Here's How This Governor Can Take Real Climate Action
By Kelly Trout
Now that Donald Trump has official announced that he plans to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and further entrench the power of the fossil fuel industry within our federal government, state and local action on climate becomes ever more crucial.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently said as much in announcing executive action to draw up a state cap-and-trade system to limit carbon pollution from power plants.
"Obviously with the pronouncements now coming out of the Trump administration, we cannot rely on them to do it, so we will be taking it into our own hands on the state level," McAuliffe declared.
But if McAuliffe (or Virginia's next governor) is truly serious about standing up to Trump on climate, and protecting Virginia's vulnerable coastline from catastrophic flooding, he would also stop two massive fracked-gas pipelines proposed across the state. And, contrary to McAuliffe's public statements, Virginia's governor can stop these pipelines.
These projects—the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline led by Dominion Energy, and the 301-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline led by gas company EQT—would be disasters for the climate and communities along their path. They would both carry fracked gas from West Virginia through Virginia, crossing the steep fragile terrain of the Allegheny highlands and hundreds of waterways, and threatening pristine forests, drinking water supplies, and farms. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would stretch further into North Carolina. Because of the risks, the projects are being fiercely opposed by affected landowners and concerned residents across all three states.
If built, the pipelines would blow a gaping, methane-filled hole into any Virginia state plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. In fact, they would significantly increase climate pollution. Oil Change International found that these pipelines would together cause as much greenhouse gas pollution as 45 coal-fired power plants—some 158 million metric tons a year. (See the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline greenhouse gas emissions briefings.) That's because each new pipeline would trigger new gas production through fracking, and reliance on fracked gas for electricity is dirtier than coal when you add up the leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, along the gas supply chain.
In Virginia, picking up Trump's slack on climate change must include proactively stopping the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, and the increased gas reliance they would enable. Dominion Energy's Virginia subsidiary, the largest utility in the state, plans to continue investing heavily in gas-fired power plants. It's doing so at the expense of seriously accelerating clean energy investments, despite the fact that Virginia lags far behind neighboring North Carolina and Maryland in tapping its solar and wind resources, and ranks in the bottom-third of all states on energy efficiency.
Addressing carbon emissions only at the point of gas combustion—as the gas industry would like policymakers to do and as McAuliffe has thus far obliged—is like trying to save a burning house by spraying water on one side and jet fuel on the other. The flames will keep growing.
So how can Virginia's governor stop these pipelines?
The answer rests with water.
For his part, McAuliffe has frequently claimed the pipelines are a "federal" issue. That belies the full picture. While the federal Natural Gas Act concentrates permitting authority over interstate gas pipelines with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it specifically preserves state authority to approve or deny certain permits under the federal Clean Water Act. The governor's administration has direct authority to approve or deny a Water Quality Certificate for both pipelines under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
As David Sligh of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition put it, FERC's role "in no way lessens the state's ability to stop these destructive projects if they would damage our water quality. Congress explicitly gave states a veto power over federal projects that could degrade their waters."
This is far from a theoretical argument. In New York State, the Cuomo administration has used state authority over 401 permits to block construction of two gas pipelines over the past year: the Constitution Pipeline and the Northern Access Pipeline.
Meanwhile, recent headlines out of Ohio illustrate the extensive damage gas pipelines can inflict on water resources during construction alone. FERC recently ordered Energy Transfer Partners to halt new horizontal directional drilling activities for construction of the Rover Pipeline after the company spilled two to five million gallons of drilling waste into fragile wetlands. The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects would both involve this type of risky drilling, they would both cross hundreds of waterways and wetlands, and their construction would involve laying 42-inch, high-pressure pipe through fragile karst terrain.
Yet, the McAuliffe administration has waffled in its willingness to fully exercise its permit authority under the Clean Water Act. In early April, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released a statement saying it would conduct project-specific 401 permit reviews for each pipeline, including a review of individual stream and wetlands crossings.
However, just seven weeks later, the agency suddenly backtracked, calling that previous statement a "miscommunication." Instead, DEQ said it will defer to a blanket "Nationwide Permit 12" issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would approve hundreds of stream crossings at once without any site-specific review. DEQ claims it will still examine "other" issues beyond the waterway crossings. Water advocates say this would amount to an evasion of the state's legal duties.
The bottom line is this: To lead on climate, and protect the state's precious water resources, Virginia's governor—whether it's Terry McAuliffe or his successor—can and must stop the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.
Doing so will take some political guts. Dominion, the company behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, also happens to be the biggest corporate donor to state political candidates in Virginia.
But gutsy decisions from state and local leaders are needed now more than ever, given Trump's absolute abdication of moral and economic leadership at the federal level. Virginia has an opportunity to become a true climate leader in the Trump era—but that must include rejecting multi-billion-dollar investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure. Gas pipelines are a bridge to climate destruction forestalling our transition to solar, wind, and energy efficiency solutions, which provide the only path to a stable climate.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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