Yikes, the I-66 Toll Hits $44

Image of the $44 toll captured by commuter Chris Kane and published by the Washington Post.

Uh, oh, the Interstate 66 inside-the-Beltway toll hit a new high — $44 — Thursday morning. That price lasted only six minutes, and Virginia Department of Transportation officials attributed the increased demand along I-66 to congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and an incident on Interstate 395 that created a “potential ripple effect.”

Whatever the cause, we can be sure that this will not be the last time that there are ripple effects from congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge or an accident on I-395.

I know all the arguments in favor of dynamically priced tolls as a tool for rationing scarce highway capacity, and I even agree with them. But I’m also a realist. Politically, $44 tolls for a 10-mile ride will be hard to sustain. While only a tiny fraction of drivers paid that top fare, plenty of other drivers paid $20, $30 or more. Trying doing that day after day — such sums add up fast. Drivers don’t care one whit for economic theory and maximizing utility. All they know is that they’re they’re being robbed while “someone else” is making out like a bandit.

When voters get mad, legislators get mad. When legislators get mad, they do stupid things. This cannot end well.

Solar Projects Progress in Orange, Campbell

Speaking of Dominion Energy Virginia’s commitment to solar (see previous post)…

Apco commits to solar… Appalachian Power Co., Virginia’s second largest electric utility, has signed an agreement to purchase electricity from the 15-megawatt Depot Solar Center in Campbell County as part its shift from coal to renewables. The deal represents the utility’s first commitment to utility-scale solar.

“Appalachian Power is excited to announce the Depot Solar Center as we move forward with the diversification of our generation portfolio,” said President Chris Beam in a press release. “We are pleased that the facility will be built and operated within our service area and provide other benefits that new construction will bring to surrounding communities.”

Depot Solar was developed by Pasadena California-based Coronal Energy, which has a office in Charlottesville. The company will sell the electricity to Apco through a 20-year renewable energy purchase agreement.

Apco selected the project after issuing an RFP in January 2017. The company received 37 proposals. Depot Solar, which will connect to Apco’s grid at the company’s Rustburg substation, is expected to be operational by September 2019.

And Orange County, too… The Orange County board of supervisors approved the county’s first large-scale solar farm, voting unanimously for a special-use permit that will allow a 400-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm to be build along Route 20.

The project, which will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 10,000 homes, is being developed by Reston-based SolUnesco, according to the Orange County Review. Among the 20 provisions attached to the permit was a requirement to obscure visibility of the facility from Route 20.

The project is expected to bring in $2.2 million to the county in machinery and tools tax revenue over the course of its 30-year life, and bring in an additional $10,000 per year in property tax revenue. Depending on the environmental permitting process, construction is expected to begin by the end of 2018 or early 2019.

What If… Dominion Pursued a Solar+Smart Grid Strategy?

After proposing an end to the freeze on base electricity rates and a reinvestment of excess profits into modernization of the electric grid, Dominion Energy Virginia has produced an ad touting renewable energy and the smart grid.

What if more of the energy we used came from renewable resources?

What if the electric grid could detect, fix and even prevent power outages?

What if our grid were less vulnerable, more secure?

What if all these “what ifs” became a reality?

Well, they are. At Dominion Energy, we’re completely transforming our power grid and the way we think about energy to move from “what if” to “what’s next?”

The ad appears on Youtube. I don’ t know if Dominion has purchased any air time yet. (Hat tip: Steve Haner.)

Bacon’s bottom line: As I read the tea leaves, Dominion’s push to modernize the electric grid may represent more than a tactical bid to shore up short-term profits and may reflect a deeper change in strategic thinking about the shift in the relative advantage of solar versus other sources of electric power.

Critics have asserted that the 2015 rate freeze has allowed Dominion to retain hundreds of millions of dollars in profits that it otherwise would have had to reimburse to rate payers. Dominion’s response was to concede that, yes, it has enjoyed higher profitability since the freeze but that critics over-emphasized the amount and under-emphasized the risks the company faced from absorbing the cost of massive weather events and regulatory burdens such as coal ash disposal.

Thus, it came as a surprise two weeks ago when Dominion executive Mark O. Webb announced that it was time to “transition away from the rate freeze as the outlines of state carbon regulation have become more clear and the need and the opportunity to reinvest in grid transformation becomes more pressing.” He proposed plowing back surplus profits into investments in the electric grid, which are needed to maintain reliability as more solar generation comes online and also to guard against cyber-security threats.

There is more at stake than a couple hundred million dollars (depending on whose estimate you believe) in excess profits. A bolstered commitment to solar energy and the smart grid would affect billions of dollars of future investment. Only a couple of years ago, emphasizing the difficulty of integrating intermittent renewable energy sources into the electric grid, the utility saw only a modest future for solar. In its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan, however, Dominion outlined a long-term future in which 5,200 megawatts of electric capacity would be produced by solar  — the  equivalent of four or five state-of-the-art natural gas power stations. Could Webb’s comments indicate a willingness by Dominion to tilt even more aggressively toward solar?

The major source of demand growth in Dominion’s service territory is coming from data centers, and leading data-center companies are committed to the use of green energy (either solar or wind). At the same time, the pooling of electricity through PJM Interconnection, the interstate transmission organization of which Virginia is a part, makes it easier to balance electric output and loads at the macro level of the high-voltage transmission grid, while smart-grid technology is making it easier to handle power fluctuations at the level of the lower-voltage distribution grid.

As an organization, Dominion Energy Virginia has two overriding imperatives — its public service mission of keeping the lights on, and its obligation to shareholders to maximize profits. The path to increasing profits has been to invest in new capital-intensive projects that generate a regulated rate of return on shareholder equity. It makes no difference to shareholders whether Dominion invests in gas-fired power stations, extending the life of its nuclear units, utility-scale solar, building new transmission lines, building pumped-storage dams, or upgrading the IQ of its transmission and distribution lines.

In a nod to the changing political climate in Virginia, Webb’s remarks and the new ad suggest that Dominion Energy Virginia is leaning more toward a growth formula of solar+smart grid. Such a view is bolstered by the utility’s pursuit of a pumped-storage facility in Southwest Virginia, which could provide an offset to the variability of solar output.

Dominion Energy Virginia’s strategy as a regulated utility must be viewed, however, in the context of the fact that parent company Dominion Energy has committed heavily to natural gas as an energy source of the future in Virginia and North Carolina, and potentially even in South Carolina. Insofar as gas-fired combustion turbines can be quickly ramped up and down in response to fluctuations in solar power, Dominion can claim that gas is a natural complement to solar. How all these moving parts — solar, smart grid, gas, pumped storage, pipelines, and massive sunk investments in coal and nuclear — come together is not yet clear. I would not be surprised if Dominion’s senior executives are still thinking it through.

An Island of Urbanism in a Vast Suburban Sea

Rendering of proposed Innslake apartment building.

The re-development of Innsbrook, the largest office park in the Richmond metropolitan area, into a mixed-use urban district is getting closer to reality. Developer WAM Associates, led by Joe Marchetti Jr., has enlisted WVS Cos., a developer of walkable urban places such as Rocketts Landing, to develop two apartment buildings and a structured parking deck around an existing office building, reports Richmond BizSense.

Taking advantage of an Urban Mixed-Use district zoning zone enacted by Henrico County several years ago, Innslake Place would add 350 apartments and 261 structured parking spaces adjacent to an existing office building. WVS is contributing money to the project and will help guide it through Henrico’s development review process.

The vision for years has been to transform the office park into an urban district with grid streets, mixed uses and greater density. Western Henrico County is largely built out. If the county is to grow its tax base, it must build up. And Innsbrook, which has excellent Interstate highway access and is the largest employment center in the Richmond outside of downtown, is the most logical place for the county to urbanize.

While Henrico scored an economic development coup earlier this year with its big announcement of the Facebook data center, the City of Richmond has been winning the competition for office projects. Downtown is undergoing its greatest transformation in decades as big corporations, small businesses and apartment dwellers flock to downtown, Scotts Addition, and other city districts. Innsbrook has not built a new office building in years.

By itself, Innslake Place is a relatively modest project. But Henrico residents can reasonably hope that, if financially successful, the project will create a nucleus for more re-development in the Urban Mixed Use district. Once Marchetti and his partners demonstrate that there is a strong market for mixed-use development and a live-work-play lifestyle in Innsbrook — and that it’s possible to get a project through Henrico’s zoning and planning process — the floodgates will be released.

Virginia’s Income Drain: $1.5 Billion Last Year

Last week I noted that more people left Virginian between 2015 and 2016 than moved into the state — the fourth year in a row the Old Dominion suffered more out-migration than in-migration. From a taxpayer’s perspective, that wouldn’t be so bad if poor people were leaving and rich people were coming in. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The IRS data is based on the change in addresses of people who file income tax returns. The “returns” column in the table above shows the net gain or loss in the number of returns filed; the “exemptions” includes taxpayers plus other family members claimed as exemptions. Tax filers leaving Virginia reported an average income per filer of $73,900, while those who entered the state reported $66,100.

Not only did Virginia lose a net 9,000 taxpayers in 2016, we lost nearly $1.6 billion in income. Assuming an effective income tax rate of about 5%, that represents a loss of about $76 million in tax dollars.

One year’s loss of $1.6 billion in income is hardly a disaster when those who stayed behind reported $250 billion in income. But the steady erosion of the population and tax base over four years does add up, and it will continue to add up if Virginia can’t turn things around. Our collective tax and debt obligations looms a little bit larger when there are 9,000 fewer tax payers each year to shoulder the burden.

Not surprisingly, Virginia lost the most taxpayers (3,900) and the most income ($645 million) to income tax-free Florida. We’re hardly alone in that regard. Wealthy retirees of many other states do the same thing. But how does Virginia explain the net loss of more than 3,000 residents, along with $320 million in income, to high-tax Maryland?

Virginia was a net exporter of income to 40 other states and an importer of income from only 10 states (plus Washington, D.C.). We can console ourselves that our reversal of fortune from 35 years as an importer of people and wealth is temporary, driven by cutbacks in federal funding for the state’s military-industrial complex. But what if there’s more to the story? It would be helpful to take a closer look at which cities, counties and metropolitan areas are winners and losers… which I will do if I can find the time.

Reinventing Roanoke


Thirty years ago when I worked for the Roanoke Times, the City of Roanoke was obsessed with revitalizing its sleepy downtown. Roanokers were fiercely loyal to their central business district and celebrated every small success. But the odds seemed stacked against them. Midsized cities lacking a major university presence have fared poorly economically in the past three decades. Indeed, Roanoke suffered body blow after body blow as its top employer, Norfolk Southern, progressively shrunk its presence to zero.

But rather than sounding a death knell, the departure of Norfolk Southern freed up railroad office buildings for conversion to apartments and, against all odds, Roanoke’s revival.

As reported by the urbanism website CityLab, the conversion in 2002 of one Norfolk Southern office building into a collegiate and job training center and another into an 87-unit apartment building set downtown on a new path. Backed by historic tax credits and $20 million in city capital projects, developers have converted many old commercial buildings to residential use. In 2000, fewer than 50 people lived downtown. Today, more than 1,800 do.

Writes article author Mason Adams: “The Star City … created a model this century for how small industrial cities can reinvent themselves.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The Roanoke Valley is hardly booming right now. But the city is reinventing itself, creating in downtown the kinds of places that creatives and Millennials want to live. It is undergoing the same kind of transformation, on a smaller scale, as Richmond has. After a wrenching transition during and after the 2008 recession, Richmond now leads Virginia metro areas in economic growth. Hopefully, Roanoke will experience a similar rebound.

Moral of the story: Why is Roanoke’s downtown district and surrounding neighborhoods reinventing itself and not the valley’s suburbs? Because downtown has assets that people now value: walkability, including a pedestrian-friendly street grid and sufficient density to support a wide variety of amenities within walking distance. Downtown also has a large stock of historic buildings. Perhaps most important of all, Roanoke’s zoning code has not impeded the conversion of buildings from one land use in declining demand (office space) into a different land use enjoying growing demand (residential). Roanoke has had the freedom to evolve with changing market demand. Suburban places, embedded in their residential/commercial/retail pods lack are stuck in amber. All Virginians can learn from Roanoke’s example.

Water Board Gives Atlantic Coast Pipeline Conditional Approval

In a 4 to 3 vote, the State Water Control Board gave a provisional water-quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today, but added a big condition reports WHSV television: The permit won’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Dominion Energy, managing partner of the ACP, is evaluating the additional conditions and will issue a response later today.

In the meantime, environmental groups were cautiously approving of the decision.

Said Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager of Appalachian Voices: “We are somewhat encouraged by the depth and scope of the board’s discussion about several critical issues today and their apparent recognition of the thousands of citizen voices they’ve heard from over the years, but we are disappointed they did not deny this deficient certification and remand it back to the Department of Environmental Quality for a thorough analysis.”

“We particularly commend members Roberta Kellam, Nissa Dean and Robert Wayland who cast the three dissenting votes,” he added.

Said Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network: 

In a setback for notorious polluter Dominion Energy, the Virginia State Water Control Board today sided with landowners and environmentalists in calling for more rigorous and comprehensive review of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline. After being ignored for years by Governor Terry McAuliffe and Dominion, the voices of everyday Virginians were finally heard and we will work tirelessly to make sure all the facts can come to the table. CCAN and our allies have argued all along that any science-based and transparent review of all the harmful impacts of the ACP can only result in official and final denial of Dominion’s radical pipeline for fracked gas.

And Chesapeake Bay Foundation Assistant Director Peggy Sanner:

We are pleased that the Water Control Board refused to allow the pipeline project to proceed until threats from pollution are more thoroughly examined. This was the right decision. Thanks to the Board for its careful consideration of this vital matter. Building the pipeline without this information would disturb waterways across Virginia and increase pollution to local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. We will continue working to make sure the pipeline is held to the strictest environmental standards possible.

Update: Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the following:

Today the Virginia State Water Control Board approved the state water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a very significant milestone for the project and another major step toward final approval.

The Board reached its decision after the most thorough environmental review of any infrastructure project in Virginia history. After more than three years of exhaustive study by state agencies and extensive public input, the Board concluded that the project will preserve Virginia’s water quality under stringent state standards.

The Board approved several conditions to strengthen water quality protections and require other state approvals before the certification takes effect. We will work closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to complete all remaining approvals in a timely manner and ensure we meet all conditions of the certification.

At every stage of the project we’ve taken great care to meet the highest standards for the protection of water quality. In many cases, we’ve gone above and beyond regulatory requirements and adopted some of the most protective measures ever used by the industry. State and federal inspectors will carefully monitor our work throughout construction to ensure strict compliance with the law. The protective measures we’ve put in place and the regulatory oversight we’re receiving should assure all Virginians that the pipeline will be built safely and in a way that preserves the state’s water quality.

We commend the Board members and DEQ staff for the years of hard work and careful study they’ve dedicated to reviewing the project. We also appreciate the thoughtful and constructive input provided by members of the public. This has been a rigorous and transparent process, and everyone’s voice has been heard. The process has resulted in more environmental protection and higher water quality standards than any other project of this kind.

McAuliffe Acts to Stem Teacher Shortages

Governor Terry McAuliffe is worried about unfilled teacher positions in Virginia, which numbered more than 1,000 two months into the 2016 school year and has increased 40% over the past 10 years.

Accordingly, the governor has proposed a number of palliatives to address the problem, including an executive order allowing Virginia universities to confer four-year education degrees. Currently, prospective teachers require a year of graduate school.

Other measures include putting $1.1 million in the biennial budget to automate the paper-based teacher licensure process; $1 million to recruit and retain principals in Virginia’s most challenged school districts; $225,000 in FY 2020 for tuition assistance for students pursuing a teaching degree; $100,000 over the biennium to cover the cost of tests and test preparation for minority students; and making students eligible for up to $20,000 in loans if they agree to teach two years in school districts with 50% poor kids.

“The teacher shortage is a growing crisis that we have to stop and reverse if we are serious about the Commonwealth’s economic future,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “High quality teachers are the key to unlocking the potential in our children, our Commonwealth, and the new Virginia economy and these steps will help us recruit and retain them across the state.”

“Given the cost of higher education and the severe need for additional teachers,” he said, “I believe changing [the M.A.] requirement will encourage more Virginians to pursue careers in education and will help supply more future teachers to meet the growing needs of our public school system.” 

Bacon’s bottom line: Good for McAuliffe. Once upon a time in Virginia, teaching required no more than an B.A. degree. At some point, based on the logic that more education would turn out better teachers, Virginia began requiring M.A. degrees. I have seen no evidence to suggest that a fifth year improves teacher quality. However, the five-year requirement demonstrably has imposed a major additional burden upon would-be teachers. It should surprise no one that the $25,000-or-so cost to attend college for a fifth year, plus an extra year of lost wages, depressed the number of students interested in entering the profession.

All foes of gratuitous and counter-productive regulation should cheer the governor’s executive action. As for his budget recommendations, the $1.1 million expenditure to automate the teacher licensure process sounds like an investment in more efficient administration. The other budget proposals may or may not prove to be useful, but they will cost in the aggregate less than $1 million more.

Here’s what I would like to know: Are the teacher shortages spread uniformly across the state, or are they worse in areas of concentrated poverty? Actually, I know the answer, but it would be helpful to know the details. Teacher shortages are worst at schools where poverty is endemic, and poverty is strongly associated with student behavioral issues. Young teachers get burned out teaching in classes with disciplinary problems they can’t solve, and they leave the profession in high numbers. Addressing the teacher shortage likely requires addressing the discipline problem as well, but that’s not something McAuliffe can accomplish with a stroke of the executive pen.

Update: Charles Pyle, communications director for the Virginia Department of Education, notes that state guidelines enacted in the late 1980s led to more teachers with M.A. degrees but did not eliminate four-year eligibility. Many education schools still provide undergraduate degrees as seen here (U = undergraduate).

One of Three Virginia Children Unready for Kindergarten

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

Roughly one third of Virginia children lack the social, self-regulation, literacy or math skills needed for kindergarten, finds a study on early childhood development released by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC).

(That estimate was derived from a representative sampling from 63 of Virginia’s 132 school systems, so a comprehensive statewide survey might yield a different percentage.)

Factors such as poverty, low birth weight, and maternal substance abuse place childrens’ early development at risk and strongly influence whether they will be ready for school. The scientific research is clear, says the JLARC report:

Very young children who grow up in — or are regularly exposed to — safe, language-rich, and healthy environments, with caregivers who support their curiosity and learning, are likely to enter school ready to learn. Conversely, children not exposed to such environments are less likely to be ready for school and are more likely to be held back, enrolled in special education classes, and perform poorly in later grades. Those same students are more likely than their peers to commit crimes, become teen parents, and rely on public assistance as they grow older. … Each of these outcomes can carry significant financial costs to government, including the state.

Virginia has 13 “core” early childhood development programs, including seven voluntary home visiting programs for expectant mothers, the Virginia Pre-School Initiative, the Child Care Subsidy Program, and two Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programs. The state spent $144 million on early childhood development programs in FY 2016; total federal, state and local spending amounted to $359 million.

An opportunity exists to improve the effectiveness of the state’s spending commitment without spending more money, JLARC concluded. “Careful attention is needed to whether programs are well designed, implemented as designed , and perform effectively.” But there is insufficient data to evaluate which programs are delivering the most bang for the buck. 

Bacon’s bottom line: By all means, we should evaluate the efficacy of Virginia’s early childhood development programs and reallocate resources to programs that deliver the most value. But such fine-tuning of the existing system amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when one out of three Virginia children is unready for kindergarten. Virginia appears to be experiencing what can only be interpreted as a slow-motion societal collapse.

Lagging childhood development is strongly correlated with poverty and other phenomena such as low birth weight and maternal substance abuse that are also strongly correlated with poverty. The percentage of Virginia’s population in poverty at present runs about 11%. Yet one-third (subject to revision if we could obtain statewide data) of children are unready for kindergarten. Why the three-to-one disparity? A big portion of the problem, I submit, is demographic: Mothers in poverty have more children than middle-class mothers do, and they have children at much younger ages.

At 64 years of age, I’m about to become a grandfather for the first time. My eldest daughter, whose baby is due in literally one or two days, is 32 years old. Like her 30-year-old sister, who wants to have children but is waiting until her family’s career and finances are in order, and like the vast majority of middle-class Americans, she waited until she completed her education, found a job, got married, saved money, and achieved financial stability. Poor people don’t hew to the same family planning logic. Although the number of teen pregnancies is declining, poor women tend to give birth at a much younger age than their middle-class peers do, and they tend not to be married. (This proclivity, by the way, applies to all races and ethnicities.)

Given the strong correlation between poverty and low literacy levels, substance abuse, single-parent households, child neglect and a host of other pathologies, it should come as a surprise to no one that the percentage of Virginia’s young children ill equipped for kindergarten is increasing. And it should surprise no one that the percentage of teenagers ill equipped to graduate from high school is increasing, and that the percentage of young adults ill equipped for college is increasing. The same problem is manifesting itself on every step of the educational ladder.

Yes, we need to treat the symptoms of this systemic problem by, among other things, helping prepare young children for kindergarten. But the same pathologies that hinder readiness for kindergarten also hinder progression to 1st grade and beyond. In the long run, the most important thing we can do is to persuade teenagers and young women that they can improve their lives by adopting bourgeois values — deferring gratification, staying sober and delaying child bearing until they have completed their education, formed a stable marriage, and found a stable job.

ACP Foes, Supporters Contend in ACP Environmental Hearing

After issuing a water-quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline last week, the State Water Control Board held a public hearing today to consider a comparable certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Public comment this morning tended to focus on the question of whether new Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rules designed to cover pipeline construction in mountainous “uplands” are up to the task of protecting water quality.

Two hundred or more pipeline foes packed the Trinity Family Life Center in Henrico County to voice their support of speakers critical of the proposed 605-mile natural gas pipeline, mainly on the grounds that it will threaten water quality in mountainous western Virginia communities. But many of the speakers, including state legislators, retired employees of Dominion Energy (managing partner of the pipeline), and others expressed support for the project which they said will promote economic development in eastern Virginia.

Even with speakers limited to three minutes at the podium, the hearing was expected to last into the evening, and the water board was not expected to vote until tomorrow.

Opponents hammered home the argument that DEQ’s regulations were inadequate to protect water quality in steep mountainous terrain with landslide-prone slopes and complex karst geology with sinkholes and underground rivers. In particular, they charged, the Board relied upon ACP erosion-control plans that have not been seen yet to prevent sediment from fouling streams and underground drinking water.

A major sub-theme of those hostile to the pipeline was distrust of the regulatory process, which, given the approval of the MVP project last week, showed every sign of going against the pipeline foes. Typical was Cabell Smith, a Nelson County resident, who said that the regulations provided “no assurance” that water quality standards will be maintained under a “corrupt corporate and political system.”

Some insisted that democracy itself was under assault. Richard Averett, a landowner in the path of the ACP, called the pipeline an “unprecedented threat to eminent domain” and a “threat to democracy.” The pipeline, he said, will scuttle his plans to build a five-star boutique resort in the Rockfish Valley. In an impassioned speech that brought pipeline foes to their feet, he faulted “a corrupt governor more interested in mining the pockets of his pals and future donors than protecting the rights of citizens.”

DEQ devised the certification for upland water quality out of a concern that the existing regulatory framework did not address the unique problems encountered along the proposed pipeline route, said Melanie Davenport, DEQ’s water permitting division director. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates wetlands and streams, while a different set of regulations governs erosion & sediment controls. The 401 water quality certification, she said, fills the gaps.

DEQ acknowledges that the digging of trenches and laying of pipeline on steep, erosion-prone slopes can create problems that pipeline construction does not pose in flatland and hill country. Sediment-generating erosion is particularly problematic in karst terrain when underground water flows are out-of-sight and difficult to track. Therefore, said Davenport, the commonwealth decided to add an additional certification.

According to Davenport, conditions attached to the ACP water-quality certificate provide, among other features:

  • A prohibition against the removal of riparian buffers within 50 feet of surface waters.
  • A narrower construction right of way, 75 feet instead of 125 feet, as pipeline construction nears water and stream crossings.
  • Additional protections to accommodate karst terrain, including the use of dye-tracing studies to update karst maps.
  • Tougher conditions on the withdrawal of surface waters.
  • Tougher conditions on the release of water used in hydrostatic tests (conducted to measure the integrity of pipeline joints and seams).
  • Implementation of water quality monitoring plans to track erosion during and after construction.
  • Spill-prevention plans

A point made repeatedly by pro-pipeline speakers is that the DEQ regulations provide “added layers of protection” to water quality.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, Del. Roxanne Robinson, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Ashland, all spoke in favor of certifying the pipeline. Wagner said that added gas-transportation capacity is especially critical for economic growth in Hampton Roads, where some 100 large customers were called upon to curtail their natural gas consumption during the intense cold of the polar vortex a few years ago. The tight gas supply will make it difficult to recruit any energy-intensive industry to the region, he said.

“There is not enough upstream capacity today to serve existing customers and new customers,” confirmed Jim Kibler, president of Virginia Natural Gas, which serves Hampton Roads. Other than the ACP, he said, “We’re out of options for South Hampton Roads.”

“Our city and region need the supply of natural gas from the pipeline,” said Edwin C. Daly, assistant city manager of the city of Emporia in Southside.

Technology has advanced to the point where the ACP will be “the safest pipeline ever built,” said Paul McCormick with the International Union of Operating Engineers.

While a handful of critics disputed the positive economic impact of the pipeline, most pipeline foes focused on the negative impact on water quality.

Tina Smusz, representing the Virginia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, called DEQ’s regulatory approach a “flawed framework” that ignores the impact of water-born toxins that could pose “grave health threats.” Toxins buried in sediments along stream banks could be exposed by erosion and make their way into local water supplies, she said. DEQ should get predictive data on toxin release before granting certification, she said. While DEQ proposes to monitor water quality and execute contingency plans should problems arise, that’s an inadequate after-the-fact solution, she added. Continue reading