Virginia Agency May Not Have Properly Vetted Contractor Reviewing Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality building

At the end of June, DeSmog revealed that a contractor hired by the state of Virginia to review elements of the proposed Atlantic Coast gas pipeline is currently working for Dominion, the company leading the pipeline project. Recently obtained documents and emails from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) indicate that, prior to DeSmog’s reporting, the agency was not aware of this relationship between the contractor, EEE Consulting, and Dominion, despite a contract with strict stipulations intended to avoid conflicts of interest.

The Atlantic Coast pipeline is a 550-mile-long proposed project slated to transport fracked gas from West Virginia, through Virginia, and into North Carolina. In late May this year, the DEQ hired EEE Consulting as a third party contractor to review the pipeline’s plans for erosion and sediment as well as stormwater control.

The contentious project requires several permits from Virginia, and state officials continually assured the public of the independence of its review process. While third party contractors are paid by the pipeline company, they are considered independent consultants working for and under the supervision of the state.

At the time of its hiring, however, EEE Consulting was already working for a Dominion subsidiary on an unrelated project. When that story broke, the DEQ originally told DeSmog it did not view the contractor as conflicted since it was not working directly for the Atlantic Coast pipeline partnership.

Yet the contract between the Virginia DEQ and EEE Consulting, obtained by DeSmog through an opens records request, stipulates several sweeping conditions relating to conflicts of interest. It prohibits the contractor from “any direct contractual, financial, business, or other interest that would conflict in any material manner or degree” with its performance, or “create an appearance of impropriety.”

Another provision in the contract, titled “Restrictive Covenant,” prohibits the contractor from working for “any entity for which [the] plan review has been performed.”

Highlighted statement restricting conflicts of interest in the agreement between Virginia DEQ and EEE Consulting on the Atlantic Coast pipeline
A provision against conflicts of interest in the contract between EEE Consulting and the Virginia DEQ.

Ann Regn, Director of Public Information and Outreach at the DEQ, told DeSmog this week that the DEQ still thinks the contractor has abided by the terms of the contract because it is not currently working for Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC. Yet when asked why the contractor is not conflicted by its work for Dominion, the leading partner in the pipeline, Regn deferred answering to the department’s procurement manager, who is away this week.

DeSmog has learned that the DEQ is still reviewing this case.

Vetting Occurred After DeSmog Reporting

Other documents suggest the DEQ may have improperly vetted the contractor for conflicts prior to the hiring. Department emails show that following Desmog’s original reporting, officials inquired internally whether anyone was aware of EEE Consulting’s current work for Dominion. In one email, Carol Papazian, the DEQ’s procurement manager who oversees contracting, says she was unaware of such work.

Only on July 12, two weeks after DeSmog’s story, did the DEQ write to EEE Consulting, asking the contractor to list all its current work for the partners in the Atlantic Coast pipeline — Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company.

In response, EEE Consulting admitted it is currently working for Dominion Virginia Power, a Dominion subsidiary.

Letter from EEE Consulting to Virginia DEQ revealing its work for Dominion Energy
From a letter sent by EEE consulting to the Virginia DEQ on July 19 this year, listing the contractor’s current work for Dominion.

The DEQ also asked the contractor to submit a copy of its confidentiality agreements. According to the terms of the contract, these agreements need to be submitted prior to the start of the contractor’s work. In the agreements, EEE Consulting declares it is not currently working for Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC and agrees to abide by the contract’s other conflict of interest provisions.

EEE Consulting is reluctant to provide comment on this story, citing its contract with the Virginia DEQ.

DeSmog will continue to update this story when new information arrives.

Main image: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Credit: VCU Capital News ServiceCC BY-NC 2.0