The Pulse

Pipeline news: Dominion requests 2-year extension for ACP; feds approve MVP

By: - June 22, 2020 8:00 am
In 2017, hundreds of people turned out in Rocky Mount to comment on the water quality and riparian buffer impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Construction on the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline won’t be complete until 2022, Dominion Energy told federal regulators last week in its request for a two-year extension.

Dominion and Duke Energy, co-owners of the ACP, originally projected construction would be finished in 2019. Multiple legal challenges and permitting issues have added to the delays, as well as the price tag: $8 billion, up 60% from the initial estimate of $5 billion. Most of that cost will be passed on to ratepayers.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could legally grant the time extension if it determines the delays are the result of “good cause.”

Based on its previous decisions, FERC will likely approve the request.

Trees have already been cut in Northampton and Cumberland counties, part of the ACP’s 160-mile route through eastern North Carolina. Many areas along the North Carolina route are communities of color or low-income neighborhoods.

Although the US Supreme Court ruled last week that the pipeline could route beneath a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, the utilities still have to secure eight environmental permits to finish the project.

An overview of the MVP Southgate Project route (Map: MVP Southgate)

FERC also granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate project. This pipeline would run from Pittsylvania County, Va., enter North Carolina near Eden in Rockingham County and travel 46 miles southeast, ending in Haw River, in Alamance County.

It is the southern extension of the main MVP, which routes through West Virginia and Virginia. The project has amassed roughly 300 environmental violations in Virginia, where state regulators there have placed a temporary stop-work order on the project.

The pipeline is owned by a consortium of energy companies and investors, including EQM Midstream and Next Era Energy.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has sent two letters to FERC expressing their skepticism that the natural gas is needed.

The 2019 letter states that “the Department remains unconvinced that the project satisfies the criteria for the Commission to deem it in the public interest, and whether it is essential to ensure future growth and prosperity for North Carolinians.”

Environmental advocates immediately condemned FERC’s decision. “The Mountain Valley main pipeline has violated water quality standards more than 300 times in Virginia and West Virginia. Yet, this same company plans to extend into North Carolina and bring its reckless construction practices to bear on the communities of these three counties for an entirely unneeded project,” said Ridge Graham, North Carolina field coordinator for Appalachian Voices.

The FERC certificate allows the developer, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, to begin using eminent domain to seize private property for construction along the proposed route, even as the pipeline’s viability remains in question

DEQ has yet to issue several permits for MVP Southgate, including a key water quality permit. Also known as a 401, this permit is required if a project could discharge contaminants into a waterway. MVP Southgate will cross major water bodies, including Stoney Creek Reservoir, a major drinking water supply for the City of Burlington; the Dan River and tributaries to the Haw River, 80 times.

DEQ rejected MVP Southgate’s 401 application a year ago because it was incomplete.

However, DEQ has less authority over the 401 process than it used to, because of environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration.

On June 1, President Trump signed an executive order to fast-track energy projects like natural gas pipelines, undoing key components of a 50-year-old environmental law.

States can no longer consider any factors except water quality in acting on a 401 permit. For example, if DEQ found that the MVP Southgate project would draw down aquifers or reservoirs serving as a drinking water supply, that’s a water quantity issue, and could not be considered.

Nor can states cite climate change as a reason to deny a 401 permit.

States now have one year to act on a 401 permit request and the “clock does not stop.” Previously, when state regulators sent back a permit application, like DEQ did last year with MVP Southgate, the timetable for acting on the project paused. Now there is no pause.

If DEQ does not act on the permit within a year, the EPA can step in and approve it. The EPA can also override a state agency’s denial of a permit if the EPA disagrees with how it reached the decision.

States can’t reopen or modify a 401 permit, even if new circumstances or relevant information becomes available.

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.