The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has taken enforcement action against the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline. In a letter to the Department, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has joined with eleven other groups (Led by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition) to say that the action was too little, too late.
Columbia, the pipeline developer, was a serial violator. It was repeatedly cited for the same violations. Specifically, Columbia created conditions not allowable in state waters approximately 37 times. They were cited for failing to prevent sediment-laden water from leaving the site approximately 13 times at numerous locations each time.
They were cited for failing to comply with their approved Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan. Silt fences, filter socks, water bars, water bar outlets and other erosion control devices were either not installed at all, not installed properly, or not maintained as required. They did not protect fill slopes, allowing earthen slips to occur. On three separate occasions, they failed to report the non-compliant slips endangering health and the environment.
For these violations, Columbia was fined $122,350. Were this penalty imposed upon ordinary West Virginian, it would be substantial. For an entity the size of Columbia it is trivial. This is a $2 billion project. The $122,350 penalty is 0.006% of Columbia’s costs. A penalty that small is not an effective deterrent to a company that big. Rather than comply with laws designed to protect West Virginia, it is too easy to accept a fine of that size as just a small part of the cost of doing business in West Virginia.
The groups who joined in the letter see this as part of a pattern. While the larger Mountain Valley Pipeline was not part of this enforcement action, it has already established a pattern of violations. DEP had to issue consent orders for Dominion’s G-150, the Stonewall Gathering Line, and most recently the Rover Pipeline. In each case, numerous violations were issued, a consent order and fine was agreed upon and a corrective action plan was approved. Pipeline construction activities in our state have created a culture on non-compliance that must be reversed
The groups offer two suggestions for fixing the problem: make the fines big enough that they act as a real deterrent or order companies to stop operating until they can consistently comply with the law.