Ground Truth: Dispatch

Judges Revoke Atlantic Coast Pipeline Permits

Another week, another victory for opponents of pipelines in the Appalachian Mountains.

On Monday, a three-judge panel invalidated two key permits for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline on grounds that they would violate the Endangered Species Act and run afoul of legislation that designated the Blue Ridge Parkway a part of the National Park System.

Late last month, the same court—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit—found that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately consider environmental threats posed by constructing the Mountain Valley Pipeline across a 3.5-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest. On Friday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered a halt to all construction work along the entire 303-mile length of that natural gas pipeline.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas across the Appalachians, from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina.

In its 62-page opinion, the court found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately consider the impacts of the pipeline on five species protected by the Endangered Species Act—the clubshell river mussel, the rusty patched bumble bee, the Madison Cave isopod, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat.

The opinion states that the agency failed to specify an upper limit of how much harm would be permissible to each species as a result of building the pipeline.

Plans call for the pipeline to run directly under the Blue Ridge Parkway. A cleared corridor would be visible from the parkway, including from a scenic overlook. The judges determined that would violate Congress’s direction that the National Park System’s “sole mission is conservation.”

“Indeed, a visual impact study that the (National Park Service) oversaw specifically concluded that the effect of the pipeline ‘would likely be inconsistent with NPS management objectives,’” according to Monday’s opinion.

Officials with Dominion Energy, which is leading a consortium of companies that want to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, expressed optimism after the ruling that additional reviews can be completed quickly and the permits reissued. They said construction on the pipeline would continue on stretches not covered by the now-revoked permits.

Conservationists, however, called on FERC regulators to order a halt to all construction on the pipeline, just as they did on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

In their opinion, the judges suggested construction cannot take place until the permit issue is resolved.

“As noted previously, FERC’s authorization for ACP to begin construction is conditioned on the existence of valid authorizations from both (the Fish and Wildlife Service) and (the National Park Service),” the judges wrote. “Absent such authorizations, ACP, should it continue to proceed with construction, would violate FERC’s certificate of public convenience and necessity.”