Pipeline progress thwarted


Staff Writer

Friday, March 1, 2019

Momentum for the once juggernaut-like Atlantic Coast Pipeline through Nash County appears to be grinding to a halt this week after another crushing court ruling.

The now-struggling pipeline would carry natural gas from a fracking site in West Virginia to North Carolina.

Dominion Energy remains confident in the full completion of the pipeline along the entire 600-mile route, said Karl Neddenien, Dominion Energy's media relations manager.

There are huge hurdles ahead. The Fourth Circuit Court declined this week to reconsider its December ruling that the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to authorize the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from crossing the Appalachian Trail. The court also ruled the Forest Service approval fell short of federal requirements because the agency didn't look at environmental impacts of the project from risks of landslide and erosion.

Dominion was prepared for the ruling and is undaunted by it. The project cost and timing guidance provided by Dominion Energy fully contemplated the possibility of an unsuccessful appeals request, Neddenien said.

Nash County farmer Marvin Winstead also appears to have won his legal fight against the pipeline crossing his property. Winstead said the setbacks are good news to pipeline opponents and sends the pipeline back to the drawing board.

“Here in Nash County it will threaten our communities, our clean water and hundreds of acres of privately owned land,” Winstead said.

DJ Gerken, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the Fourth Circuit’s decision, now final, confirms that the pipeline has to play by the same rules as everybody else.

“The Forest Service has never approved a new pipeline across the Appalachian Trail — but under intense political pressure, it did for Atlantic while ignoring routes that would avoid the forest,” Gerken said. “Atlantic could reroute, but instead it should scrap this boondoggle and stop running up a bill it wants to stick to customers.”

Winstead said the the ACP companies have waged advertising campaigns of economic benefits for the region but haven't substantiated the clams with statistical facts.

“They have not told the public, the ratepayers. about their guaranteed 14.7 percent rate of return on investment from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Winstead said. “Renewable energy sources and battery storage can now meet the needs of our grid systems — the companies don't want to acknowledge this, but it is correct. They want that 14.7 percent RORI. Clean renewable energy sources can do the job now, natural gas is not needed as a bridge fuel. Clean renewable energy sources provide more jobs and economic benefits, the analytical, statistical research reports have been published recently that prove it.”

Dominion Energy, which owns 48 percent of the pipeline, expects an appeal to be filed to the U.S. Supreme Court within the next 90 days.

“If they win, it will be good for their corporate coffers — and the rest of us will lose,” Winstead said.

Neddenien said Dominion is seeing the project through to completion.

“We are confident that the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture have the authority to resolve the Appalachian Trail crossing issue administratively in a manner that satisfies the court’s stated objection and in a timeframe consistent with a restart of at least partial construction during the third quarter,” Neddenien said. “We will continue to work to resolve the outstanding biological opinion issue as well as the Appalachian Trail issue and continue to believe, as a result, that at least partial construction will recommence in the third quarter of 2019.

Among its recent woes the pipeline project has been downgraded as an investment. Moody’s Investors Service recently changed its rating of the pipeline project to credit negative due to the project's latest increases in costs and delays in construction.