Atlantic Coast Pipeline problems persist despite Supreme Court decision

Pipeline future uncertain as Dominion Energy says gas expansion ‘not viable’

A river runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that limited the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to issue a permit to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The original ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stated the Forest Service lacked authority to grant approval for Dominion and Duke Energy’s pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail on federal land. The Fourth Circuit also vacated the Forest Service permit on other grounds not addressed by today’s decision, and the pipeline still lacks that permit in addition to multiple other approvals required for construction.

“While today’s decision was not what we hoped for, it addresses only one of the many problems faced by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This is not a viable project. It is still missing many required authorizations, including the Forest Service permit at issue in today’s case, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon consider the mounting evidence that we never needed this pipeline to supply power. It’s time for these developers to move on and reinvest the billions of dollars planned for this boondoggle into the renewable energy that Virginia and North Carolina customers want and deserve,” said DJ Gerken, SELC Program Director.

It’s time for these developers to move on and reinvest the billions of dollars planned for this boondoggle into the renewable energy that Virginia and North Carolina customers want and deserve.”

—DJ Gerken, SELC Program Director

The Supreme Court’s decision comes at the same time that the purported need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, proposed in 2014, is receiving renewed scrutiny, as states are steering their energy economies away from fossil fuels. In March, Dominion Energy told Virginia regulators that the build out of new gas-fired power plants is no longer “viable” in the state, and the Virginia Clean Economy Act signed into law in April requires that the utility shut down all of its existing gas plants by 2045. North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants of 70% over 2005 levels by 2030 and total carbon neutrality by 2050.

 “It’s been six years since this pipeline was proposed, we didn’t need it then and we certainly don’t need it now,” said Dick Brooks of the Cowpasture River Preservation. “Today’s decision doesn’t change the fact that Dominion chose a risky route through protected federal lands, steep mountains, and vulnerable communities.”

“This pipeline is putting our farmlands, our water and the livelihood of Virginians in jeopardy,” said Nancy Sorrells with Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley. “And all for a pipeline that isn’t even in the public interest of Virginians."

Meanwhile, the exorbitant price tag for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to climb because of Dominion’s insistence on a harmful and risky route. Under these circumstances and at a time when the region is moving rapidly to 100% renewable energy, it’s unreasonable to expect customers to pay for this obsolete $8 billion fracked gas pipeline.

“With the ACP still lacking 8 permits, this decision is just plugging just one hole on a sinking ship,” said Kelly Martin, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign. “Nothing in today’s ruling changes the fact that the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a dirty, dangerous threat to our health, climate and communities, and nothing about the ruling changes our intention to fight it. From the day the ACP was proposed, the smart investment for Dominion and Duke would have been clean, renewable energy sources, and with the project billions of dollars over budget, that’s even more true today. Despite this ruling on one narrow question, economics, common sense, and public opinion are still squarely against the ACP.”

Among the permits in question for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are:
  • Endangered Species Act permit (Biological Opinion) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Special use permit and right-of-way grant from the U.S. Forest Service
  • Right-of-way permit from the National Park Service
  • Virginia air pollution permit for the Union Hill compressor station
  • Four Clean Water Act authorizations from the Corps of Engineers for Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s central permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is under review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and arguments are expected later this year. The case will determine if FERC correctly determined that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was needed to fuel gas-fired power plants when it approved the project in 2017.

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