A Virginia state lawmaker coordinated with an energy lobbyist to support a controversial gas pipeline, the Energy and Policy Institute has found.

Delegate Les Adams, a Republican representing Henry and Pittsylvania Counties, coordinated his official letter to the federal government with an oil and gas lobbyist who works for the pipeline’s proponent.

In September, Adams wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in support of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request for an extension of the project’s in-service date. FERC approved the 300-mile pipeline in 2017, but its completion has stalled due to legal battles, as well as ongoing opposition from landowners and environmental activists.

The pipeline is a joint venture of energy and utility companies, including Equitrans, NextEra, Con Edison, WGL Midstream, and RGC Midstream. If completed, it will bring fracked gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia.

Pipeline Lobbyist Copied

The letter Adams submitted to FERC, which has been reviewed by the Energy and Policy Institute, shows that he carbon copied Maurice Royster.

Royster is a veteran Tennessee-based fossil fuel lobbyist who is registered in Virginia to lobby for Equitrans, the main stakeholder in the pipeline.

In a phone conversation with the Energy and Policy Institute, Royster acknowledged he discussed the matter with Adams. “You know, I probably talked to him,” Royster said, adding that he’s spoken to a number of Virginia state lawmakers during the comment period as part of his advocacy for the pipeline. Asked if he provided Adams with a template letter, Royster said he did not.

Delegate Adams did not respond to a request for comment.

Adams’s letter joined several other support letters submitted during the comment period by oil and gas associations and fossil fuel industry backers such as the Consumer Energy Alliance.

One government entity, Virginia’s Pittsylvania County Industrial Development Authority (IDA), also submitted a resolution supporting Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request. If completed, the pipeline will end in the county. An open records request to the IDA by climate activist and University of Richmond Professor Mary Finley-Brook, shared with the Energy and Policy Institute, did not produce any documents indicating whether anyone lobbied for the resolution.

A Pittsylvania county budget document from March underscores the risk it faces in tying its fortunes to the pipeline. The county anticipated an annual tax payment of $1.2M from Mountain Valley Pipeline beginning last Fiscal Year, according to the budget document, so the project’s stalled completion has created a hole in the budget.

“There’s still no known date by which the project will be complete,” the document states. “This ironic turn of fate, where the hole in our budget is equal to the anticipated MVP payment, may prove to be detrimental to the County’s fiscal wherewithal.”

Project Uncertainty Continues

After the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline remains the only large interstate gas pipeline in the eastern United States still in the works. After a year-long pause, FERC lifted its work-stop order over the project in October, and construction has resumed on it.

Hoping to emulate the successful strategy that helped stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, local residents and environmentalists continue their legal efforts, including challenges to water-crossing permits. Additionally, they’re targeting a Forest Service’s review of the pipeline’s plan to cross Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest.

Local activists also continue a years-long tree sit-in in the pipeline’s path.

Meanwhile, the delays are ballooning the project’s costs. The most recent projections of the pipeline’s price tag have risen to almost $6 billion from an initial estimate of $3.7 billion.

Posted by Itai Vardi

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