Groups appeal Atlantic Coast Pipeline approval

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An alliance of 21 local and state interest groups has begun an appeal process asking federal authorities to suspend approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

N.C. WARN, an opponent of the proposed $5 billion project to bring natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina, said in a release Monday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “cut corners, ignored environmental justice and climate destruction and usurped state authority in approving construction.”

The FERC issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity on Oct. 13 that paved the way for Dominion Energy and Duke Energy to proceed with construction of a 36-inch, high-pressure natural gas pipeline that would be built 604 miles from Harrison County, West Virginia to Robeson County, North Carolina.

Some 12 miles of the pipeline could be placed through Wilson County. The Wilson County Board of Commissioners expressed concerns over the pipeline in an Oct. 17 resolution.

“Basically you have to go back to FERC and call for a rehearing and basically call on them to reconsider their decision,” N.C. WARN executive director Jim Warren said Wednesday. “That is just the bizarre way that the federal rules are written, so you have to go through that step before you can go through the courts. They will maybe reconsider or they may continue forward with this corner-cutting approach that they have taken so far and then the steps are, one or more parties go to the courts.”

“We are pretty optimistic based on both the abject failure of FERC to do its job properly and the fact that there have been recent court decisions that have overturned FERC’s rulings in pipeline cases,” Warren said. “This thing is just so full of holes, what they passed. They let Duke Energy and Dominion cut lots of corners and we have state agencies that are so far holding the line against this corner-cutting approach that Duke and Dominion and FERC have embarked on so if there is justice in the system, this project is not going to go forward at least under the current path that they have created.”

The challenge to the federal approval will be led by John Runkle, attorney for N.C. WARN.

According to the challenge, Duke and Dominion were permitted to supplement their permit application 18 times in thousands of technical documents on vital issues that were filed after the end of the public comment period.

“This is a straight-up flaunting of federal law, which requires that interested parties be able to provide meaningful input on the environmental risks and costs reflected in a completed application that has been fully reviewed by FERC staff — not the spotty application Duke and Dominion kept changing,” an N.C. WARN release claims.

The group contends FERC’s approval of the pipeline plans constitute an injustice toward African-American, Native American and low-income communities.

The agency’s “analysis of minority populations is remarkable in its contorted logic used to minimize the relative impact on people of color … In fact, in comparing the current ACP corridor to earlier proposed ACP routes, it is clear that the pipeline has been moved to areas of greater poverty and more people of color,” Runkle wrote.

In addition to N.C. WARN, 20 other organizations are part of the challenge, including Wilson County No Pipeline, Clean Water for North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Protect Our Water, Concern for the New Generation, Halifax & Northampton Concerned Stewards, No Pipeline Johnston County, Nash Stop the Pipeline, Sampson County Citizens for a Safe Environment, No Fracking in Stokes, Cumberland County Caring Voices, Concerned Citizens of Tillery, N.C. Alliance to Protect the People and the Places We Live, Beyond Extreme Energy, Triangle Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Haw River Assembly, Winyah Rivers Foundation, Inc., River Guardian Foundation and the 350.org Triangle and Chatham Research Group.

“Obviously it is of great interest to a lot of people,” Warren said.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality sent a letter of disapproval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline erosion and sedimentation control plan and asked for the developer to submit a revised plan.

A spokesman for Dominion said that such “letters of disapproval” are often misinterpreted and sought to clarify what the document means.

“The agency has stated very clearly that it has not denied our permit. A ‘Letter of Disapproval’ is simply the mechanism the agency uses to request information or make procedural notifications,” spokesman Aaron Ruby said in a Nov. 7 email. “Following normal procedure, the agency has asked for more information so it can complete the permit approval process. These requests are typical for projects of this size and complexity. We’ve reviewed the agency’s request, and we’re confident we can provide the additional information in short order.”

“Additionally, the agency has clarified the sequence it will follow for its decision making on each of our permit applications. In short, the agency will make a decision on our water quality certification first, and then erosion and sedimentation control,” Ruby said. “We fully support the process, and we’ll continue cooperating with the agency as we’ve done from the beginning. The project remains on track for final approval by the end of this year.”