Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary 

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 

888 First Street NE, Room 1A 

Washington, DC 20426 

Re:  Commonwealth Energy Connector and Virginia Reliability Project under number CP22-502-000 and CP22-503-000

On behalf of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and our undersigned members, we would like to express our dissatisfaction with the Commission’s finding of no significant impact as it relates to Columbia Gas’s Virginia Reliability Project (VRP) and Transcontental’s Commonwealth Energy Connector (CEC) and as described in the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Particularly, we are disappointed with the level of analysis applied to climate impacts and urge the Commission to issue a determination of significance and analyze compatibility of the projects with Virginia’s statutory commitment to reducing emissions on a year-by-year basis. We also find the analysis regarding impacts on environmental justice communities to be insufficient, and find the dEIS to overly rely on TC Energy’s own statements about the extent of their engagement with environmental justice communities.

Climate analysis, compatibility with state law

The dEIS notes that VRP or CEC would independently increase Virginia’s emissions by about 2%. This is plainly incompatible with Virginia law, which requires the state to reduce emissions on a year-by-year basis until achieving net zero in 2045. The dEIS makes note of this discrepancy but does not issue a finding regarding whether the proposed project is compatible with existing state policy.

Given this context, CCAN does not agree with the the Commission’s statement: “Detailed evaluation of other energy alternatives like the use of wind and solar power or increased energy efficiency are separate questions from evaluating alternatives that meet the defined purpose and need for each of the Projects.” In a state where law mandates a reduction in emissions over the lifetime of the proposed project, an analysis of alternatives should include carbon-free energy sources. Virginia’s statutory obligation to reduce emissions could result in the project being abandoned, or its lifetime significantly shortened. This would mean that VRP and CEC do not accomplish their stated mission, and carbon-free alternatives compatible with state code would be better suited to do so.

The Commission also states that the VR{‘s infrastructure may be impacted by climate change, particularly in numerous historic floodplains and hurricane hazard zones. However, the Commission merely states that “flooding is not expected to adversely impact these facilities” without providing evidence to support this claim other than TC Energy’s intention to bury replacement pipeline “deep enough” to avoid flood impacts. FERC should conduct a more thorough review of the potential for climate impacts to endanger VRP infrastructure and therefore pose a significant threat to local communities, wildlife, and ecosystems.  

Air quality analysis

The dEIS notes that NAAQ standards may be insufficient to confirm no significant impact on local air quality and therefore health consequences for environmental justice communities. If this is the case, NAAQ standards should not be used as a metric for analysis. The Commission relies on TC Energy’s air dispersion modeling for the Emporia and Petersburg compressor stations; the Commission should conduct their own modeling, rather than accept TC Energy’s at face value. The same is true for the AERMOD modeling analysis performed by Columbia for both compressor stations. 

This is especially necessary given the Commission’s finding that Significant Impact Limits will be exceeded at the Petersburg compressor station for NO2 and SO2, and because background concentration levels for the Petersburg station were measured at sites dozens of miles from the station.  

The Commission then acknowledges that localized harm from increased air pollution may occur, including in environmental justice communities, but concludes without providing further evidence that the "VRP is expected to have less than significant impact on local air quality." 

Environmental justice analysis

The dEIS also relies on TC Energy’s statement that they have “done outreach to environmental justice communities,” including by non-virtual methods, but does not produce any evidence to support this claim nor analysis as to whether the outreach, if it was conducted, was sufficient or significant. Specifically, there was no in-person open house conducted in Petersburg, where the compressor station replacement could have an impact on local air quality and where construction activities will certainly affect local residents. The dEIS notes that Petersburg falls under an environmental justice “block group.” More rigorous community engagement is needed there. 

Moreover, the dEIS ignores findings published in the Guardian that community leaders recruited to a Community Advisory Committee, purporting to thoroughly consider feedback from environmental justice communities, received financial contributions from TC Energy and its lobbying firm. This seems designed to produce a false narrative of environmental justice analysis and engagement with environmental justice communities.

CCAN has canvassed hundreds of residents of the Hillpoint Neighborhood in Suffolk, which includes Hillpoint Elementary 300 feet from the pipeline and well within the blast zone. The vast majority of the residents - over 90% - had never heard of the project.

CCAN and its undersigned members ask the Commission to reconsider its finding of no significant impact, include a determination of significance as it relates to perpetuance of climate change, and conduct a more rigorous environmental justice and local air quality impact analysis.



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