CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline cleared another regulatory hurdle on Friday when the U.S. Forest Service gave approval for the pipeline to be built through the George Washington National Forest and the Monongahela National Forest.

The decision received applause from pipeline developer Dominion Energy and criticism by environmental groups.

The $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline would span 600 miles from Harrison County and across Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. It’s a project by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

The project has gained approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the pipeline still lacks crucial water permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and from West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

The Forest Service, in a statement, said its decision supports federal policies emphasizing energy infrastructure, jobs, economic growth and the agency’s efforts to provide for multiple use.

The Forest Service said amendments in the plan would provide for continued social, economic, and ecological sustainability of the George Washington National Forest and the Monongahela National Forest.

Environmental groups contend the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause environmental harm by cutting a new right-of-way through the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests.

“This unnecessary new right of way is one of the many reasons Sierra Club opposes the pipeline,” the Sierra Club wrote in a response to the Forest Service’s decision.

Environmental groups contended an impact statement by the Forest Service failed to include critical information about impacts to wildlife habitat, endangered species, sedimentation, and other issues.

“We believe this decision is based on seriously deficient and incorrect information,” stated Lew Freeman, chairman of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of 52 conservation and environmental organizations in Virginia and West Virginia.

“The action imperils some of the nation’s most treasured natural resources and reflects a rush to judgment that is contrary to the standards of deliberation that we have a right to expect from the Forest Service. The decision should be strongly challenged.”

Pipeline developer Dominion Energy released a statement saying the Forest Service’s decision is evidence of a responsible way to develop infrastructure while preserving the environment and protecting natural resources.

“The agency’s favorable decision was reached after more than three years of careful study, meaningful engagement with the public and other agencies, and extensive field surveys by expert wildlife biologists,” Dominion stated.

“Through close consultation with the agency, the project has made numerous adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in the national forests, including sensitive wildlife habitats. Total mileage in the national forests was also reduced by more than one-third.”

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