State Water Control Board calls for aggressive enforcement, declines to revoke pipeline permits

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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) The State Water Control Board has approved a motion calling for aggressive enforcement on two natural gas pipeline projects.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the board stopped short of revoking permits for the controversial projects.

Opponents of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines marched through downtown Richmond, rallied in Capitol Square and packed the meeting of the State Water Control Board.

J.B. Hargett came from Franklin County.

"And I'll show you mud washed down in driveways," Hargett told board members. "I'll show you ponds that are beyond use. I'll show you streams where the fish are dead because of the mud."

Opponents argued that the national standards state regulators used to permit stream crossings aren’t adequate to protect water quality in communities along the path of the two pipelines.

Tammy Belinsky spoke of the area on Bent Mountain in Roanoke County, where the Mountain Valley Pipeline crosses the Blue Ride Parkway.

"And you saw that pipe sitting in water," she told the board. "That's the water we drink!"

Although some board members were sympathetic, others said it was too late to revoke the permit, and aggressive enforcement is what’s needed now.

"Process is not really going to do much of anything, because the pipeline is already under way," said board member Timothy Hayes. "What we have to do is deal with these situations that we've seen."

The board ultimately approved his motion calling in part for aggressive enforcement.

Both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline released statements praising the board's decision.

Here are portions of the statement ACP released Tuesday afternoon:

"We've always supported strong regulatory oversight, and we remain committed to meeting the highest environmental standards. We commend the Board members and DEQ staff for the years of hard work and careful study they've dedicated to reviewing this project."

"The protective measures we've put in place and the regulatory scrutiny we're receiving should assure all Virginians that the pipeline will be built safely and in a way that protects the environment."

A spokesperson for the Mountain Valley Pipeline released the following statement Tuesday evening:

"Mountain Valley appreciates and respects the comprehensive permitting process established by the State Water Control Board (SWCB) and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) to protect water quality across the Commonwealth. We are pleased with the outcome of today's proceedings in which the SWCB accepted the VDEQ's recommendation regarding the sufficiency of the Nationwide Permit 12 for the MVP project and also upheld the VDEQ's abilities to enforce the State 401 permit. The measures adopted by these approvals, working in conjunction with oversight from other federal, state, and local authorities, will ensure the construction activities for the MVP project comply with Virginia's standards for water quality protection."

Meanwhile, pipeline opponents said they’re disappointed, but not deterred.

The group, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights released a statement that included the following response:

"The many submissions to DEQ regarding sedimentation, erosion and the breach of aquifers all have shown that DEQ’s E&S plans do not work in the steep mountainous terrain and pristine waters of the Virginias. It is irresponsible and destructive to allow another several months worth of destruction and violations, followed by some manner of enforcement, which would likely be long and repeated fines, before any potential stop work order. In the end, fines paid to the state of Virginia will do nothing to repair entire watersheds like Mount Tabor’s Slussers Chapel Cave system, and Bent Mountain's perched aquifer, wrecked by MVPs trenching, blasting and ultimate poisoning."

The POWHR Coalition is urging Virginians to continue sending their concerns to the State Water Control Board.