US Forest Service Allowing Atlantic Coast Pipeline ConstructionPosted: Updated:
The federal government will allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to run through national forests in Virginia and West Virginia.
The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced its decision Friday, November 17.
Twenty-one miles of the pipeline route will cross national forest system lands in the George Washington and Monongahela national forests.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC expects tree removal to start later in the month.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) responded soon after in a statement that strongly opposes the USDA Forest Service's decision. The center plans to challenge both forest service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the project.
The U.S. Forest Service said construction of the natural gas pipeline is expected to start by April 2018. The SELC said the pipeline still needs state approvals before work can begin elsewhere.
11/17/2017 Release from the USDA Forest Service:
(November 17, 2017) Roanoke, Va - Today the U.S.D.A Forest Service issued a final record of decision (ROD) to authorize the use of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project (ACP Project), and approve project-specific amendments for the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) and George Washington National Forest (GWNF) Forest Plans.
The pipeline route traverses 604 miles to deliver natural gas from the Appalachian Basin to markets in the mid-Atlantic region of Virginia and North Carolina. The decision, jointly issued by the Forest Service’s Eastern and Southern Regional Foresters, authorizes Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) to construct and operate 21 miles of the pipeline route that will cross National Forest System lands.
“Our decision supports Forest Service efforts to provide for multiple uses, minimize impacts to natural resources, and to implement federal policies that encourage energy infrastructure, jobs, and economic growth,” said Acting Southern Regional Forester Ken Arney.
On October 13, 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Need (Certificate) approving the ACP Project route, subject to the conditions outlined in the Certificate. The Certificate, in conjunction with the Forest Service’s final ROD, are needed to allow construction of the pipeline on National Forest System lands to proceed. To implement the ROD, the Forest Service has issued the required Special Use Permit (SUP) for the Project.
Upon Atlantic’s acceptance of the terms of the SUP and confirmation that all necessary federal and State authorizations are in place, the Forest Service will allow Atlantic to proceed with the Project. Atlantic estimates tree removal will begin in November 2017, with pipeline construction to begin by April 2018. The pipeline will begin transporting natural gas by the fourth quarter of 2019.
FERC was the lead federal agency in preparing the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project and is responsible for certificating the ACP Project. FERC issued a final EIS for the ACP Project on July 21, 2017. FERC’s EIS details the potential impacts of the entire 604-mile-long route, including the portion that cross 5.1 miles of the MNF in West Virginia, and 15.9 miles of the GWNF in Virginia. The ACP Project will impact approximately 430 acres of National Forest System lands during construction, and after restoration the land in use for the pipeline will be reduced to about 214 acres for long term operation. The final restored pipeline corridor will be 50-foot-wide.
More information on the Forest Service record of decision can be viewed at www.fs.usda.gov/gwj/. The final ACP EIS is located at www.ferc.gov.
11/17/2017 Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center:
Charlottesville, Va. – The Southern Environmental Law Center strongly opposes today’s U.S. Forest Service decision to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project (ACP), a natural gas pipeline slated to cut through 600-miles of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, including lands in the Appalachian Mountains and the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests.
“For the last two years, the Forest Service has been clear that ACP developers did not provide the agency with enough information to make a decision on this project. Serious questions remain about whether or not the pipeline can be built safely through the steep, unforgiving terrain of the Appalachians, but the agency abruptly changed course and approved the project,” said SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “The Forest Service now joins the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in approving a project that isn’t needed and that is designed to enrich developers at the expense of landowners, utility customers, and natural resources. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will strip people of their private property, raise their energy bills, and put thousands of waterways and forests in harm’s way – for the sole benefit of utility companies.”
After the U.S. Forest Service repeatedly requested additional information on the project from the developers and stated it did not have enough information to make a decision on this project, the agency approved it despite its many unanswered requests.
This decision is another step in the federal approval process, but states must still give their approval before this project can move forward. In addition to federal approval, developers Dominion Energy and Duke Energy must secure project approval from state regulators, as well as condemn hundreds of parcels of private property to construct the pipeline. Landowners have reported aggressive pressure from Dominion to agree to easements before their property is seized through eminent domain, even as they raise concerns about the risks like pipeline explosions on their lands and families.
The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, of which SELC is a founding member, has helped to lead the charge for greater scrutiny of the pipeline proposal since it was first announced in 2014. SELC and others continue to raise questions about the stated demand driving the project, as studies from the federal government and local electric grid monitoring groups show flat or decreasing demand for electricity.
In addition to challenging the Forest Service permit approval, SELC is also challenging FERC’s approval of the project. SELC maintains that the FERC approval process is flawed and does not consider important factors like developers’ inflated projections for natural gas or the actual market demand for new pipelines. In an uncommon move, one of the three FERC commissioners issued a dissenting opinion on the decision, citing that it is within FERC’s purview to look beyond agreements put forth by the developers involved in this project to establish proof of need for the pipeline.
Under the current pipeline approval process, the developers are guaranteed an unusually high 15 percent rate of return on the project, making the Atlantic Coast Pipeline lucrative for shareholders, regardless of whether the public benefits materialize. Recent testimony at the Virginia State Corporation Commission confirmed that $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion in costs will be passed on to Dominion utility customers, whether or not the pipeline is used to run power plants.
SELC represents Shenandoah Valley Network, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, and Cowpasture River Preservation Association.
11/17/2017 Release from Dominion Energy:
The following is a statement by Dominion Energy spokesperson Aaron Ruby regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s issuance of a Record of Decision approving the Atlantic Coast Pipeline:
Today the Atlantic Coast Pipeline received another key regulatory approval from the U.S. Forest Service, which moves the project another major step toward final approval later this year.
After more than three years of exhaustive study, the Forest Service has issued a favorable Record of Decision authorizing construction, operation and maintenance of the ACP on Forest Service lands, as well as amendments to the Forest Service’s Land Resource Management Plans. The agency concluded that the project will be built with minimal impacts to the national forests, wildlife, water quality and other environmental resources under the agency’s care.
The agency’s favorable decision was reached after more than three years of careful study, meaningful engagement with the public and other agencies, and extensive field surveys by expert wildlife biologists. Through close consultation with the agency, the project has made numerous adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in the national forests, including sensitive wildlife habitats. Total mileage in the national forests was also reduced by more than one-third.
We’ve always strived to balance the energy needs of consumers and the economy with responsible environmental stewardship. The Forest Service’s approval shows that through collaboration with agencies and the scientific community, we can responsibly develop infrastructure in a way that preserves the environment and protects our natural resources.
We commend the agency’s staff for the years of hard work and careful study they’ve dedicated to reviewing the project. We also appreciate the thoughtful and constructive input provided by other agencies and members of the public. This has been a truly collaborative process, and it’s resulted in important protections for the environment.
The Forest Service will implement its approval by issuing separate Special Use Permits for construction and operation of the pipeline.
The Record of Decision is available on the U.S. Forest Service website.