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Regulators halt pipeline work until Blue Ridge Parkway right-of-way, wildlife protection resolved

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will carry natural gas through eight N.C. counties when it is completed in 2020, but a federal court ruling could delay construction for months.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will carry natural gas through eight N.C. counties when it is completed in 2020, but a federal court ruling could delay construction for months. .

Federal regulators on Friday night halted all construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline until pending legal issues can be resolved.

The stop-work order follows a ruling by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday revoking a right-of-way permit that the National Park Service had granted the project to cross beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. A three-judge panel ruled that the park service cited inapplicable laws and failed to explain how approval was consistent with its mission.

Judges previously said a U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit didn’t have sufficient wildlife protections, and on Monday, they also elaborated on those shortcomings.

In light of those rulings, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined that the project had not obtained the necessary permits to proceed. FERC, in a letter to Dominion Energy Transmission Inc., said there is no reason to think that the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service won’t be able to satisfy the court’s concerns.

But the commission has no way of knowing for certain what the response will be from the park or wildlife services, nor whether the same route under the parkway will ultimately be approved, according to the letter from the FERC staff. And so the commission stopped all work on the pipeline and gave Dominion five days to submit a new plan for review.

A spokesman for Dominion responded to the order later Friday night in an emailed statement, saying a substantial delay is unlikely.

“We are already working with the key agencies to resolve the issues in FERC’s order so we can resume construction as soon as possible,” Aaron Ruby said. “We are confident these issues can be resolved quickly without causing unnecessary delay to the project.”

Rudy also said the FERC decision gives the utility a chance to show that there is a “public need” to proceed with the pipeline in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia because portions of the project will meet home heating and manufacturing needs.

Dominion is working with the National Park Service to correct errors and omissions and has already provided Fish & Wildlife with additional information, the utility says, and anticipates resolving the matters quickly.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run more than 600 miles, transporting natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, covering close to 12,000 acres.

The Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, argued that the National Park Service didn’t have the authority to issue the parkway right-of-way.

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