Impact study: Pipeline nears approval, opponents fire back

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its final environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline July 21, and it said the proposed 600-mile, $5.5 billion natural gas pipeline will have a “less than significant” impact on the environment.

“The [final environmental impact statement] paints a terrifying picture of a bleak future,” says Ernie Reed, the president of anti-pipeline group Friends of Nelson.

According to Reed, the ACP will eliminate almost 5,000 acres of interior forest habitat and destroy 200 acres of national forests and nearly 2,000 waterbody crossings along its path from West Virginia to North Carolina. “And all this to give Dominion and Duke Energy enough gas to burn our way into hell,” he adds.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are the major companies backing the ACP.

Also on July 21, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft of the record of decision, which said the ACP “can be implemented with limited adverse impacts,” and, in its final form, will authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System land for the ACP through the George Washington and Monongahela national forests.

Environmentalists allege that the documents fail to depict the pipeline’s true effects, and that some biological evaluations, road analyses and consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are incomplete.

“It is interesting that this decision was made by the regional foresters in offices hundreds of miles away from these forests,” says Reed. “No one who has stepped foot in these forests could ever come to such a delusional conclusion.”

FERC found that the ACP could negatively impact seven endangered species: the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, Roanoke logperch, Madison Cave isopod, clubshell mussel, running buffalo clover and small whorled pogonia.

“It is outrageous that the Forest Service would sign off on a scheme like this with the full knowledge that it will harm endangered species,” says Misty Boos, executive director of environmental group Wild Virginia, which has also been vocal in its opposition to the pipeline.

She says FERC’s final environmental impact statement and the Forest Service’s record of decisions “make it clear that we cannot rely on the federal government to protect our forests and drinking water,” and that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has the authority to reverse the two groups’ decisions.

“All eyes are on the DEQ in the coming weeks,” Boos says. “They must do what the feds have not and choose our safety over private profits.”

Wild Virginia will submit a formal objection to the draft record of decision, and “litigation is certain to follow,” according to a press release.

Dominion continues to assert that its pipeline will be safe for all.

“Over the last three years, we’ve taken unprecedented steps to protect environmental resources and minimize impacts on landowners,” says Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy’s vice president of engineering and construction. She says her team has made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. “In many areas of the project, we’ve adopted some of the most protective construction methods that have ever been used by the industry.”

Construction on the pipeline could begin by the end of the year, according to Dominion.

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