After a divided panel of federal regulators granted approvals Friday evening for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines, local groups are responding to the controversial decision.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's authorization had been widely expected by both supporters and opponents of the pipelines. The certificates granted by the commission came with dozens of conditions, and other necessary permits for both projects are still pending.
The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance issued a statement shortly after the decision Friday night expressing frustration over the approval.
"The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of 52 organizations in Virginia and West Virginia, is appalled at the action tonight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in approving the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline," the statement said. "The Commission's judgment has been made in advance of necessary and required decisions by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the state environmental authorities in the affected states of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina on critical environmental issues. We concur with the thoughtful dissent of Commissioner LeFleur's, who has served on the Commission for 7 years, raising serious questions about the basis of need for both the ACP and he Mountain Valley Pipeline and expressing concerns about environmental impacts that both projects present. The majority decision does not reflect an understanding of the issues at hand and is clearly not in the public interest. It calls into serious question the agency's regulatory credibility," the statement continued.
Both pipelines would start in West Virginia, carrying gas from the Appalachian basin to U.S. markets. Prominent business and political leaders in all three affected states back the projects, saying they will lower energy costs and boost economic development. But opponents, including environmental groups and landowners, say the projects will infringe on property rights, damage pristine areas and commit the region to fossil fuels for decades.
One of the three commissioners, Cheryl LaFleur, dissented. LaFleur, who was appointed by President Barack Obama was outvoted by two President Donald Trump appointed members. She wrote that she couldn't conclude either project was in the public interest, a determination she said was heavily influenced by similarities in their routes, impact and timing.
POWHR: Protect our Water, Heritage and Rights released a statement about the approval. The group is made up of local members opposed to the pipeline.
"The agency has utterly failed to account for the harmful impacts to water resources, private property, local economies and the climate from the proposed pipeline, the groups say. In fact, FERC has yet to competently assess whether the pipeline is even needed," the statement said.
POWHR member and Roanoke County resident Roberta Bondurant said there is still hope for those in opposition.
“This project is far from a done deal. With the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other agency permitting still necessary, we’ve now begun a new phase of our challenge in protecting our waters, farms and businesses, and our future,” Bondurant said.
The group also noted in the their statement that the pipeline would cross streams, wetlands and other water bodies more than 1,000 times in the two states, many of those in extremely steep mountain terrain susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
"The project still requires numerous local, state and federal sign-offs. Importantly, both Virginia DEQ and West Virginia DEP must still certify that the project would not harm or degrade water resources. West Virginia issued its certification earlier this year, but recently asked the court to remand the permit back to the state for further consideration after a challenge brought by Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of several community groups. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is now reviewing tens of thousands of public comments on its draft water quality certificate," the statement said.
Dominion Energy's Vice President Leslie Hartz also released a statement about the approval of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Supply Header Project:
"We are very pleased to receive FERC approval for this vitally important project. This is the most significant milestone yet for a project that will bring jobs, economic growth and cleaner energy to our region. In the coming days we will fully review the Certificate and finalize our plans for complying with its conditions. We will also continue working with the other state and federal agencies to complete the environmental review process and make this critically important project a reality.
All three commissioners acknowledge the need for more natural gas infrastructure to serve consumers in Virginia and North Carolina. In her dissent, Commissioner LaFluer noted that more than 90 percent of the ACP’s capacity is subscribed by public utility customers in the two states. The end use of this gas is well established on the public record and is a matter of urgent public necessity. Our public utility customers are depending on this infrastructure to generate cleaner electricity, heat homes and power local businesses. The project will result in a growing economy, a cleaner environment, and lower energy costs for consumers and businesses across the region.
We commend the FERC staff and commissioners for the diligent and painstaking work they've done over the last three years. We also sincerely thank the landowners and communities whose valuable input has contributed to the project. This has been one of the most thorough and exhaustive environmental reviews ever done for a project of this scope. This unprecedented scrutiny should give assurance to all communities that their voices have been heard and that the project will be built in a way that protects public safety and the environment.
We look forward to getting to work on this project and helping to build a brighter economic and environmental future for our region."
The Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity is available for download on the FERC website.