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Environmentalists Decry Preliminary Approval of Pipeline

Courtesy of Nancy Sorrells

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is undergoing regulatory review.  Anti-pipeline and environmental groups are not satisfied with a recent report -- called a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS -- from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, (FERC). WMRA’s Jessie Knadler reports.

On December 30, FERC finally released a long awaited draft – meaning, it’s not the final version – that details potential environmental impacts of the 600 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The conclusion?  The pipeline would have “temporary and permanent…adverse effects” on the environment. But those effects can be “reduced to less-than significant levels” if the pipeline builders take certain steps and follow recommendations from federal regulators.

And that analysis doesn’t cut it for environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices. Nancy Sorrells is co-chair of the Augusta County Alliance.

NANCY SORRELLS:  They’re in the business of rubber-stamping pipeline projects and we’ve got to make sure that trend stops.

The draft acknowledges several major environmental concerns: The pipeline could induce sinkholes. It could alter springs. It could impact the flow and quality of groundwater. It could increase the likelihood of landslides over steep terrain.

LARA MACK:  I feel like in this DEIS in particular, they’re just saying, ‘Well, we trust that the project builders are going to take the proper precautions and do the proper mitigation.’ And that’s where they leave it.

Lara Mack is an organizer for Appalachian Voices.

MACK: Whereas what FERC should be doing is articulating what mitigations are absolutely necessary and whether the pipeline is even worth it, considering how extremely it’s going to impact the environment and communities, and it just doesn’t articulate that.

And that, for environmentalist groups, is the primary flaw with the draft – it doesn’t address the need for the pipeline in the first place.

SORRELLS:  It’s kind of a cart before the horse kind of thing. You don’t build a project then create a need. FERC’s policy of not looking at need first and not looking at it in-depth has created an overbuilding of pipelines throughout the whole country and we’re just the poster child for that.  

Aaron Ruby of Dominion says the company has already demonstrated need very clearly.

AARON RUBY: We have already secured 20-year contracts with five major public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina that serve millions of customers in the region. By signing those contracts those utilities have indicated that there is a need for this infrastructure in order to be able to provide affordable, reliable electricity, home heating and power for local businesses and industries.

He points out that Dominion has already made more than 300 route adjustments and 250 miles of rerouting to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and parts of personal properties.

RUBY:  Our employees, our contractors, the folks that are going to build and operate this pipeline live in these communities. And so when we say that we’re going to build this pipeline in a safe and environmentally responsible way, that’s a personal commitment. And I can tell you without hesitation that the safety measures and the technologies we’re putting in place for this pipeline are some of the most protective that have ever been used on a project like this, bar none, and in many cases, we have gone well above and beyond regulatory requirements in order to protect public safety, in order to minimize the environmental impacts of the project.

The draft took two years to put together and drew on extensive research submitted by the pipeline builders, as well as more than 35,000 public comments from landowners and other stakeholders.

FERC wouldn’t comment on details of the draft, but a spokeswoman said the final draft, due at the end of June, will address need. If approved, Dominion plans to begin construction of the $5 billion pipeline this fall.

The draft statement is open for public comment until April 6.

Jessie Knadler is the editor and co-founder of Shen Valley Magazine, a quarterly print publication that highlights the entrepreneurial energy of the Shenandoah Valley. She has been reporting off and on for WMRA, and occasionally for National Public Radio, since 2015. Her articles and reporting have appeared everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to Real Simple to The Daily Beast. She is the author of two books, including Rurally Screwed (Berkley), inspired by her popular personal blog of the same name, which she wrote for six years. In her spare time, she teaches Pilates reformer, and is the owner of the equipment-based Pilates studio Speakeasy Pilates in Lexington. She is mom to two incredible daughters, June and Katie. IG: @shenvalleymag