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Environmental groups protest McAuliffe's energy policies

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A grassroots alliance of 57 groups chided Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday for, in their view, turning a deaf ear to the concerns of communities facing impacts from natural gas pipelines, offshore drilling, coal ash, climate change and other potential threats to human health, property rights and the environment.

The allied groups and supporters plan to take their message directly to McAuliffe in Richmond during a “March on the Mansion” scheduled for July 23 and billed as “the biggest rally for climate justice and clean energy Virginia has ever seen.”

Alliance members include county-based groups opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast interstate natural gas pipeline projects. Each would be a 42-inch diameter, buried pipeline that would transport natural gas at high pressure.

During a news conference Wednesday, Roberta Bondurant, an active member of Preserve Roanoke County and Preserve Bent Mountain, was one of seven speakers.

Bondurant said that if the pipeline projects move forward, armed with the power to use eminent domain to acquire easements across private property, the projects could result in a massive “land grab” by industry.

On Wednesday, the coalition of national, state and local groups contended that McAuliffe “has too often ignored the voices of citizens in favor of private corporations whose plans would pollute Virginians’ land, water and climate with new fracked-gas pipelines, oil rigs and more.”

An open letter from the alliance cited Dominion and EQT Corp. as being among these favored corporations. Dominion is a partner in the 600-mile, $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline and also a source of coal ash pollution. EQT Corp. is a partner in the 301-mile, $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline and has been penalized in Pennsylvania for pollution related to hydraulic fracturing.

Christina Nuckols, a spokeswoman for McAuliffe, provided a different view.

“Governor McAuliffe has made unprecedented progress on his environmental and economic goals, positioning Virginia to be a global leader in clean energy for generations,” she said.

“As a result of his aggressive push to accelerate the renewable energy sector, the commonwealth will see a 10-fold increase in solar generation by the end of this year,” Nuckols said.

She cited a host of other environmental accomplishments and initiatives, including water quality initiatives, vetoes of two coal tax credits and efforts to address climate change.

“He won a $120.5 million federal grant in the National Disaster Resilience Competition that will help the commonwealth address the challenges of climate change,” she said.

Nuckols said McAuliffe “recognizes that clean energy is the lifeblood of the new Virginia economy” and that a majority of state residents support his work to both create jobs and protect natural resources.

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The grassroots alliance that spoke out Wednesday includes regional coalitions like the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance and Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, as well as environmental and social justice-focused groups such as Appalachian Voices and Virginia Organizing.

The alliance’s letter to McAuliffe noted, “We reject the notion that energy choices should be made by the powerful few, far removed from affected communities.”

The governor has repeatedly voiced support for the two pipeline projects, emphasizing that they could support economic development and provide a cleaner fuel than coal for generating electricity.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Sharon Ponton, an organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said McAuliffe has dodged anti-pipeline activists at public events. Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia and Friends of Nelson, said the governor has not responded to invitations to come hear the concerns of Nelson County residents about the Atlantic Coast project.

Separately, on June 8, Wild Virginia and the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition asked McAuliffe to form a citizens advisory panel to help review the pipeline projects. They said they never received a response.

On Wednesday, Nuckols said the regulatory process involved in reviewing the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast projects “provides ample opportunity for public input.”

“The governor is committed to making sure that all views about the project receive a fair hearing, and the existing process ensures that all those who wish to share their opinions will have a chance to be heard,” she said.

Both projects have applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the certificate required to begin construction. FERC staff and a consultant are working on draft environmental impact statements for each pipeline.

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition has challenged McAuliffe and the state Department of Environmental Quality to allocate the resources necessary to ensure an adequate environmental review of the pipelines and a vigorous watchdog role if the projects move forward.

Rick Webb, coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, was not comforted by Nuckols’ statement.

He said he’d like to know what “ample opportunity for public input” actually means in relation to DEQ’s permitting process and length of comment period.

Webb said that if the DEQ allows the pipeline projects to proceed under a general Virginia Water Protection permit, “there is no public input opportunity provided by the regulatory process.”

The alliance’s letter notes that McAuliffe has the authority to challenge the pipelines under the Clean Water Act, to abandon his support for off-shore oil drilling and to “protect communities from reckless coal-ash disposal plans.”

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said Wednesday that it took about two weeks and several lengthy conference calls to draft the three-page letter to McAuliffe.

More information about the March on the Mansion, is available online at marchonthemansion.org.

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