By Zach Joachim
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Three Democratic legislators from western Virginia said Thursday they would fight for stricter environmental standards if authorities allow the construction of two natural gas pipelines across the state.
Dels. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke and Chris Hurst of Blacksburg joined Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke at a news conference to discuss their concerns about the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which many environmentalists and rural Virginians oppose.
“We cannot authorize the building of pipelines, but we sure have the right to protect our water,” Rasoul said. He hopes the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will come out against the projects.
“To us it’s clear that we are going to be able to make the case to DEQ moving forward that these pipelines are not safe,” Rasoul said.
Hurst said the Atlantic Coast Pipelines and Mountain Valley Pipeline are not done deals.
“There are still several ways for these pipeline projects to be stalled, delayed or canceled altogether,” Hurst said. “My feeling all along has always been what we need is more rigorous data collection.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The companies that have proposed the pipelines say they are important for meeting the region’s energy needs and will create jobs.
The Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline projects in October, but opponents are continuing efforts to block them.
The Roanoke-area legislators expressed concerns over water-quality standards and procedures that FERC and DEQ applied to the proposed pipeline projects in Virginia.
Hurst has introduced HB 1188, which would require ground-water testing and monitoring of all pipelines of a certain size.
“It would apply to the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Hurst said. “That means we’re going to need daily monitoring of these pipelines to make sure that if anything does go wrong, we can put a stop to the transmission of that gas until we fix things.”
The three legislators are optimistic that fellow Democrat Ralph Northam, who will be sworn in as governor on Saturday, will work with them to address concerns about the pipelines. Edwards called Northam an environmentalist who shares their stance on the issue.
“We call on Gov. Northam and the DEQ to immediately take and appreciate the full authority we have as a state to protect our water resources,” Rasoul said. “We think it is very clear, other states have done so, and we need to do the same.”
Rasoul said legislators can’t stop the construction of pipelines but they can erect a firewall of environmental standards to mitigate the potential impact of such projects in the commonwealth.
Hurst said the issue isn’t just about the collective environment but also about the property rights and safety of Virginia citizens.
“What we’re focused on is ensuring that landowners’ rights are protected, and what we can do to try and stave off any potential negative consequence or catastrophe that could happen if these pipelines are constructed.”