Published here, with permission of the author, is one of hundreds of letters and statements sent to public officials from citizens who are deeply concerned that public input on Mountain Valley Pipeline is being ignored. We urge citizens of Virginia and West Virginia to keep up the pressure by calling and writing to elected officials to demand that state agencies use their authority to protect communities from disaster before it happens.
January 23, 2018
Honorable Ralph Northam
Governor of Virginia
c/o Clark Mercer, Chief of Staff
Re: Citizens are desperate for unbiased state actions regarding the pipeline proposals
Dear Governor Northam,
I write today to implore you to immediately take action to restore citizens’ faith that our state government is committed to protecting the rights and well-being of Virginia citizens in all actions taken regarding the current natural gas pipeline proposals (MVP and ACP). I write as both a scientist who is dismayed by the incomplete agency assessments of the potential major damage that these projects will undoubtedly do to our precious water resources, and as a citizen who has seen the well-being, health, and even survival of my neighbors severely impacted by the stress of dealing with these issues.
First, I will tell you my scientific background that qualifies me to comment on the potential environmental effects of these projects. I am a natural resources scientist, with more than 40 years of research and teaching experience in natural resource conservation and management at three major research universities (Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University, and now Virginia Tech). I hold university degrees in biological sciences, environmental toxicology and contamination, and aquatic/fisheries science. I have conducted research on aquatic/fisheries science in five U.S. states and on 3 continents. I was recognized with a Senior International Professorship for Visiting Scientists by the Chinese Academy of Sciences for my work to help them assess and manage freshwater systems in China. Similarly, I have been active in research and outreach for aquatic conservation in Brazil, which is Virginia’s partner in the Partners of the Americas program inspired by President Kennedy. I am the current Second Vice President of the American Fisheries Society, the world’s oldest professional society for natural resources conservation (begun in 1870). I am a Certified Fisheries Professional (American Fisheries Society), and a Fellow of both the American Fisheries Society and the American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists. My comments here represent my professional opinions based on this long career in natural resources conservation and management, and do not represent any official position of the agencies and organizations mentioned here.
State Agencies Have Lost Public Trust
Actions by various state agencies in reviewing the pipeline proposals have led to a loss of public trust. Numerous filings with state agencies and the FERC by highly qualified scientists who described the great potential for irreparable harm to Virginia’s aquatic resources primarily have been ignored, degrading both the scientific credibility of these agencies and the trust of the public in them. The MVP and ACP projects present major threats to the quality of water resources in Virginia that are critical to public and private water supplies; the tourism and water-based recreation economies; and the quality of life, well-being, and health of Virginia citizens.
Former Governor McAuliffe was an ardent supporter of these pipeline projects, but he promised that the proposals would be fully vetted in science-based reviews and only permitted if shown to offer no threat to the environmental quality of the Commonwealth. You made similar comments during your campaign. The clear truth evident to unbiased scientists is that such science-based assessment has never been fully performed by what are now your state agencies. Your DEQ, the very agency charged with protecting Virginia’s environment for our citizens, started by claiming they were too underfunded to conduct thorough reviews, then they deferred to federal agencies who had conducted inadequate and sometimes secret evaluations (i.e., the FERC, the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Forest Service, and the BLM). Finally, DEQ declared that the projects presented no threat of long-term damage to Virginia’s environment, and they pressured the State Water Control Board to approve the projects even though these corporations had neither completed nor filed final plans for erosion and sediment control. These agency actions strain scientific credulity, and make citizens suspect that corporate pressure has played an undue role in these decisions.
Lack of Evidence that Pipelines Can be Built Safely
In contrast to DEQ’s assurances, any credible soil scientist will tell you that allowing these pipelines to cross severe mountain slopes presents a major threat to water quality, and related quality of life, in Virginia. No major pipeline has ever crossed the Appalachian Mountains in this area, and for good reason. The current projects propose to cross slopes that exceed 60%, and even 80% in some locations. Any soil scientist can tell you that no proven techniques exist to prevent erosion on such severe slopes. Similar projects on less-severe slopes have failed despite erosion safeguards that far exceed what MVP and ACP propose, and those failures resulted in severe erosion, degradation of water quality, and the mortality of endangered freshwater species. FERC and DEQ were fully informed of these previous failures, but they have never even addressed them. The proposed projects will clear and excavate a wide path straight up and down steep mountain slopes, in areas where landowners and even the Forest Service do not harvest trees due to the slope. Federal guidelines for road building in wilderness areas prohibit construction of roads that exceed 24% slope due to erosion threats. Why will FERC and DEQ allow even more severe construction actions on slopes that exceed three times that severity? Every farmer knows to plow along hillside contours, not straight across them. That was one of the major soil conservation measures instituted during the Dust Bowl almost a century ago. Why are our state and federal governments going to allow Dominion and MVP to violate this basic conservation measure, and damage our local water supplies forever? The cost of such damage to just the public water supplies of Roanoke County and the Cities of Salem and Roanoke has already been projected to number in the tens of millions, and the costs to private water supplies (wells and springs) has never even been calculated.
Citizens Are Already Dying
Thousands of Virginians have been threatened by these pipeline projects with loss of their property, their dreams, their health, and even their livelihoods. I personally know numerous neighbors in Craig, Giles, and Montgomery Counties who have suffered severe medical traumas as a result of stress created by these threats related to the MVP, in which they feel your state government is complicit. I know numerous neighbors who have suffered strokes and heart attacks due to this stress, and at least one neighbor suffered a fatal heart attack. Even though the pipelines will not cross my own property, I myself suffered a stroke from the stress of researching the environmental threats and filing numerous comments with state and federal agencies to try to help my neighbors. Every resident of Newport (Giles County) feels personally threatened by the fact that the MVP will be routed through the very center of their community. They worry about the threat of explosion on a pipeline that will pass within tens of feet of their residences, and a few hundred feet of an historic and active church, a daycare center, a public library, a community center, and even their rescue squad. They worry about their household water sources, to which the DEQ Director flippantly responded that they would just need to find a new water source. The pipeline will forever impact the character of numerous historic sites in their county. As one example, a wedding venue at an historic apple farm on Salt Pond Mountain effectively will be put out of business for several years and will never return to its current condition. Virginia citizens are suffering real losses, both financially and health-wise. They legitimately wonder why their state government is allowing this to happen, seemingly for the sole financial benefit of an out-of-state corporation.
Other States have Taken Steps to Protect Their Citizens, Why Not Virginia?
I speak for thousands of Virginians when I ask you to take steps now to freeze actions on approvals for the pipelines until solid, science-based assessments can be completed. Such assessments are still lacking, and any agency that claims they have done such is not being honest with the public. We have seen the State of New York deny permits for several pipelines because of insufficient evidence that environmental protections will be adequate. North Carolina has delayed action on permitting the same ACP that Virginia has approved, citing inadequate support for the proposal.
It is clear to citizens and scientists that Virginia has approved permits based on inadequate study. NOW IS THE TIME TO CORRECT THAT OVERSIGHT, AND RESTORE TRUST IN VIRGINIA’S GOVERNMENT.
PLEASE FREEZE PERMITTING ACTIONS ON THE MVP AND ACP PROJECTS, AND INSTRUCT DEQ AND OTHER AGENCIES TO PERFORM TRULY SCIENCE-BASED ASSESSMENTS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS THAT THESE PROJECTS POSE TO VIRGINIA. Only then should permitting actions be considered.
There are numerous qualified scientists in Virginia, outside of your agencies, that can advise you and the agencies on the critical assessments that have not been fully performed. Why not tap these scientists to create an advisory board that can help oversee effective project assessment, to protect our valuable natural resources and restore trust in state government? Virginia’s citizens deserve no less.
Brian R. Murphy, Ph.D.
New Castle, VA