LUMBERTON — An appeals court in Virginia has ordered a halt to construction of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline while a North Carolina coalition is trying to draft the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into its fight against the ACP.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled Tuesday in favor of plaintiffs who argued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion required to certify the ACP did not meet minimum legal standards. The three-judge panel struck down the federal agency’s review, known as an incidental take statement, which is meant to set limits on harm to threatened or endangered species during construction.
“Like other agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers’ timelines. We are grateful this decision upholds the protection of endangered species as the law requires. It’s foolish and shortsighted to risk losing rare species for an unnecessary and costly pipeline boondoggle,” D.J. Gerken, Southern Environmental Law Center managing attorney, said in a statement.
The Southern Environmental Law Center argued the case before the court on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife, Virginia Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club.
“We remain confident in the project approvals and the ACP will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled. This decision only impacts activities directly covered by the Incidental Take Statement in certain defined areas along the route. We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project. Although we disagree with the outcome of the court’s decision, and are evaluating our options, we are committed to working with the agency to address the concerns raised by the court’s order,” Jen Kostyniuk, director of Dominion Energy Communications, said in a statement.
Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are partners in the ACP project to build a $5 billion pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline would end near Pembroke.
The ACP’s builders received in early February the final approval needed to start tree felling operations in North Carolina.
But pipeline opponents in North Carolina haven’t given up the fight.
A coalition argues that the state failed to protect the civil rights of residents of color when it approved permits for the proposed pipeline. The groups want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s civil rights division to require the state Department of Environmental Quality to rescind the permits and perform a more thorough analysis.
In a letter to the EPA, the groups accuse the state and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of failing to consider the pipeline’s health and environmental impact. It also says the state obscured the route’s disproportionate effect on blacks and American Indians by comparing demographics within a mile of the pipeline to the rest of each county, rather than the rest of the state.
“The state agencies appear to have relied on FERC’s flawed analysis of environmental justice without any separate analysis,” the groups said in the letter. “Just because there is a low population concentration does not mean people of low income or people of color would not be disproportionately impacted.”
The letter also noted Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state failed to compare the preferred route with alternatives, noting that a route under early consideration would have passed through “wealthier and predominantly white communities near Raleigh.”
Opponents of the pipeline argues it is unnecessary and an environmental risk; supporters, including the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, say it is vital to the economies of Eastern and Southeastern North Carolina if they are to recruit industries that want clean energy.