Energy commission approves Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a certificate permitting construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Supply Header Project.

In a 151-page statement issued Friday, the FERC decision to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was in response to a Sept. 18, 2015 application from Atlantic Coast Pipeline , LLC, and a March 11, 2016 amendment asking for permission to construct a 604-mile interstate natural gas pipeline from Harrison County, West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina, ending in Robeson County.

The primary backers of the pipeline project are Dominion Evergy and Duke Energy.

About 186 miles of 36-inch diameter pipeline would enter North Carolina at Northampton County and terminate in Roberson County.

Some 12 miles of the transmission pipeline could be located in western Wilson County from just northeast of Sims to just southwest of Buckhorn Crossroads.

The total project cost is listed at more than $5 billion.

The FERC decision to issue the certificate was not unanimous. 

Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur said in a five-page letter that she could not support the ACP project or the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project/Equitrans Expansion Project, for which FERC also certified in its Friday statement.

LaFleur said both of the proposed projects were not in the public interest in part because, in her opinion, the two natural gas pipelines could have been collocated to reduce the amount of environmental disturbance.

"I am particularly troubled by the approval of these projects because I believe that the records demonstrate that there may be alternative approaches that could provide significant environmental advantages over their construction as proposed," LaFleur wrote. 

In response to LaFleur's dissent, Chet Wade, vice president of corporate communications for Dominion Energy, said that the majority of other commission members wrote "that combining the ACP and Mountain Valley Pipeline into a single project would make it impossible for the ACP to meet the needs of its customers. It also found that combining the two projects could 'triple air quality impacts in comparison to the Mountain Valley Project and ACP Project considered individually' because of the need for substantially more compression. And, the majority wrote that co-locating the ACP and MVP in the same right of way would be 'technically infeasible,' would cause other environment consequences and would challenge the ability of each project to meet customer needs."

Lynn Good, Duke Energy's CEO, commended commission members who supported the project.

"FERC's approval is an important milestone and a critical step forward for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to deliver the benefits of affordable, clean natural gas and affirms the project will be built with minimal impacts to the environment," Good said. "North Carolina's population is growing, the economy is diversifying and many communities along the route are trying to attract new energy-intensive industries. Natural gas from the pipeline will increase consumer savings, enhance reliability, enable more renewable energy and provide a powerful engine for statewide economic development and job growth."

Duke has said that about 80 percent of the gas will be used to power newer, highly efficient natural gas plants that replace older coal-burning power plants.

"We commend the FERC commissioners and staff for their exhaustive and careful review of this project to ensure the project is built in a way that protects public safety and the environment," Good said. 

"All three commissioners acknowledge the need for more natural gas, even the lone dissenting commissioner who states that more than 90 percent of the pipeline's capacity is subscribed."

The ACP has been highly controversial with energy companies and economic development organizations in support while environmental groups and individual property owners directly affected by the pipeline's route have been largely in opposition.

According to Hope Taylor, executive director for Clean Water for North Carolina, the pipeline would pass through communities that are more than 60 percent African-American and more than 95 percent Native American.

Taylor said the pipeline is routed through areas with higher poverty than other areas in the state.

"It takes a remarkably contorted analysis to conclude that there are not major disproportionate impacts on some of the most vulnerable communities in eastern North Carolina," Taylor said. 

"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," said Greg Buppert, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. 

Buppert said the SELC plans to challenge the decision "to brush under the rug compelling evidence that this environmentally destructive pipeline is not needed to meet the energy demands of our region." 

Buppert said the project would "cause harm to national forests and to rivers and streams while threatening to commit our states to fossil fuels for decades to come." 

Still pending is issuance of a 401 water quality certification permit from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

"Today's decision is not the end," Buppert said. "

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."

"We will continue to work with the appropriate agencies to secure the remaining permits and look forward to breaking ground later this year," Good said.