Another federal permit struck down? No big deal, Dominion says

Dominion Energy, the lead partner in the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, says Monday’s decision by a federal appeals court stripping its authority to drill under the Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t that big a deal.

The company expects that the National Park Service “will promptly re-issue the permit.”

“Ample evidence to support the requisite finding that the permit is consistent with applicable statutory purposes has previously been provided to the NPS,” Dominion wrote Tuesday in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “Atlantic is confident that the NPS will quickly issue a new permit resolving the court’s concerns. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that the NPS will consider any change in the location of ACP’s crossing under the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

However, opponents of the deeply controversial natural gas pipeline have called on FERC to order a halt to all construction, as it did last week with Mountain Valley Pipeline, a separate project that lost its authority to cross U.S. Forest Service lands, likewise at the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

The same court also revoked a key approval issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was intended to gauge the harm the Atlantic Coast Pipeline posed to threatened and endangered species. The court found it too vague to be enforceable and sent the agency back to the drawing board. Dominion is still proceeding with construction along parts of the route in West Virginia and North Carolina, though it still lacks approvals to begin work in Virginia.

“Should the commission allow Atlantic to proceed with construction, it would risk foreclosing new alternatives required as a result of the additional review by the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service,” the Southern Environmental Law Center wrote in a letter to FERC Monday. “As the commission observed in its letter to MVP, ‘allowing continued construction poses the risk of expending substantial resources and substantially disturbing the environment by constructing facilities that ultimately might have to be relocated or abandoned.'”

The 4th Circuit panel found that the National Park Service acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in approving the project and failed to explain its actions.

“We find this lack of explanation particularly troubling given the evidence in the record indicating that the presence of the pipeline is inconsistent with and in derogation of the purposes of the parkway and the park system,” the decision says.

The judges also made it clear that construction without the two permits it had struck down would violate its FERC authorization.

“FERC’s authorization for ACP to begin construction is conditioned on the existence of valid authorizations from both FWS and NPS. Absent such authorizations, ACP, should it continue to proceed with construction, would violate FERC’s certificate of
public convenience and necessity,” the court wrote.

Dominion’s letter to FERC.

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Robert Zullo
Robert has been winning and losing awards as a reporter and editor for 13 years at weekly and daily newspapers, beginning at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., where he was a staff writer and managing editor. He spent five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He grew up in Miami, Fla., and central New Jersey. A former waiter, armored car guard and appliance deliveryman, he is a graduate of the College of William and Mary.