Lack of key info leads to roadblock for N.C. pipeline permit

Large crowds turned out at North Carolina public hearings on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s plans to cross hundreds of state waterways. (© Southeast Energy News)

Pipeline developers’ plans to begin construction on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in November were thwarted last week by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality when the agency issued a request for more information before making a decision on the project’s water quality certification, a move that will delay the decision until at least December.

Before construction on the controversial 600-mile project can begin, developers must obtain water quality certifications based on states’ reviews of the project’s impacts on state waters like streams and wetlands. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline cannot go forward without certification from the environmental agencies in the three states the pipeline would go through: North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. This week the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality sent out a request to developers to submit additional information necessary to allow the agency to decide whether to certify the project.

“The current application leaves out critical information,” Senior Attorney Geoff Gisler said. “There are literally hundreds of streams and wetlands that the company has asked to dig through with hardly any analysis.”

The state’s letter to developers reflected the same position:

“The [state] has determined the following additional information is necessary to continue to process your application,” the agency wrote. Among other requirements, DEQ requested additional “site-specific detail” to ensure protection of downstream water quality, “a restoration plan for all stream crossings,” and additional information regarding the “cumulative impacts” of the project that takes into consideration all existing pipeline infrastructure.

SELC submitted 45 pages of comments on the developer’s water certification application on behalf of seven conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club, Clean Water for North Carolina, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The comments focused on the utilities’ failure to include enough information to properly analyze the effects of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Without that information, North Carolina cannot ensure that water quality will be protected. Among the 9,000 members of the public who commented were the Haliwa-Saponi, an Indian tribe in northeastern North Carolina, who wrote that the pipeline would cut through areas that are likely to contain ancestral burial sites and threaten the health of rivers and streams used by tribal citizens.

With its request, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has taken an important step in the right direction to protect state waters, putting pressure on other states to follow suit. SELC has also submitted comments to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which has already issued a draft water quality certification for the project, despite lacking critical information. As just one example of the defects in Virginia’s proposed permit, SELC and others have condemned the state’s refusal to examine individual stream and wetland crossings.

Virginia must follow in North Carolina’s steps and take the time required to conduct a thorough, meaningful analysis of potential impacts to Virginia’s waters and the communities that rely on them in order to meet its obligations to the law and Virginians.

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