Gas giants wrote phantom letters of support from elected officials

In recent months, local officials in Virginia and North Carolina, mostly elected Republicans, have peppered federal regulators with glowing letters in support of gas projects in their states. IInternal emails reviewed by — show that these letters all had one thing in common: They were written by lobbyists and consultants for the two major pipeline companies behind these projects.

The communications show how Williams Companies Inc. and TC Energy Corporation have worked to build political support for a number of natural gas infrastructure projects currently under federal review to fill a gap left by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy canceled Atlantic Coast Gas Pipeline.

Industry watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute obtained the documents through a series of public records requests it filed with others. He shared them exclusively with -.

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s premier climate research body, has released its latest sobering reports on global warming. The most recent analysis, published in early April, warns that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2025 and then be cut by nearly half by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

On January 10, Robert Crockett, president of Advantus Strategies and a lobbyist for the Oklahoma-based Williams Companies, emailed Wayne Carter, the administrator for Mecklenburg County, Va., a draft letter from support for Williams. South Side Reliability Improvement Project. The proposed expansion of the company’s existing Transco natural gas pipeline would transport more natural gas to North Carolina. The project includes the construction of a new electric compressor station in the county of Mecklenburg.

“Enclosed is a draft letter expressing your support for the Williams project which we have already reviewed with you and your board,” Crockett wrote. “Please feel free to edit. »

Carter signed the letter and sent it back to Crockett a few hours later with only minor edits.

“Thank you Wayne! Jay McChesney, community and project outreach specialist at Williams, responded. “If you don’t mind putting this in the mail and sending it to FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] it would be much appreciated… Thank you again for your support of our project.

The letter, which Carter submitted to the regulatory agency later in the day on behalf of the County Board of Supervisors, notes that the project “will be carried out in a manner that protects the environment while providing much-needed benefits to our rural county”. and applauds Williams for being “transparent and forthright as an existing corporate citizen in the state.”

“We strongly encourage FERC to approve this proposed project,” the letter read.

At least three Republican state lawmakers — State Senator Frank Ruff and State Delegates Tommy Wright Jr. and Les Adams — submitted letters to FERC containing language identical to or closely mimicking the language of the letter from Carter, indicating how well the company has worked behind the scenes.

Ruff and Wright also submitted nearly identical letters to FERC in March in support of Williams’ split. Commonwealth Energy Connector Projectanother Transco expansion aimed at increasing natural gas supply to southeast Virginia.

The Transco pipeline stretches more than 10,000 miles from Texas to New York, carrying about 15% of the country’s natural gas, according to the company’s website.

Neither Carter nor 10 elected Republicans who have written to FERC in support of the gas projects have responded to a request for comment from -.

Ruff responded to specific questions from the -, but said via email that “Williams is a good corporate citizen who has been involved in the region for over fifty years.”

“They serve businesses that hire my constituents,” Ruff said. “If I didn’t agree with their value to the region, I wouldn’t have endorsed their efforts. I believe others would agree with that.

Williams Companies did not respond.

Two Transco pipelines used to transport natural gas at the edge of a cornfield in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 2017.

Robert Nickelsberg via Getty Images

Around the same time that Williams was pulling the political strings in Virginia, Wayne King, a lobbyist and former vice chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, was working to build support for the project in the Tar Heel state. In January, King’s emails to the offices of two Republicans, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins, underscored the need for stakeholders to intervene.

“For your convenience, I have attached a number of talking points,” King wrote in an exchange.

Many of these talking points are included verbatim in the letters Moore and Atkins submitted to FERC, including how Williams is “a responsible corporate citizen, environmental steward, and trusted service provider” and how the project “Will stimulate economic development in Eastern North Carolina by providing increased access to clean, reliable and affordable natural gas.

North Carolina Republican State Senator Bob Steinburg’s letter to federal regulators also features some of the company’s talking points, including a statement about Williams demonstrating his “commitment to environmental stewardship.” .

Columbia Gas Transmission, a wholly owned subsidiary of TC Energy, has taken similar steps to secure support for two related projects it is pursuing in Virginia: the Virginia Reliability Project and Virginia Electrification Project. The projects would replace approximately 80 km of existing pipeline near Petersburg and upgrade the system’s compressor stations to increase natural gas capacity in the Hampton Roads area of ​​Virginia.

The emails show that TC Energy distributed sample letters that the Republican mayors of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake submitted in support of the company’s Virginia Reliability Project.

“Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Aaron Thompson and I regarding TC Energy’s Virginia Reliability Project,” TC Energy consultant Esmel Meeks wrote to Virginia Beach Mayor Robert Dyer in late February. (Thompson is a government and community relations advisor at TC Energy).

“We appreciate your willingness to write a letter of support for FERC and I am writing to follow up. We are in the process of submitting letters and I have attached a draft letter for your review. »

The letter Dyer submitted to FERC three days later is an exact copy of the draft Meeks provided that was released as part of a public records request.

Climate activist groups protest the Atlantic Coast Pipeline outside the Supreme Court in February 2020. Duke Energy Corp.  and Dominion Energy Inc., the companies behind the controversial project, canceled it later that year “due to continuing delays and growing cost uncertainty.  ”

Climate activist groups protest the Atlantic Coast Pipeline outside the Supreme Court in February 2020. Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc., the companies behind the controversial project, canceled it later that year “due to continuing delays and growing cost uncertainty. ”

Earlier that same month, Meeks provided a similar draft letter to the office of Chesapeake Mayor Rick West. Sandy Madison, one of the city’s assistant clerks, quickly informed Meeks that she had printed the letter for the mayor to sign. “Please put this letter away and print it on the mayor’s letterhead,” Madison later wrote to a colleague.

West’s letter applauding the project and the venture was submitted to FERC on Feb. 8.

“Know that the people and communities who would be most affected by VRP are excited about its benefits,” it read. “As mayor, I am proud to support him.

Lynn Godfrey, community outreach coordinator for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the communications “tell you the whole story” about the industry’s political influence in the Commonwealth. Hailing from Hampton Roads, she particularly took issue with West’s claim that the “worst hit” communities are in favour. Many communities are just learning about the projects, she said.

“These pipelines pass through communities that are already cumulatively affected by all types of pollutants,” she said. “People don’t want this poison in their neighborhood. »

TC Energy did not respond to questions from the — about its role in drafting the letter. Instead, he said the project would help meet the growing economic needs of the Hampton Roads area.

“Local officials, community leaders, businesses and citizens across the region recognize that this project meets their needs and is important to the region’s future, and that’s why a broad bipartisan spectrum enthusiastically supports the Virginia Reliability Project,” the company said in an emailed statement.

In its application for the Virginia Reliability Project, TC Energy said the project would help Virginia Natural Gas, a distribution company, meet growing gas demand not only from residents and businesses, but also from more than a dozen installations and the shipbuilding industry. Virginia Natural Gas is a subsidiary of Southern Company Gas, one of the original partners of the defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The planned pipeline would have stretched 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina and faced fierce opposition from Indigenous and other local communities.

In addition to internal communications, a review – of the FERC filing revealed that four Republican lawmakers from the state of Virginia – delegates Emily Brewer and John McGuire III and senses. Bryce Reeves and Mark Peake – had submitted nearly identical letters in support of TC Energy’s Virginia Electrification Project.

The project will “produce environmental benefits as it will reduce emissions through the electrification of equipment, while improving capacity,” they wrote.

– is unable to confirm what role, if any, TC Energy played in the drafting of these letters; however, they are part of a clear trend.

Godfrey said if there is a need for more power in the Hampton Roads area, it should be met by renewables rather than gas projects which won’t come online for 2-3 years. .

“The opposition is rising,” she said. “All of those things are converging for another great fight. »

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