On Monday, February 24, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments in United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association. The narrow legal question at the heart of this case is whether the Forest Service has the...
A risky and unneeded pipeline
Our region’s rivers, forests, and communities are in the crosshairs of a destructive and highly controversial gas pipeline project. Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would fragment some of the most intact, forested landscapes in the Southeast—including the George Washington National Forest. Cutting across steep slopes and through numerous rivers, streams, and wetlands, the pipeline would put water quality at risk and harm sensitive and endangered species. The pipeline also puts communities like Union Hill, Virginia, and many others, in harm's way. This harm isn’t inevitable—we now know that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or ACP, is not necessary. Yet Dominion continues to push forward with this risky and unneeded pipeline, using politics and influence to run roughshod over communities, landowners, and agency staff.
In early 2020 the Southern Environmental Law Center will be before the United Sates Supreme Court to defend a lower court victory revoking a Forest Service permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The original ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Forest Service lacked authority to grant approval to Dominion and Duke Energy to cross the Appalachian Trail on national forest lands with their 600-mile, $7.8 billion pipeline.
Thousands of landowners will lose land and many will be put in harm's way
Risky route is prone to landslides and threatens streams
Dominion would build the ACP across rugged, mountainous terrain already susceptible to landslides. Construction and operation of the pipeline would increase the risk of landslides, leading to potential harm to people and causing damage to mountain slopes and the sensitive streams that drain them.
Vulnerable communities bear the burden
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, determined that more than half of the census tracts within a mile of the ACP have disproportionately high populations of people either living below the poverty line or belonging to racial or ethnic minorities. This assessment included the members of the Lumbee Indian Tribe in Robeson County, North Carolina. But it failed to identify other environmental justice communities close to the pipeline, including the historic African-American community in Union Hill, Virginia.
Energy demand for gas is not growing
Dominion and its partner Duke Energy say the ACP is for electricity generation, but the demand for new power plants in Virginia and North Carolina has decreased dramatically since these companies first proposed the pipeline in 2014. Now, Dominion admits that it is done building the large gas power plants that would use the ACP, and Virginia regulators recently reprimanded the utility for overstating its energy demand forecasts for the last decade. Dominion’s most recent plan shows it embracing low-cost solar power over natural gas.
In North Carolina, Duke Energy has revised its forecasts for future energy needs substantially lower in the years since it began planning for the ACP. Since submitting their combined integrated resource plans in 2012, the Duke utilities have reduced their load predictions for 2027 by about 18%.
EXISTING PIPELINES CAN MEET OUR CURRENT AND FUTURE NEEDS
In recent years, improvements to existing pipeline infrastructure, like the WB Xpress and the Atlantic Sunrise projects, have greatly expanded pipeline capacity serving Virginia and North Carolina. Transco, which operates the largest pipeline on the East Coast, told regulators that it has the ability to serve the Southeast’s needs for the foreseeable future. Dominion’s own records show it already has sufficient pipeline capacity to serve all of its existing gas-fired power plants in Virginia – and extra to serve to new power plants.
Hampton Roads Doesn't Need the ACP
Local bottlenecks in pipelines serving Hampton Roads should be addressed through improvements to the local distribution system – not by building a new $7.5 billion interstate pipeline, which is costly for ratepayers in Hampton Roads and across Virginia. There are better, lower-cost alternatives, but those common sense fixes don’t pay the same shareholder profits that a $7.5 billion project like the ACP would.
Price spikes: No problem, no need
Gas price spikes caused by extreme winter weather are very rare, but are one of Dominion’s main justifications for the ACP. Improvements to the existing pipeline network will mitigate price spikes even if the ACP is never built – in fact, they already have. New pipeline capacity on the Atlantic Sunrise project meant cold spells this past winter caused minimal price fluctuation in Virginia and North Carolina. Building a $7.5 billion pipeline won’t do anything to lower customer bills.
We are all on the hook to pay for the ACP
Everyone who is a Dominion or Duke Energy customer will pay for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline until it depreciates in value – even if no gas ever moves through it. That means a child in kindergarten today will still be paying for this pipeline when she is in her 30s and 40s.
Utilities like Dominion and Duke want to build pipeline projects regardless of their actual necessity and environmental impacts because regulators guarantee them a profit for building infrastructure. The ACP would bring some of the highest profit margins around – 15% every year.
The truth about this project is catching up with it
Since construction on the ACP got underway in 2018, a federal court and federal agencies have thrown out eight required permits, the project is indefinitely stopped, and developers presently have no clear path forward. Dominion proposed the ACP five years ago in 2014. But in the intervening years, the energy landscape of our region has changed, and compelling new evidence shows that this pipeline is costly and unneeded. It is time for Dominion to do the right thing and abandon this project.
permits thrown out or put on hold by federal courts
of pipe laid in Virginia
behind schedule so far because of permitting shortcuts
the ballooning cost of this project
An ill-conceived route
The ACP’s permitting problems are entirely self-inflicted. Dominion picked a risky, unreasonable route across steep mountains and protected lands. In December 2018, a federal court ruled that the Forest Service did not have authority to allow the ACP to cross the Appalachian Trail. The court also said that despite the Forest Service’s “clearly stated concerns regarding the adverse impacts of the ACP project” on the national forests, the agency eventually reversed course as Dominion’s deadlines drew near – adopting environmental analysis on steep slopes, landslides, and sedimentation of streams that it had previously found problematic and failing to assess whether alternatives existed.
A rushed process
Under intense political pressure, federal agencies have rushed permits to meet Dominion’s construction timeline, but those permits have not withstood review in the courts. In August 2018, the same federal court also overturned the original U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Incidental Take Statement for the ACP for failing to meaningfully protect endangered species in the path of the pipeline. After the agency rushed out a new permit just five weeks after the court’s decision, the court stayed the reissued permit in a second case. The court also overturned the permit that would allow the ACP to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway. In response the National Park Service, too, rushed to reissue a second permit for the project. The agency withdrew that reissued permit after it was challenged in court.