ACP answers court’s call for info

Staff report
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LUMBERTON — The builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have responded to a demand for information sparked by a recent federal Appeals Court ruling, and an environmental protection group is urging the feds to stick to their guns.

The documentation was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, according to Jen Kostyniuk, Dominion Energy Communications director. The documentation was due Monday but had to be hand delivered Tuesday because of problems with the federal agency’s website.

“It was not late,” Kostyniuk said Tuesday. “FERC posted on its website yesterday that submissions due yesterday would be accepted today because of the issues they were have with the website.”

Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are partners in the project to build a $5 billion pipeline that would carry natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline would end near Pembroke.

The filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was sparked by a ruling handed down May 15 by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. The court ruled 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.

On May 16, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to halt construction on the pipeline and elected to only direct the pipeline’s builders to file documentation within five days explaining how it will avoid the threatened or endangered species the permit was intended to protect.

“We have filed our response, identifying by milepost the areas we are committing to avoid. Per FERC and USFWS, because this information contains the locations of sensitive species which are customarily treated as privileged and confidential, this information is not being released to the public,” Kostyniuk said. “As we have previously stated, the impact of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is on a small portion of the 600-mile route and there will be no impact in North Carolina. Based on our analysis, we will avoid approximately 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until a revised Incidental Take Statement is issued. Approximately 10 of these miles are in 2018 construction spreads, which is less than 2 percent of the total project mileage.”

There is no timeline for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to respond to the latest documentation, she said.

“No argument or map from Dominion and Duke Energy can remove the liability of undertaking construction without a valid permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Greg Buppert, Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney. “This permit is a mandatory condition for three major federal permits held by ACP developers. If FERC looks the other way and grants this request to Dominion and Duke, it is rewriting its own permit on the fly.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center represented the plaintiffs in the case before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled and fully comply as required with all permits and agency requirements,” Kostyniuk said. “We remain committed to taking all reasonable measures to protect the environment and the species while ensuring progress on a project that is essential to the economic and environmental well-being of the region. That is why ACP has put in place robust personnel training programs, compliance procedures and environmental inspection staff to ensure compliance is maintained during construction activities.”

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Staff report