The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in rulings issued Friday.
The three-person commission was divided on the issue of granting the pipelines a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, with two commission members appointed by President Trump ruling in favor while an Obama administration holdover issued a dissenting opinion.
While FERC approval was required for the two natural gas pipeline projects to advance, the battle is not over. Environmentalists and landowners remain adamantly opposed to the projects, and they have vowed to continue resisting. Major sticking points are reviews by West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina environmental agencies of pipeline impacts on water quality.
Naturally, Dominion Energy, which is the managing partner of the ACP, is delighted at news. Said Leslie Hartz, Dominion vice president of engineering & construction:
We are very pleased to receive FERC approval for this vitally important project. This is the most significant milestone yet for a project that will bring jobs, economic growth and cleaner energy to our region. In the coming days we will fully review the Certificate and finalize our plans for complying with its conditions. We will also continue working with the other state and federal agencies to complete the environmental review process and make this critically important project a reality.
All three commissioners acknowledge the need for more natural gas infrastructure to serve consumers in Virginia and North Carolina. In her dissent, Commissioner LaFleur noted that more than 90 percent of the ACP’s capacity is subscribed by public utility customers in the two states. The end use of this gas is well established on the public record and is a matter of urgent public necessity.
The FERC ruling also garnered kudos from Dominion’s business allies. This joint statement comes from Barry Duval, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and Matt Yonka, president of the Virginia Building & Construction Trades Council:
This is great news for our economy, our working men and women and energy consumers all across our region. This project will serve as a catalyst for economic growth, job creation and greater energy security in our region for years to come. The hardworking men and women who built our nation are ready to get to work rebuilding our region’s infrastructure. We’re eager to see the thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new income this project will bring to the region.
By lowering energy costs in Virginia and North Carolina by more than $370 million a year, this pipeline will allow businesses to grow and families to save. The pipeline will also mean lower emissions and cleaner air in all of our communities as electric utilities continue making the transition from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.
Equally predictably, pipeline foes were appalled by the ruling. This from the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of 52 organizations in Virginia and West Virginia:
The Commission’s judgment has been made in advance of necessary and required decisions by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the state environmental authorities in the affected states of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina on critical environmental issues. We concur with the thoughtful dissent of Commissioner LeFleur’s, who has served on the Commission for 7 years, raising serious questions about the basis of need for both the ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipeline and expressing concerns about environmental impacts that both projects present. The majority decision does not reflect an understanding of the issues at hand and is clearly not in the public interest. It calls into serious question the agency’s regulatory credibility.
Greg Buppert, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said this:
While FERC’s anticipated rubber-stamp of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline follows a long trend of this agency’s failure to carry out its responsibilities and properly assess projects, Commissioner LaFleur’s unexpected dissent shows that even within FERC, this pipeline is seen as harmful and unnecessary.
SELC plans to challenge the majority’s decision to brush under the rug compelling evidence that this environmentally destructive pipeline is not needed to meet the energy demands of our region. The utilities involved in the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline claim utility customers will save money, when in fact this pipeline will drive up ratepayers’ bills – and cause harm to national forests and to rivers and streams while threatening to commit our states to fossil fuels for decades to come. But today’s decision is not the end. It’s now up to North Carolina and Virginia state leaders to actually take a look at the real, serious, and unnecessary risks to water quality and other resources, and put the brakes on this wasteful project.
The pipeline foes’ main line of attack now is that digging pipeline trenches in steep mountain terrain with karst geology is likely to create erosion, generate massive volumes of sediment, and pollute water quality. Dominion has vowed to implement state-of-the-art environmental controls during pipeline construction, but it must gain approval from state regulators along the pipeline route in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
Earlier this month the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality rejected the ACP’s environmental plans for the North Carolina portion of the 600-mile pipeline. As the News & Observer summarized the regulatory issues:
The erosion plan is one of several hurdles the Atlantic Coast Pipeline needs to clear in North Carolina. The project also needs an air-quality permit for a compressor, a machine that pushes the gas through the pipeline. And it needs a water-quality permit allowing developers to drill through streams and wetlands, as well as several storm water control permits for multiple locations along the proposed route.
“In Virginia, residents will now rely on the State Water Control Board, which has the authority to deny the required state water permits if the pipelines are likely to fail Virginia’s water quality standards,” said Lara Mack with Appalachian Voices. “We call on the water board members to fulfill their duty to protect Virginians and deny the energy companies their needless pipelines, which would harm Virginia businesses, communities and resident across the state. At the very least, we urge them to meet their obligation to request more information and time to ensure they are sufficiently analyzing the effect on our water.”
Bacon’s bottom line: With the FERC ruling, the question isn’t whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project will be built but how tight the water-quality regulations will be and how much the controls will add to costs and affect pipeline profitability. Dominion Energy has ordered and stockpiled hundreds of million of dollars worth of pipe with detailed specs in anticipation of the construction project — it cannot afford to not go forward.
The ACP also has contracts with Dominion Energy Virginia (Dominion’s regulated subsidiary), Duke Energy, Virginia Natural Gas and Piedmont Natural Gas, each of which is a partner in the project, reserving 90% of the pipeline capacity of 1.5-million cubic feet per day. These companies are counting on the added supply of gas for electric-generating plants, industrial and residential use. While some or all of the gas could be supplied by building lateral lines from the giant Transco pipeline running up the east coast, such alternative projects would require years-long regulatory approval processes, and there is no assurance that environmental groups, which oppose fossil fuels from any source, wouldn’t fight these proposals as well.There are currently no comments highlighted.