LAST JULY, after three years of due diligence that resulted in more than 150,000 pages of regulatory findings and more than 75,000 public comments, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finally released its Final Environmental Statement on Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. FERC approved the natural gas pipeline project, noting that mitigation efforts would reduce any adverse environmental effects along the proposed 600-mile route to “less-than-significant” levels.
FERC’s findings came after Dominion and its consortium partners made more than 300 route adjustments to minimize the $6 billion underground project’s environmental impact—including changing the route to protect endangered salamanders in the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests. Prior to that, pipeline project managers had reviewed more than 6,000 miles of potential routes to minimize disruptions to the commonwealth’s fauna, flora and topography.
Not only FERC, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, current Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia State Water Control Board and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation all signed off on the ACP, which will run from West Virginia through the commonwealth to North Carolina. So did the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
In addition, the ACP project is also paying for an independent contractor selected and managed by FERC staff to monitor the project’s compliance with all state and federal environmental regulations. The inspectors will have authority to halt construction if they spot a potential problem.
After Dominion jumped through all the regulatory hurdles and passed muster before this formidable gauntlet of environmental watchdogs, construction on the underground 42-inch ACP began earlier this year. However, some protesters are still trying to derail the project, as well as the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile natural gas pipeline that will run between West Virginia and southern Virginia, by sitting in trees along the approved routes and threatening to file lawsuits to stop them.
Sen. Tim Kaine has even called for a redundant rehearing by FERC, the same federal energy agency that has already approved both pipeline projects.
The public need for these natural gas pipelines is clear. Virginia ranks 13th in the U.S. for energy consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration, and there is a growing demand for more. Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel that is being used to phase out Dominion’s dirty coal-burning power plants.
According to Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby, the extreme cold snap in January resulted in up to four days of service interruptions for several major industrial operations in Virginia, while the cost of piping additional gas from the Gulf Coast sent customer utility bills soaring. Without more capacity, service interruptions and higher energy bills will become commonplace, a major impediment to economic growth in the commonwealth.
Both pipeline projects spent the past three years complying with a very thorough and exhaustive regulatory approval process, which included ample time for public comment. The implication behind the ongoing protests—that all of the government agencies at both the state and federal level that are responsible for protecting the environment somehow failed to do so this time—is, quite frankly, absurd.
Protesters need to pipe down, get out of the way and let construction of these much-needed pipeline projects proceed.