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Virginia wants water quality permits for Mountain Valley, Atlantic Coast pipes

Under pressure from environmental groups, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will require individual Clean Water Act Section 401 certifications for two major natural gas transmission projects, the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

In an April 6 press release, the department said the decision to require the permits, issued by states under the federal Clean Water Act, was consistent with Gov. Terry McAuliffe's commitment to building the pipelines in "the most environmentally protective manner." The Section 401 water quality certifications for each project would be required in addition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' nationwide permit for wetlands and stream crossings. Section 401 certification is required if a project will fill or otherwise affect state waters.

Section 401 permits are common in cases where pipeline projects cross streams and other water bodies, but the permit process has been used by some states, such as New York, to block pipeline projects. McAuliffe, however, has supported Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley.

Although the permits are routine, environmental group Chesapeake Climate Action Network claimed it took over two years of pressure to make the governor, "a huge supporter of these controversial pipelines," to agree to require the permits, which means the Department of Environmental Quality will hold hearings and give the public a chance to comment.

"We are confident that a full-fledged review of the projects will show that there is no way they can be built and operated without harming water quality," CCAN Director Mike Tidwell said in an April 6 email. "Allowing public input will further highlight the enormous public opposition to the MVP and ACP."

Dominion Resources Inc., one of the developers of the Atlantic Coast project, welcomed the reviews.

"The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) decision to utilize the Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide permit 12 for wetland and stream crossings while also requiring an individual approval process for 401 certification will provide for public review of the protective measures we've adopted to preserve water quality," spokesman Aaron Ruby wrote in an email. "We stand ready to work cooperatively with DEQ on an efficient review and timely process."

The Atlantic Coast pipeline would travel through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina in order to deliver about 1.5 MMDth/d of Appalachian Basin gas supplies. The 42-inch-diameter pipeline would run approximately 600 miles. FERC staff issued a positive draft environmental impact statement for the project on Dec. 30, 2016. The project is backed by Dominion, Southern Co. Gas, Duke Energy Corp. and its subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas Co. Inc. (FERC docket CP15-554)

The approximately 300-mile-long Mountain Valley pipeline would deliver 2 Bcf/d of gas supplies from the shale regions of the Marcellus and Utica formations to Mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets. The 42-inch-diameter pipeline would travel through West Virginia and Virginia. FERC staff is scheduled to publish a final environmental impact statement for the project on June 23. The project is a joint venture of EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra Energy Inc., RGC Resources Inc., WGL Midstream Inc and Con Edison Gas Pipeline and Storage LLC. (FERC docket CP16-10)