LUMBERTON — Construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina and West Virginia will continue despite Monday’s federal appeals court ruling, a spokesman for one of the ACP partners said.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., has thrown out two key permits for the pipeline. Environmental groups say the ruling by the three-judge panel means construction should be halted on the 600-mile natural gas pipeline.
The judges said a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit was “arbitrary and capricious” because it provided no specific limits for the allowable impact on five threatened or endangered species.
They also vacated a right-of-way permit from the U.S. National Park Service because it allows the pipeline to pass underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway without explaining how the project would not be inconsistent with the scenic parkway.
“Today’s decision means Atlantic has to go back to the drawing board,” said D.J. Gerken, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued the case on behalf of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Virginia Wilderness Committee.
“Their plan to cut through two national forests and the Blue Ridge Parkway is no longer viable,” Gerken said.
The pipeline’s builders will work with the agencies to resolve the court’s concerns and reinstate the permits as soon as possible, Aaron Ruby, Media Relations manager for Dominion Energy, said in an emailed statement.
“We believe the court’s concerns can be promptly addressed through additional review by the agencies without causing unnecessary delay to the project. In the meantime, we will continue making progress with construction in West Virginia and North Carolina,” Ruby said.
Dominion has partnered with Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas to build the $5 billion, 600-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline would end near Pembroke.
“The court’s opinion clarifies its May 15 order on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Incidental Take Statement,” Ruby said. “We have already provided the agency with all of the information necessary to issue a revised Incidental Take Statement that complies with the court’s ruling. We anticipate the agency will do so shortly. The Fish & Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion, the broader permit authorizing construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, remains in place.”
The court’s ruling on the Incidental Take Statement affects only about 20 miles of the pipeline’s route in West Virginia, 80 miles in Virginia and no portion of the route in North Carolina, according to Ruby. The ACP’s builders have avoided these areas since the court’s initial ruling on May 15, and will continue avoiding them until the agency issues a revised Incidental Take Statement.
“With respect to the National Park Service’s approval to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, the court’s opinion confirms the agency’s authority to issue the permit but remands the permit to allow the agency to correct certain errors and omissions in the permit record,” Ruby said. “We believe the extensive public record and mitigation requirements already in place provide ample support for the agency to promptly reissue the permit.”
Construction on the pipeline in Robeson County is expected to begin sometime in September. No specific start date has been announced.
County leaders say the pipeline is expected to bring in about $900,000 a year in property tax revenue when it is operational. They also have said the pipeline will mean a steady and reliable source of natural gas that will benefit local businesses and residents and will be a selling point when recruiting businesses and industries to Robeson County.
Critics say the pipeline represents a threat to the local environment. They also say there isn’t sufficient demand for the natural gas the ACP will transport.