By Itai Vardi
Starting on Thursday, December 7, the state of Virginia’s Water Control Board will convene for three key meetings to decide the fate of a number of contentious pipeline projects. On the agenda: whether or not to grant a water quality permit to the Atlantic Coast pipeline, a 550-mile long, multistate fracked gas project led by Dominion Energy.
For both opponents and proponents of the pipeline, this will be a crucial moment, the culmination of a high-profile struggle that is now well into its third year. The Water Control Board, a regulatory agency within the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), consists of seven citizen members and has ultimate authority on approving or denying the permit that is required under the U.S. Clean Water Act.
Approving the permit allows Dominion to pass a major state-level hurdle on the way to the pipeline’s construction. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has already approved the pipeline.
Ahead of these meetings, DeSmog is taking a look back at the many instances where the federal and state regulatory review processes for this pipeline were either potentially conflicted by Dominion’s involvement or somehow linked to the company.
Regulator Represented Dominion in Past
The newest member of Virginia’s Water Control Board has past links to Dominion. Board member Timothy Hayes, appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe this past August, is a retired lobbyist and attorney who previously represented the energy company. Hayes retired in 2012 from the Richmond-based firm Hunton & Williams, which has been representing Dominion’s subsidiary Virginia Electric & Power Co. for several years. Hayes personally represented the company in a 2010 air pollution case, along with former colleagues who have represented it as recently as October this year.
Both the offices of Governor McAuliffe and the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who are responsible for hiring state board members, did not provide comment on why someone with past ties to Dominion was appointed to the Water Control Board before the pending pipeline vote. A spokesperson for the DEQ said: “Mr. Hayes has confirmed that he has no conflict of interest and is able to participate in State Water Control Board decisions.”
Government Contractors Also Working for Dominion
In April, DeSmog revealed that a third-party contractor reviewing the Atlantic Coast pipeline on behalf of FERC is tied to Dominion’s main environmental contractor on the project. The third-party contractor, Merjent, had listed Natural Resource Group LLC, the firm working for Dominion, on its website’s client list. After the revelation, Merjent inexplicably removed Natural Resource Group’s name from its online list.
Soon after, DeSmog reported that another third-party contractor, this time hired by the U.S. Forest Service to review a portion of the pipeline running through national forests, was working at the same time for Dominion on the very same project. The Forest Service hired GAI Consultants to “independently” review drilling practices in environmentally sensitive areas, even though the firm had been working simultaneously for Dominion from the project’s early stages.
In June DeSmog revealed that a contractor, hired by the Virginia DEQ to independently review the adequacy of Dominion’s stormwater and erosion and sediment control plans, was working at the same time for Dominion on an unrelated project. The DEQ hired EEE Consulting for the job even though the firm was working simultaneously for Dominion on a communications tower project. Internal emails and documents obtained through an open records request indicated the department may not have properly vetted the contractor for existing conflicts, which apparently violated its work contract.
Dominion and Politicians
Multiple reports from the last year have uncovered the ongoing political connections between Dominion, a traditionally powerful corporate player in Virginian politics, and top political players in both major parties.
- In February, DeSmog reported that several individuals associated with President Trump stand to profit from the Atlantic Coast pipeline, a project that was named as a top infrastructure priority by the new administration.
- In June it was revealed that Dominion recently used the services of SKDKnickerbocker, a powerful PR and political consulting firm which has worked with top Democratic candidates, including Virginia Governor McAuliffe.
- And late last month, DeSmog showed that the transition team appointed by the state’s Democratic Governor-elect, Ralph Northam, includes multiple leaders and members with ties to Dominion, whose affiliations were not disclosed.