Supreme Court ruling clears hurdle for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

atlantic coast pipelineThe United States Supreme Court has reversed a lower-court ruling that had blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the U.S. Forest Service does have the authority to grant a special-use permit to allow for construction of an underground segment beneath a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The Supreme Court ruling is an important, though perhaps not determinative development in the ongoing effort to build an $8 billion pipeline that would transport natural gas along a 600-mile path from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina.

The project was first announced in 2014, but has faced multiple delays over the past six years.

“Today’s decision is an affirmation for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and communities across our region that are depending on it for jobs, economic growth and clean energy. We look forward to resolving the remaining project permits,” Atlantic Coast Pipeline spokesperson Ann Nallo said today.

About those remaining project permits: yeah, they are numerous.

The key permit, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is under review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and arguments are expected later this year. The case will determine if FERC correctly determined that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was needed to fuel gas-fired power plants when it approved the project in 2017.

“While today’s decision was not what we hoped for, it addresses only one of the many problems faced by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This is not a viable project,” said D.J. Gerken, Southern Environmental Law Center Program Director. “It is still missing many required authorizations, including the Forest Service permit at issue in today’s case, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon consider the mounting evidence that we never needed this pipeline to supply power.

“It’s time for these developers to move on and reinvest the billions of dollars planned for this boondoggle into the renewable energy that Virginia and North Carolina customers want and deserve,” Gerken said.

Renewable energy certainly is the future in Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam in April signed into law the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which requires the closure of all existing gas-fired plants in the Commonwealth by 2045.

Ahead of the new law, Dominion Virginia Energy, which is partnering with Duke Energy on the pipeline project, asked regulators to waive a requirement that its Integrated Resource Plan include an assessment of risk and impact of new natural gas plants on the grounds “significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable,” citing directives from the Clean Economy Act.

But in the here and now, natural gas currently accounts for 42 percent of the energy produced by Dominion in Virginia, the largest share from a single energy source.

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is needed now more than ever for our region’s economy and our path to clean energy,” Nallo said. “Communities across Hampton Roads, Virginia and eastern North Carolina are experiencing chronic shortages of natural gas. They urgently need new infrastructure to support military bases, manufacturing and home heating. The ACP will also support our region’s transition from coal and the rapid expansion of renewables, both of which are essential to Dominion Energy’s and Duke Energy’s plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Story by Chris Graham


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