LUMBERTON — The owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Tuesday won approval to begin construction on the project in North Carolina, a key victory in what has become a turf battle between proponents and critics of the plan.
The 600-mile pipeline, to be constructed at a cost of more than $6 billion, is projected to deliver natural gas along its route from West Virginia to its end near Pembroke, boosting local economies by enabling them to give coveted clean energy to industries looking for a home.
Tuesday’s decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission comes amid a federal court challenge that seeks to halt construction following a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond in May.
The court invalidated a key environmental review — finding it too vague to be enforced — that dealt with risks to sensitive species, a decision opponents of the project argued should have stopped it.
However, FERC has allowed the pipeline to move ahead in certain areas where it already has state approvals.
At issue in the federal court decision was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “incidental take statement,” which sets limits for harming or killing certain sensitive species along the pipeline route, including bats, fish, mussels and an endangered bumblebee.
The 4th Circuit has yet to release its full opinion, but Dominion and its partners, including Duke Energy, have argued the decision only affects limited portions of the route. Other partners are Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
The pipeline has been a source of debate in Robeson County. Early on the Robeson County Board of Commissioners endorsed the project, saying it was needed for economic development in a county desperate for jobs. More recently the Lumbee Tribal Council has been unable to work out an agreement with the pipeline owners, who are looking for acceptance and reportedly were willing to pay the tribe as much as $1 million to sign on.
Critics say there isn’t sufficient demand for the natural gas and the pipeline threatens the environment and is potentially dangerous.