LUMBERTON — Thousands of people in three states had a less-than-merry Christmas because of opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to a spokesman for Dominion Energy, one of the partners in the project.
“Because of opposition delay tactics in the courts, we’ve had to lay off or delay hiring more than 4,500 construction workers across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina,” Aaron Ruby said.
Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are partners in the construction of the $5 billion, 605-mile pipeline that is expected to carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina to a point near Pembroke.
Thousands of working families spent the holiday season without a paycheck and steady work, Ruby said.
“These are the hardworking Americans who build our homes, our roads and highways, our cities and our infrastructure,” he said. “They are some of the finest, hardest working Americans I know, and we’re doing everything we can to get them back to work as soon as possible.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, located in Richmond, Va., issued three rulings against the pipeline in 2018.
On Dec. 13, judges vacated permits from the U.S. Forest Service that allowed the pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail. The judges found that Forest Service staffers had raised serious questions about the permits but then made a sharp, unexplained turnaround and approved them. The judges called the decision “mysterious.”
In August, the same court tossed out a permit issued by the National Park Service for the ACP to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Appeals Court judges found that the Park Service didn’t explain how the pipeline crossing is not inconsistent with the purposes of the Parkway and the overall National Park System. The judges said the permit was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The permit was reissued and then challenged by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The judges suspended it, pending further review.
In May, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals judges rejected a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intended to regulate the pipeline’s impact on endangered species. They ruled the federal agency failed to set required limits on how much the pipeline could harm five types of creatures.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reissued the permits shortly after the ruling, but the Southern Environmental Law Center challenged the new permits as flawed. The judges issued a stay of the new permits until they could be reviewed. That action is pending.
The pipeline’s builders have suspended work after the Dec. 13 ruling, Ruby said.
“Before we suspended work, full construction was underway across 300 miles of the project, including Robeson County,” Ruby said. “We believe the stay is unwarranted and overly broad, so we’ve filed an emergency motion asking the court to reconsider. The issues in the case only involve four species and roughly 100 miles, so there is no basis for the court to stay the entire permit covering all 600 miles of the project.”
The builders plan to have the ACP completed by the middle of 2020, he said. But a completion time will become more clear after the court responds to the emergency motion.
“Ultimately, we’re confident we’ll prevail in the courts and complete the project for the good of our economy and the environment,” Ruby said. “Opposition delay tactics won’t stop the project. They’ll just delay needed infrastructure, which harms consumers, damages the economy and makes it harder to move to cleaner energy.”
Public utility companies need new infrastructure to properly serve the public, he said. Existing pipelines in the region are stretched too thin.
“During the winter, utilities have to shut off service to major industries, and consumer energy prices skyrocket,” Ruby said. “That’s going to keep happening every winter until we build new infrastructure.”
Read the full article and more in The Robesonian.