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A pipeline that would run through N.C. is still fighting an environmental lawsuit

Fred and Bonnie Powell stand on their Augusta County, Va., farmland that lies on the proposed route of the 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline from West Virginia to eastern North Carolina, on November 1, 2014. The Powells are not allowing Dominion Resources to survey for the right-of-way. "We re not against pipelines but the location for this is terrible," Fred Powell said. (Sean Cockerham/MCT)

A natural gas pipeline that would pass through North Carolina has been delayed over regulatory and legal issues, although the company overseeing the project maintains that it will be completed by early 2021.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas from West Virginia south through Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion Energy, based out of Richmond, Virginia, is the largest of several partners on the project and is responsible for its construction and operation.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cross through several North Carolina counties. Photo courtesy of N.C. DEQ

In December, the 4th Federal Circuit Court ruled in favor of several environmental organizations represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and stayed, or suspended, a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Services. This type of permit is required for any construction in the habitat of species protected under the Endangered Species Act. That permit originally gave Dominion permission to construct the pipeline on a 100-mile stretch in West Virginia and Virginia.

Dominion Energy Media/Community Relations Manager Karl Neddenien said Dominion voluntarily stopped construction on the entire pipeline while it waited for the clarification on whether or not that stayed permit meant it must suspend construction entirely. In January, the court denied their motion for clarification.

It's now waiting for the court to hear an appeal on the stay.

“We’re appealing the stay, asking that it be lifted," he said. "And if that is the case, we could resume construction as early as the third quarter of this year."

He said Dominion expects the appeal to be heard in May, although the partial government shutdown had caused delays with the 4th Circuit, and the date may be pushed back. Neddenien added that the pipeline, originally slated for completion at the end of 2018, should be completed in early to mid-2021.

The stay ruling from December was not the first time the ACP has faced legal and regulatory issues regarding its construction, or even a full stop in construction. 

In May, the 4th Circuit Court vacated the original permit. After a revised permit was approved, the same court threw out the permit again in August. Dominion had to stop construction for a month, until revised permits were issued yet again. Again, SELC immediately pursued legal challenges to those new permits.

SELC maintains that the pipeline is unnecessary. 

“I think it really all comes back to the need issue,” said Patrick Hunter, a staff attorney at SELC’s Asheville office. “The evidence that’s out there suggests that this pipeline is not necessary at all to meet natural gas demand in Virginia and North Carolina."

SELC argues Dominion Energy has used inflated projections for future natural gas demand to garner support for the pipeline. 

"All the concerns about the safety of the pipeline and its impacts on public land and the environment — I think — those are all very important, but they sort of come back to this overall lack of need for the entire project,” Hunter said. 

Neddenien defended Dominion's belief in increasing demand for natural gas.

“We’ve had many leaders on the state and federal levels confirm the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Neddenien said.

He added that North Carolina only has one existing pipeline, and the addition of the ACP would draw businesses with a large supply of energy.

"So there’s clearly need," he said. "It’s been demonstrated and confirmed.”


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