SCOTUS ruling favors gas pipeline
WASHINGTON, DC – One hurdle has been cleared for work to begin again on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on the case Atlantic Coast Pipeline vs. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, ruling 7-2 in favor of the ACP to cross more than 600 feet underneath the Appalachian Trail with a U.S. Forest Service permit.
The 604-mile pipeline, which originates in West Virginia, will pass through eight, eastern North Carolina counties, to include Northampton where ACP has constructed a regional office and plans to place one of its three compressor stations.
The project – which is capable of delivering up to 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas – is expected to bring over $1 million annually in property tax revenue to Northampton County.
The Supreme Court’s decision overturned a lower court ruling last year that vacated a special use permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service to ACP officials. The Fourth Circuit Court held that the Mineral Leasing Act did not empower the U.S. Forest Service to grant the right-of-way because the Appalachian Trail is part of the National Park System. Specifically, the portion of the pipeline in question would cross under the Trail within the George Washington National Forest.
ACP officials said Monday’s decision rendered by the Supreme Court upheld the longstanding precedent allowing infrastructure crossings of the Appalachian Trail.
“For decades, more than 50 other pipelines have safely crossed the Trail without disturbing its public use,” said ACP spokesperson Ann Nallo. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be no different.”
Nallo said in an effort to avoid impacts to the Trail, the pipeline will be installed hundreds of feet below the surface and emerge more than a half-mile from each side of the Trail.
“There will be no construction activity on or near the Trail itself, and the public will be able to continue enjoying the Trail as they always have,” she noted. “We appreciate the many stakeholders who supported our position in this case, including the U.S. Solicitor General, 18 state attorneys general, more than 60 members of Congress and dozens of labor and industry groups.
“[The] decision is an affirmation for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and communities across our region that are depending on it for jobs, economic growth and clean energy. We look forward to resolving the remaining project permits,” Nallo added.
When asked by the R-C News-Herald about those other permits, Nallo said they involve the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (biological opinion), the US Forest Service (forest/Trail crossing), the National Park Service (crossing 700+ feet under the Blue Ridge Parkway), and the Army Corps of Engineers (NWP 12), a national permit typically sought by pipeline companies for the authority to cross rivers, streams and wetlands, instead of seeking individual water crossing permits, which would require close analysis of impacts to endangered species and aquatic life.
The project has faced several delays since the 2014 announcement of its construction. On Sept. 17, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave its authorization to resume project construction. This came following several months of inactivity on the project via an order from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals while a more thorough evaluation was performed to ensure that no federally protected species would be impacted by the pipeline.
When plans to build the pipeline were first unveiled in 2014, ACP officials had originally planned for it to be in operation by late 2018. Nallo said that timetable, pending the approval of the other permits, is now in early 2022.
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is needed now more than ever for our region’s economy and our path to clean energy,” Nallo stressed. “ Communities across Hampton Roads, Virginia and eastern North Carolina are experiencing chronic shortages of natural gas. They urgently need new infrastructure to support military bases, manufacturing and home heating. The ACP will also support our region’s transition from coal and the rapid expansion of renewables, both of which are essential to Dominion Energy’s and Duke Energy’s plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a collaborative effort between Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, and Piedmont Natural Gas. Dominion Energy, however, is the leading owner of the project and is responsible for constructing and operating the pipeline.