Pipeline scene at Wintergreen

A path has been cleared for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on this Blue Ridge Mountain slope at the entrance to Wintergreen resort, just below the project’s disputed crossing beneath the Appalachian Trail.

Dominion Energy is pushing federal regulators to allow continued work on portions of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia and North Carolina while awaiting new federal permits to resolve concerns the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals raised in a ruling that triggered a stop-work order on the $5.5 billion project.

However, environmental organizations — that prevailed in the federal appeals court on Aug. 6 to overturn two permits for the project — urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the company’s request and require all work to cease on the natural gas pipeline’s 600-mile length through three states.

“Rushing forward with construction now would not only violate federal law, the certificate [to build the project] and the Fourth Circuit’s ... decision, but risk leaving incomplete pipeline infrastructure littered across the landscape in the event the ACP is not constructed at all or as originally proposed,” the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates argued in a letter to FERC on Wednesday.

Federal regulators issued the stop-work order late Friday but invited the Dominion-led pipeline company to identify projects that could move ahead independently on portions of the route not directly affected by the two federal permits vacated in the 4th Circuit order.

The company responded on Monday by proposing to move ahead on portions of the project in Southeast Virginia, as well as North Carolina and West Virginia, that it claims would not depend directly on permits from the National Park Service to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to allow the “incidental taking” of threatened or endangered wildlife species.

Dominion narrowed its request on Wednesday to exclude the pipeline’s route through Virginia, while emphasizing its commitment to constructing the entire project once federal agencies issue permits to satisfy the court’s concerns.

“This is not a substitute for building the entire project, which will provide the full benefit of access to lower-cost Appalachian supplies” of natural gas, spokesman Aaron Ruby said in a written statement.

Ruby repeated the company’s contention since the 4th Circuit ruling that the two federal agencies “can reissue the authorizations quickly and without causing unnecessary delay to the project.”

For environmentalists, the stop-work order means just that — ceasing all work on a project that they contend cannot proceed legally without both federal permits.

They contend that the court’s rejection of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s incidental take statement applies to the entire length of the project, not just the 80 miles in Virginia and 20 miles in West Virginia that Dominion estimates would affect five threatened or endangered species.

The court’s decision to throw out the park service permit for the project to tunnel beneath the national scenic parkway between Augusta and Nelson counties raises some of the same issues that the groups plan to argue before the 4th Circuit next month to challenge a U.S. Forest Service permit that allows the project to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail along the parkway.

Both vacated permits were required as part of FERC’s decision last fall to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the pipeline, the environmental groups said, citing a footnote in the 4th Circuit order that said, “absent such authorizations, ACP, should it continue to proceed with construction, would violate the FERC’s certificate.”

The groups also argued that Dominion’s initial proposal to allow construction on three sections of the pipeline that could act as independent utility projects “would constitute new interstate projects, distinct from the ACP, with different purposes and different potential customers.”

Dominion backed off the Virginia portion of the project it had proposed to build south of Buckingham County, but the company asked the FERC to “promptly allow construction to resume for the independently useful portions of the projects.”

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