By Elizabeth E. Payne
In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued approval to begin preliminary tree felling for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in parts of Virginia and West Virginia, and in parts of West Virginia for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. At press time, both projects were awaiting some regulatory approvals along their paths.
On Dec. 7, the State Water Control Board in Virginia approved permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline over robust objections from citizens and environmental groups. The following week, the same board approved permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but stipulated that they would take effect only after additional environmental impact reports were completed and approved.
Hearings for both pipelines were packed, and board members heard from residents and water quality experts.
Immediately following the first decision, several environmental groups — including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this paper — filed a petition with a federal appeals court to overturn the state’s decision on the MVP.
On Jan. 9, Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a lawsuit with a separate federal appeals court to challenge FERC’s decision to grant a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The suit was filed on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, including Appalachian Voices.
In West Virginia, landowners who have been sued by Mountain Valley Pipeline to gain access to their property filed a brief in late December in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia arguing that pipeline developers should not gain access until they have met all certification requirements by FERC, according to MetroNews.
In North Carolina, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality has delayed a decision regarding an air quality permit needed for a compressor station along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s route until the pipeline developers provide additional information. Regulators also requested additional information regarding required water quality permits.
And in Virginia, Sen. Tim Kaine sent a letter to FERC on Jan. 5 asking that the commission reconsider its approval of the two pipelines.
“The commission approved the MVP and ACP on 2-1 votes when two of the five commissioner slots were vacant,” he wrote. “The split decisions were most unusual — 98 percent of FERC orders in 2016 were unanimous. Given that the commission now has a full complement of five members, there is real concern about whether the divided rulings by a partial commission fairly reflect the FERC position.”
Meanwhile, Dominion Energy, a lead partner in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is pursuing a deal to buy SCANA Corp., a South Carolina energy company, which would likely pave the way for an expansion of the ACP into South Carolina.
“This combination can open new expansion opportunities, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is now under development, bringing lower-cost natural gas to the region,” Dominion CEO Tom Farrell said of the deal.