill America's energy needs, particularly one that violates local environmental laws and is strongly opposed by local elected officials and citizen groups."
For a deeper dive:
By Andy Rowell
There is a growing political scandal in Virginia regarding the ubiquitous influence of the state's largest energy company, Dominion Energy, and it's raising fundamental questions about the integrity of the governor's office and state regulators who will decide the fate of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Dominion's longstanding exercise of power and influence in Virginia is no secret—the company is the largest corporate donor to state candidates.
But a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative documents in one place the company's extensive, revolving door relationships with the very regulators charged with issuing permits for this controversial, $5 billion fracked-gas project.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a joint venture of Dominion, Duke Energy and Southern Company, but Dominion is the leading owner and will operate the pipeline if it goes ahead.
The project, which would source fracked gas from West Virginia, plans to traverse the Allegheny Highlands bordering West Virginia and Virginia, cut a large swath through Virginia to the Hampton Roads area, and branch south into North Carolina.
The new report details how Dominion's influence penetrates every level of state government, from Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials, through General Assembly members on both sides of the aisle, to the governor's mansion.
These relationships are fundamental to the fate of the pipeline.
While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is expected to rubber stamp the pipeline's federal permit, states retain the right under the Clean Water Act to protect their water resources—the project will cross hundreds of water bodies in the state—and deny permits for such projects if they are deemed a threat.
The Cuomo Administration in New York State has recently denied two such permits for gas pipelines. In Virginia, Governor McAuliffe's Department of Environmental Quality has the authority to do the same, but both the governor and the regulators who report to him have shown far greater interest in smoothing Dominion's path through the regulatory system.
The report sheds light on possible reasons why.
Gov. McAuliffe, who stood with Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell in 2014 as he unveiled plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, has received tens of thousands of dollars in political funding from Dominion. He received $35,000 from Dominion PAC shortly before his election in November 2013, and Dominion Virginia Power gave $50,000 to his inaugural committee shortly afterwards. More recently in 2016, Dominion PAC gave $25,000 to McAuliffe's PAC, Common Good VA, and Dominion CEO Tom Farrell gave $7,500.
The DEQ, the key agency charged with reviewing the pipeline's water quality permit, is mired in conflicting interests linked to Dominion. For example, the DEQ's longstanding director, David K. Paylor, received gifts from Dominion including a trip to the 2013 PGA Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, and a $1,200 dinner for Paylor and nine of his associates.
In 2015, Dominion's philanthropic foundation donated $45,000 to the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, an organization whose Virginia chapter is headed by Nissa Dean, who sits on the Virginia DEQ's seven-member Water Control Board, which must sign off on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's water permit.
DEQ's Water Permitting Division Director, Melanie Davenport, appears to have previously served as an attorney for Dominion, according to the report. Davenport also sits on the board of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center with Joe Tannery, who is Dominion's energy technology advisor.
Pamela Faggert, Dominion's chief environmental officer and senior vice president of sustainability, served for nearly eight years as director of the air division of the Virginia DEQ in the late eighties and early nineties. The pipeline also has to receive regulatory approval from the air division. Furthermore, Faggert has donated over $10,000 to Virginia politicians, including supporters of the ACP.
Given the extensive revolving door between Dominion and DEQ, it is perhaps no surprise that DEQ recently came under fierce criticism over relinquishing partial oversight of water quality permits related to the pipeline to the Army Corps of Engineers' national permitting system.
As one commentator noted last month, this means that Dominion can use the "corps' blanket permit, instead of having to get one for each river, stream and wetland the pipelines cross."
Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center's Virginia office, has expressed concerns: "That process does not involve site-specific analyses and we have no confidence that the corps' permit will be sufficient for such a complex project across the state's steepest mountains."
Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal https://t.co/TyQjmptiei @GreenpeaceUK @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1493463635.0
Dominion is also used to getting its way with state legislators in Virginia. State politicians in Virginia and North Carolina "who have been publicly vocal about their support for the pipeline have been some of the biggest recipients of donations from its corporate backers," argued the report.
General Assembly leaders alone have received nearly $400,000 since 2007 from the company. Some of this money is redistributed by the leadership to less powerful elected officials, ensuring compliance with Dominion's agenda down the chain of command.
Five leading state representatives from Virginia, along with eleven elected officials from West Virginia and North Carolina who co-signed a letter to FERC declaring their support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, "rank among the highest recipients of donations from Dominion over the past decade."
Ultimately, when it comes to state authority over pipeline permits, the buck stops with the state's chief executive—currently McAuliffe—to ensure a fair and thorough review process that's free of polluter influence.
McAuliffe was recently labelled a climate hypocrite after announcing he was moving forward on the Paris agreement principles, but at the same time being a vociferous supporter of offshore drilling and fracked gas pipelines in Virginia.
As Oil Change International's own analysis has shown, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline alone would cause as much greenhouse gas pollution per year as 20 coal-fired power plants.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network director Mike Tidwell, argues: "It is, frankly, hypocrisy for the governor to support both Paris and violent drilling for oil and gas in and across the state. The best thing Gov. McAuliffe could do to support Paris and oppose Trump is to drop his tragic support for offshore oil drilling and for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines for fracked gas."
If you look up the word "Dominion" in the dictionary you will see the word derives from the Medieval Latin word "dominium" or "dominus" which means "lord or master." And true to its name, Dominion Energy certainly seems to be master of Virginia, no matter the cost to communities and the environment.