Groups Take Legal Action Against FERC on Atlantic Coast Pipeline
A coalition of affected landowners and conservation groups today filed a request for rehearing urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a massive interstate gas pipeline that would transport fracked gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina. Mounting evidence shows that the pipeline is not needed to meet customer demand, and would harm landowners along its path and consumers throughout the region. The coalition is represented by Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
FERC issued an order granting approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on October 13. In a highly unusual dissent, Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur critiqued the agency for failing to look beyond the agreements put forth by the utilities involved and to consider whether need for the pipeline had been established. LaFleur’s dissent highlights the failure of FERC to seriously consider new evidence showing there is not enough demand for natural gas to justify building the pipeline. Most of the gas from the pipeline would go to fuel gas-fired power plants, but the demand for electricity has slowed in Virginia and North Carolina since the project was first proposed in 2014.
“As Commissioner LaFleur acknowledged, FERC has not considered whether there is any real need for this risky and costly pipeline,” said SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “Today’s filing is the next step in our effort to challenge FERC’s rubberstamp process Atlantic Coast Pipeline—one that has failed to even consider the evidence that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed and has brushed aside serious concerns about the project’s harm to the environment.
“Because the pipeline is unnecessary, FERC may not legally allow ACP to take landowners’ property”, said Appalachian Mountain Advocates Senior Attorney Ben Luckett. “Private property may only be taken, according to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, when the project is for a public use; an unnecessary pipeline is, by definition, not for a public use or benefit,” said Luckett.
Worse still, nearly all of the costs associated with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s $5.5 billion price tag will be passed on to customers – even if the pipeline demand never materializes.
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline wouldn’t just bring gas to North Carolina, it would also bring the risk of water pollution in our rivers and streams, toxic emissions in the air we breathe, and harm to communities across West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina—all while hitting utility customers in the pocketbook for a pipeline that is not even needed,” said SELC Senior Attorney Gudrun Thompson. “FERC needs to go back, take a hard look at the evidence, and reject this pipeline.”
The project would cut off ridge tops, plunge down steep and unstable mountainsides, damage sensitive streams, and disrupt pristine core forests. Combustion of the gas carried by the pipeline would cause significant climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.
“Recent experience with widespread water quality damage during construction of major gas pipelines in much less challenging terrain does not inspire confidence here,” said Appalachian Mountain Advocates Senior Attorney Derek Teaney. “Dominion and Duke haven’t explained why they won’t have the same problems we’ve seen over and over on similar projects. It is unconscionable that FERC would approve a project with such significant impacts to the land and people without determining if the pipeline is even needed by the public.”
Landowners will be among the hardest hit if the project is approved, as Dominion and Duke will be granted eminent domain authority to acquire permanent easements on private property. These easements will cut a permanent 75-foot path across farmland and forests, and landowners close to the pipeline’s paths may struggle to sell their property or receive a mortgage. Proximity to the pipeline also exposes families to potential fires and explosions.
The request for rehearing was filed on behalf of Shenandoah Valley Network, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Friends of Buckingham, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, Sound Rivers, and Winyah Rivers Foundation (represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center) and Appalachian Voices, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Friends of Nelson, Sierra Club, and Wild Virginia (represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates).
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About Appalachian Mountain Advocates
Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad) is a non-profit law and policy center dedicated to fighting for clean water and a clean energy future. Appalmad has a long history of winning precedent-setting court cases. The organization represents scores of landowners and grassroots organizations challenging four unnecessary interstate pipelines in Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Appalmad has worked for two decades to ensure the fossil fuel industry cannot continue to dump its costs of doing business onto the public. For more information, visit www.appalmad.org.