CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline say construction will continue along most of the 600-mile route while the company reviews an appeals court decision that nullified a key permit.
“We will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled,” stated Jen Kostyniuk, spokeswoman for Dominion Energy.
“We are continuing to analyze the order and the effects it will have on the project. We can say that the impact of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is on a small portion of the 600 mile route. Through our project planning, we purposefully avoided areas of endangered species which is why the impact of this ruling is relatively limited.”
The pipeline would start in Harrison County and proceed across Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia before heading into Virginia and then into North Carolina.
A three-judge panel from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on Tuesday announced a ruling that would invalidate a key U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review.
Environmental groups challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incidental Take Statement, which is meant to set limits on killing threatened or endangered species during construction and operation.
The environmental groups argued that the limits under the policy are not clear.
The appeals judges — Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and Judges Stephanie D. Thacker and James A. Wynn Jr. — agreed, calling the limits set by the agency so indeterminate that they undermine enforcement and monitoring.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission entered its own letter into the court record, noting that Atlantic Coast Pipeline will not proceed with construction in any areas that may affected species covered by the Incidental Take Statement for the project.
Within 5 days, Atlantic Coast Pipeline is expected to file documentation that specifically identifies by milepost the habitat areas that will be avoided with respect to each of the listed species while also confirming the company’s commitment to avoid construction in the areas.
Dominion is continuing to communicate with regulators, Kostyniuk stated.
“Our next steps will be to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who we expect will revise the Incidental Take Statement to provide limits that are more specific,” she stated.
“While we do not have a specific date of when the revised Incidental Take Statement will be prepared, ACP has conducted extensive survey work for all six species over the past four years and there is a robust record on which to resolve this matter in an expedited manner. We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project.”
The appeal was part of a series of efforts by environmental groups to halt construction of the natural gas pipeline.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, which led the lawsuit, celebrated the appeals court ruling. It put out a news release labeled “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Stopped in Its Tracks.”
“Like other agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers’ timelines,” stated D.J. Gerken, a managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“We are grateful this decision upholds the protection of endangered species as the law requires. It’s foolish and shortsighted to risk losing rare species for an unnecessary and costly pipeline boondoggle.”
The three-judge panel with the appeals court wrote that it would expand on the details of its ruling with an upcoming opinion.
Dominion, in its Wednesday afternoon statement, said it had spent years developing a construction plan meant to lessen the impact on wildlife and other sensitive aspects of the environment.
“We spent more than three years developing the safest and most environmentally responsible route for the pipeline. We carefully studied more than 6,000 miles of potential routes before choosing the best 600-mile route with the least impact,” Kostyniuk stated.
“After consulting with landowners and performing extensive field surveys, we made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, wildlife habitats, drinking water sources and sensitive geologic features.”