Energy Lobbyist Calls for Legislature to Condemn 'Rogue' Enviros

Jan 9, 2019

A top lobbyist for a major natural gas pipeline outlined a series of priorities to West Virginia lawmakers Tuesday, which included calling on the Legislature sign a resolution condemning "rogue environmental groups."

"I think it's important for West Virginia to go on record that the end result of their tactics hurt the state economy of West Virginia," Dominion Energy’s West Virginia State Policy Director Bob Orndorff said in an address to the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development. "That's important, for the pipeline industry to have that type of support from the West Virginia Legislature."

Lawsuits brought by environmental groups challenging interstate natural gas pipeline projects across Appalachia, including Dominion Energy's Atlantic Coast Pipeline and EQT's Mountain Valley Pipeline, have had some high-profile wins.

The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is currently on hold following rulings by a federal court that invalidated some of the project’s federal permits. Last month, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out two of the pipeline’s key federal approvals from the U.S. Forest Service.

Orndorff touted the economic benefits of pipeline construction and said about 1,200 workers were laid off last month when construction stopped. He called on lawmakers to sign a resolution condemning the use of lawsuits by environmental groups to challenge pipeline permits.

Environmental groups have argued rulings by the courts in their favor show pipeline companies are taking shortcuts that jeopardize public and environmental health.

In an op-ed published last month in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Angie Roser, executive director of the West Virignia Rivers Coalition, pushed back against the charaterization made in an earlier editorial that environmental groups engaged in litigation against pipeline projects were "green grinches."

"The editorial blames court-ordered delays in pipeline projects on "green grinches" — people and organizations that attempt to enforce laws to protect public health and the environment when state and federal agencies fail to do so," Rosser wrote. "Clearly, the courts see it differently. If pipeline companies simply adhered to the law, these appeals would have no merit and no courts would vacate faulty permits."

In his presentation, Orndorff also urged the Legislature to support the buildout of storage for natural gas liquids and said the industry would introduce amendments to Senate Bill 390, passed in 2015, to "create more opportunities to use natural gas in West Virignia, especially in the Eastern Panhandle."

S.B. 390 gives the Public Service Commission the ability allow utilities to expedite how fast they are repaid for natural gas infrastructure projects if they are in the "public interest." The issue has surfaced in the Eastern Panhandle as Mountaineer Gas seeks to expand its network of natural gas pipelines.