With crucial Virginia pipeline votes looming, Northam stays out of water-quality debate

During his campaign, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam wanted the regulatory process for a pair of controversial natural gas pipelines planned to be built through Virginia to be “as thorough and environmentally responsible as permitted under state and federal law.” Yet on the eve of crucial votes by the State Water Control Board that begin this week for water-quality certifications for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, the Democratic lieutenant governor appears content to stay away from what critics contend has been a deeply flawed review of the potential water quality hazards posed by the blasting, trenching, ridgetop flattening and tree removal that construction will entail.
The citizen board, whose seven members were appointed by outgoing Gov.
The pipelines, already approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other federal agencies, will cross some of the most mountainous terrain in the state, and opponents contend they cannot be built without dislodging sediment that could damage streams, aquifers and drinking water sources.
Asked whether Northam supports the water board issuing the permits before he takes office in January, a spokeswoman said he “will respect the final determination made at the end of a transparent, science-driven regulatory process.” The spokeswoman did not respond when asked whether Northam thought the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s proposed certifications will adequately protect state waters.
The board will take up certification for the Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run 600 miles from West Virginia through the heart of Virginia and into North Carolina, with an extension to Hampton Roads, on Dec. 11 and 12.
Environmental groups say the board, as a result of how the DEQ has narrowed its review, does not have the information it needs to issue legally defensible certifications.
Dominion sees nothing wrong with the DEQ’s process, and a spokesman bristled at the suggestion by environmental groups that the influential energy giant is driving the timetables for approval.
“He should get involved now,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which has fought the pipelines.
“These pipelines, if they’re built, are going to become a PR nightmare for Dominion, for EQT and for the elected leaders of Virginia who supported them, including Ralph Northam.
The environmental harm that we in the environmental community have warned against will become plain for the whole state to see.

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