Environmental group seeks hearing on pipeline

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On behalf of eight Virginia clients, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion Tuesday asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to hold a hearing for developers to justify the need for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The 600-mile pipeline, proposed by Dominion and Duke Energy, would transport natural gas extracted by a fracking process from West Virginia shale through Virginia and North Carolina.

“If you look behind the claims that this pipeline is needed, what you’ll find is that Dominion and Duke subsidiaries are contracting with each other to manufacture a need for natural gas in Virginia and North Carolina,” said SELC senior attorney Greg Buppert,.“This pipeline will provide Duke and Dominion with an exceptionally high rate of return at little to no risk. That risk falls on the shoulders of utility customers who will have higher power bills and be stuck paying for a pipeline for decades to come.”

In a release issued Wednesday afternoon, Buppert said new evidence indicate that “the ACP is not needed to meet customer demand, particularly due to the known harm this pipeline will cause landowners along its path and consumers throughout the region.”

Some 12 miles of the 36-inch diameter, high-pressure pipeline is proposed to skirt across more than 60 properties in western Wilson County.

Ryan Simons, president of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce, said the pipeline’s affect on Wilson County isn’t fully known. Simons welcomes a full and open examination of the pipeline and its effects, as proposed by the SELC.

I think the more transparent the process can be, the more public participation is allowed in the process and the more that the process becomes under public scrutiny I think is a good thing, so I invite any opportunity for a more thorough review of the project and its benefits to our community,” Simons said Wednesday.

The chamber has not taken a position on the pipeline.

“We recognize that it is a divisive issue in our community and we respect that there is a vocal contingent of people in the western part of the county that are opposed to it,” Simons said. “Because of that and because the benefits of the pipeline have not been clearly represented to the Wilson business community, we have not taken a position on it. I understand and respect the regional impact and benefits that it is supposed to have, but until we are given some sort of objective demonstration of what the benefits will be to our community specifically, we’re not going to take a position on it.”

According to Buppert, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has “repeatedly rubber-stamped pipeline projects relying solely on contracts and never actually examining actual market demand” for the natural gas supply.

Duke Energy says that the natural gas will be used primarily to power gas-fired power plants, but according to Buppert, “forecasters have dramatically revised predictions downward for electricity demand in our region.”

The SELC says the pipeline is “unnecessary” and cites forecasts from the Energy Information Administration that show “no growth in demand for natural gas needs in Virginia and North Carolina through 2030.”

Buppert said existing pipeline capacity is adequate to meet demand.

The Southern Environmental Law Center also points to harmful effects to forests, sensitive waterways and says effects on minority and low-income communities as a concern.

On Tuesday, the EnergySure Coalition, composed of businesses, organizations and individuals across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, said the ACP “is designed to make our region energy-sure by connecting us to an abundant supply of affordable, clearer-burning natural gas. With the ACP, we also benefit from cleaner air, lower energy costs and job creation.”

Coalition member Norris Tolson, of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, said “Nash and Edgecombe counties offer and exceptional opportunity for companies looking to relocate or expand and the ACP will meet the growing energy demand from these new businesses.”

Gary Brown, of the Northampton County Economic Development Commission, said the ACP “will bring a much-needed economic boost to Northampton County, stabilizing electricity process and generating new local tax revenue. It will also create higher-wage employment opportunities, increasing the standard of living for the people of Northampton County.”

The final environmental impact statement on the project, which had earlier been scheduled for release on June 30, was pushed back to a new tentative release date on July 21 to allow the FERC to review hundreds of pages of environmental documents it had requested from the developer.

If approved, a final 90-day federal authorization decision could come as early as Oct. 19.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818