Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been halted because “rogue environmental groups” are getting in the way, an energy lobbyist told lawmakers Tuesday.
“It’s on hold because the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a rogue environmental group to contest various permits that we have on the project,” Bob Orndorff, state policy director for Dominion Energy, said to the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development on behalf of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, during a presentation of various facts and figures about natural gas jobs in West Virginia.
The natural gas pipeline being built by Dominion Energy voluntarily halted construction along the project’s 600-mile-long path in December after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement. The next week, a panel vacated the Forest Service’s Special Use Permit and Record of Decision, required to build the project through the George Washington and Monongahela national forests.
In the opinion, Judge Stephanie Thacker, of West Virginia, quoted Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax.”
“We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,’” the opinion says. Chief Judge Roger Gregory and Judge James Wynn, who also heard oral arguments in the case in September, joined.
“It’s the federal agencies who went rogue here. They ignored the law, they ignored warnings from their own experts to approve a destructive and unnecessary pipeline,” said DJ Gerken, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued on behalf of conservation groups in both legal challenges.
The halt has cost thousands of jobs, Orndorff said. Some people can continue to work because the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is required to maintain erosion and sediment control, he said. There’d be even more jobs if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to “button things up,” he said. That would mean at least putting the pipe in the ground, welding it and re-vegetating the land around it.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is one of many pipelines being built in the region to tap into the booming Marcellus Shale formation. Many pipelines have similarly faced legal challenges and environmental violations.
A joint review last year by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica showed that, as pipelines continued to break environmental rules, state and federal agencies continued to clear roadblocks for the projects.
Also on Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Pollution Control Board unanimously approved a compressor station permit needed for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Buckingham Compressor Station.
In West Virginia, Orndorff urged lawmakers to “stand up to these rogue environmental groups” and pass a resolution to condemn them.
But the groups that the SELC represent have members, Gerken argued. One woman named in a lawsuit lives near the Appalachian Trail and takes her Sunday school group to the trail to be outside in nature.
“These groups have members, and that’s who has the right to challenge cases, it’s the people who live nearby,” Gerken said. “These people are committed to these places, and they’re the people who live here. They’re not rogue groups.”