LUMBERTON — A state environmental agency issued a key ruling Friday that advances the builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline toward beginning construction in North Carolina.
“Today the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality approved the state water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, one of two remaining approvals needed to begin pre-construction activities in the state,” said Aaron Ruby, Dominion Energy Media Relations manager. “After more than three years of comprehensive study, representing the most thorough environmental review of any infrastructure project in state history, the agency concluded that the project will preserve North Carolina’s water quality under stringent state standards.”
The pipeline’s builders, Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, need only for the DEQ to approve an erosion and sediment control permit for Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson and Johnston counties, Ruby said. The erosion and sediment control permit for Robeson, Cumberland and Sampson counties was approved in December.
Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are partners in a project to build a $5 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would start in West Virginia and end near Pembroke.
“Today’s state approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline brings North Carolina one step closer to a growing economy, thousands of new jobs and lower energy costs for consumers,” said Tammie McGee, a Duke Energy spokesperson. “With new infrastructure, the region will be able to attract manufacturers and other new industries, and the good-paying jobs they bring. It will also accelerate the transition from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas and support new investments in renewables, resulting in cleaner air and lower emissions in communities across the state.”
The department required Atlantic Coast Pipeline to submit additional application information on five occasions, according to the release. As part of the review process, the department held a public comment period from June 16, 2017, to Aug. 19, 2017, and public hearings in Fayetteville and Rocky Mount.
“DEQ left no stone unturned in our exhaustive eight-month review of every aspect of the 401 application,” DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said Friday. “Our job doesn’t end with the granting of the permit but continues as we hold the company accountable to live up to its commitments. Our efforts have resulted in a carefully crafted permit that includes increased environmental protections, while giving us the tools we need to continue close oversight of this project as it moves forward.”
The DEQ approval is not being received well by everyone.
“No other environmental permit in the history of North Carolina has undergone as much professional thoroughness and scrutiny and as much resistance from its applicant to answer the questions asked about a proposed project as this permit proposal,” said Mac Legerton, director of Center for Community Action and a vocal critic of the pipeline from its conception.
“Now, political pressure from inside and outside of state government has pre-empted this process and halted it midstream,” he said. “This decision calls into question the integrity of our democratic process in our beloved state.”
There were four months left in the timeline before a decision was necessary, he said.
“This decision is a loser for the people of Eastern North Carolina, their economy and the urgent fight to slow climate change,” said Jim Warren, NC WARN director.
The ACP is being built at a time when GE, Siemens and other big energy corporations are laying off thousands because of factors that are moving natural gas toward obsolescence, he said. He said Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and North Carolina leaders seem oblivious to that reality.
“The ACP may well be stopped in the courts or on the ground, but Duke and Dominion keep wasting billions of dollars and precious years going in exactly the wrong direction,” Warren said.
The DEQ decision comes a day after Gov. Roy Cooper and Atlantic Coast Pipeline signed a memorandum of understanding that commits the pipeline builders to put $57.8 million into a fund to be used for environmental mitigation initiatives such as reducing the carbon footprint and expansion of renewable energy sources.
“My goal for North Carolina is complete reliance on renewable energy, which builds a cleaner environment and a stronger economy,” Cooper said. “During the time it takes to get us to a full renewable energy future, we will still need to rely on other fuels as we move away from the pollution of coal-fired power plants.”
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]