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Activists Lambaste Conflict of Interest Determination

Even though officials at the Department of Environmental Quality assert there is no conflict of interest in a Dominion-tied consulting firm helping to review surface water protection plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, environmental advocates have a different take.

Last month, DEQ hired the Mid-Atlantic consulting firm EEE (3e) to assist with reviewing erosion, sediment control, and stormwater management plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. The venture is proposed by Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC - a company formed by Dominion and three other energy companies.

But David Sligh with the anti-pipeline volunteer group, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, says 3e is currently working for Dominion (a revelation first reported by DeSmogBlog), and the existing, $44,000 contract should bar the consultants from working with DEQ to review elements of the Dominion-related, Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reports according to conflict-of-interest forms DEQ required the consultants to submit, the agency did not initially ask 3e about ties to specific companies – like Dominion – before taking them on for the pipeline review project. Instead, they asked about ties to Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC.

“Both 3e and DEQ knew that Dominion [is invovled] in the ACP,” Sligh said in an interview with WCVE. “The ACP LLC is a construct that was created as an umbrella, for Dominion, Duke Power and others. And DEQ, in my opinion, when they failed to ask that question [they] went out of their way not to get the right answer.”

Following a DeSmogBlog story about the agency improperly vetting 3e, the DEQ then asked the consulting firm to list work with specific Atlantic Coast Pipeline partners. That’s when the agency learned of 3e’s current, microwave tower-related contract with Dominion.

Kate Addleson is Director of the Sierra Club's Virginia Chapter. She says the situation “raises a bright, red flag” about how DEQ contractors are hired to review projects from large companies.

“We in Virginia rely on state’s Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that our land and our air and our water are protected from pollution to protect public health and ensure that our natural resources – like our water resources – are going to be available for the public use and not contaminated with pollutants,” Addleson told WCVE in an interview. She says she’s concerned DEQ’s capability is jeopardized when the agency hires consultants that may have reason to “produce results that are in the favor” of larger companies they also work with. “Because this massive project of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline connects to Dominion’s broader portfolio of producing and providing energy across Virginia, just looking at the pipeline-related contracts of contractors like 3e simply isn’t enough to test and weed out any conflicts that may be there,” she said.

Both Sligh and Addleson say their groups will likely advocate for the state legislature to impose stronger disclosure rules.