Feds halt pipe­line work af­ter judge pulls per­mit

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION - By Gre­gory S. Sch­nei­der

A fed­eral agency has or­dered a halt to all work on the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line af­ter a panel of judges sus­pended two key per­mits for the mas­sive project to bring nat­u­ral gas from West Vir­ginia through cen­tral Vir­ginia.

The Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion sent a let­ter late Fri­day to Do­min­ion En­ergy, the com­pany lead­ing con­struc­tion of the 600-mile pipe­line, say­ing that work must stop un­til the per­mit is­sues can be re­solved.

Ear­lier in the week, three judges from the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Fourth Cir­cuit had va­cated a per­mit is­sued by the Na­tional Park Service to al­low the pipe­line to tun­nel un­der the fed­er­ally owned Blue Ridge Park­way, say­ing the agency had not ex­plained how the pipe­line fit with the its man­date to con­serve pub­lic lands.

The court also va­cated a per­mit is­sued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gov­ern­ing im­pact on en­dan­gered wildlife, say­ing the agency failed to set proper lim­its for harm to five species in­clud­ing a type of fresh­wa­ter clam and cer­tain bats.

The rul­ings capped a se­ries of set­backs for the two ma­jor pipe­line projects un­der­way in Vir­ginia. Last month, the same court re­voked a per­mit for the sep­a­rate Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line to cross 3.5 miles of the Jef­fer­son Na­tional For­est, find­ing that the im­pact on the for­est had not been fully re­viewed.

The Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion then stepped in to halt all work on that pipe­line as well. The Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line, be­ing built by a con­sor­tium of com­pa­nies led by EQT Mid­stream Part­ners of Pitts­burgh, is a 300-mile project that also car­ries nat­u­ral gas from West Vir­ginia and passes through Vir­ginia’s far south­west moun­tains.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists say the rul­ings show the ap­proval process for both projects has been hasty and flawed.

The South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter brought the chal­lenges against both sets of per­mits and has urged FERC to re­con­sider ap­proval for both pipe­lines.

“With so many un­knowns re­main­ing about this project, now is the right time for the Com­mis­sion to grant re­hear­ing and get to the bot­tom of Do­min­ion’s over-blown and un­sup­ported claims of pub­lic ben­e­fit,” SELC at­tor­ney Greg Bup­pert said via email af­ter Fri­day’s de­ci­sion.

Builders of both pipe­lines, though, have said that the per­mit is­sues can be read­ily ad­dressed.

“We are al­ready work­ing with the key agen­cies to re­solve the is­sues in FERC’s order so we can re­sume con­struc­tion as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Aaron Ruby of Do­min­ion, spokesman for the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line. “De­lay­ing this in­fra­struc­ture will force con­sumers and busi­nesses to pay higher en­ergy costs.”

CAROLYN COLE / LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Joy El­iz­a­beth Reilly, 8, holds a hula hoop 42 inches in di­am­e­ter, the size of the pipe­line pro­posed to run through her par­ents’ farm in Vir­ginia.

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