News | January 7, 2022

Rejected: State denies Chickahominy Pipeline plan for 83-mile unregulated gas line

Wetlands and forest cover Weyanoke Point on the James River in Charles City County. ©Will Parson

The Virginia State Corporation Commission rejected plans to construct an unregulated gas pipeline 83 miles from Louisa County to a proposed gas-fired power plant in Charles City County.

“The Chickahominy Pipeline would be a backwards-looking investment in so-called ‘natural gas’ at a time when Virginia has committed to a clean, zero-carbon energy grid,” said SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “The Commission’s full oversight of this climate-warming project is necessary to protect the public interest.”

SELC represented Concerned Citizens of Charles City County, Hanover Citizens Against A Pipeline, Appalachian Voices, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the case where the state’s SCC determined that Chickahominy Pipeline, LLC is a public utility subject to commission regulation.

This victory means people living in the path of the pipeline will have a greater say in a proposal that threatens their way of life.

Taylor Lilley, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The proposed pipeline would have serviced the as-yet-unbuilt Chickahominy Power Station, a 1600-megawatt power plant that, if constructed, would be one of the largest gas plants in the state. Virginia environmental regulators approved an air pollution permit in 2019 for the plant over the objections of local residents in Charles City County, many of whom were not allowed to speak during a final hearing on the project. 

“Since 2019, Charles City County residents have been demanding more accountability and transparency because we believe that communities should be able to protect themselves from dangerous infrastructure like this pipeline and the gas plant it is intended to feed,” said Wanda Roberts of C5. “We’re very grateful that the Commission agreed with us that the Chickahominy Pipeline cannot operate without regulatory oversight, and we ardently hope these unpopular projects are cancelled.”

The Commonwealth will completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its power sector by 2050 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, in less than 30 years — but new gas projects like the Chickahominy Pipeline mean decades of additional greenhouse gas emissions. 

“It is contemptible that Chickahominy Pipeline developers tried to avoid the Commission’s process and deny Virginians a voice in a major project in their backyard. This victory means people living in the path of the pipeline will have a greater say in a proposal that threatens their way of life,” said Environmental Justice Staff Attorney Taylor Lilley at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Because the Commission asserted its jurisdiction over the Chickahominy Pipeline, there will be a more thorough state and public review that could prevent harm to the environment and nearby communities, while taking environmental justice into account.”

Natural gas threatens Southern people and places.

The pipeline would also have serious on-the-ground consequences for landowners along its route, clearing, trenching, and blasting across hundreds of private properties. Oversight by the Commission is essential to determine whether a project like this is truly necessary before landowners and the environment face this harm.

“We are grateful to everyone who worked so hard to defeat the dangerous prospect of unregulated gas transmission through the heart of Virginia,” said Catharine Tucker of Hanover Citizens Against A Pipeline, another citizen group monitoring the Chickahominy Pipeline. “We remain vigilant to address any further efforts on the part of Chickahominy to pursue this unnecessary pipeline.”

The Chickahominy Pipeline is just the latest gas pipeline to suffer setbacks in Virginia after years of rubber-stamp approvals from regulators. In 2020, Dominion Energy cancelled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline after losing many of its required permits in court. Earlier this year, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board denied a permit for the Lambert Compressor Station, which would have supported a proposed extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline called MVP Southgate.

“The decision to regulate proposed projects like the Chickahominy pipeline is common sense,” said Appalachian Voices’ Virginia Policy Director Peter Anderson. “These proposals must be scrutinized, as the costs borne by locally impacted communities and the climate more broadly are extremely high.”