Conservationists Claim Victory in Fight Against Atlantic Coast Pipeline

This Feb. 8, 2018, photo shows a sign along a highway to protest the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Deerfield, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(CN) — Environmentalists on Monday celebrated two energy giants’ weekend cancellation of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, saying it would have threatened Appalachian waterways and communities for hundreds of miles.

Citing “legal uncertainty,” Dominion Energy and Duke Energy halted the development of the widely contested pipeline that was to stretch 600 miles between West Virginia and North Carolina to transfer natural gas throughout the region and on to ports for further sale.

“After six years of pushing a poorly conceived and unjust gas pipeline project on the people of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, Dominion and Duke finally threw in the towel. This victory is a testament to the hard work and determination of communities and organizations across the three states who fought their states’ most powerful entities from day one,” Lorne Stockman, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, said in a statement Monday in response to the decision.

The group and other environmental organizations claim several federal permits for the pipeline construction, many of which were overturned in court, were illegally granted. Due to legal challenges over the permits, construction on the natural gas pipeline had been suspended since 2018. 

“The truth is that fossil fuel companies have worked with federal agencies to permit dozens of projects across the U.S. by ignoring and circumventing laws that protect communities and natural resources and placing corporate profits above all else,” Stockman added.

Stockman claims the pipeline was conceived to funnel utility customer money to the companies’ shareholders, though proponents hoped it would create jobs and provide a reliable source of energy. 

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, meanwhile, blamed environmental activists for killing a project that would have provided “an affordable, abundant, and reliable natural gas supply from the Appalachian region.”

“The Trump administration wants to bring the benefits of reliable and affordable energy of all kinds to all Americans. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the activists who killed this project.” Brouillette said in a statement Sunday. 

He said Dominion and Duke were forced to call off construction of the pipeline “due to the costly legal battles they would continue to face.”

Since the initial announcement of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2014, the project has faced numerous legal challenges from conservation groups and delays in the state and federal permitting process. 

Despite a 7-2 victory in the Supreme Court last month that affirmed decisions made by permitting agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and essentially gave the pipeline the go-ahead, the series of litigation the energy companies faced along the way made the project increasingly more costly than first anticipated.

“We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Dominion Energy Chairman Thomas Farrell said in a statement Sunday. “This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States. Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council and others joined Oil Change International in celebrating the pipeline’s cancellation Monday. Many environmental advocates were concerned that construction would have required significant tree removal and the leveling of some mountain ridgetops.

NRDC attorney Gillian Giannetti said the pipeline would have threatened the health of waterways and communities in its 600-mile path.

Residents in one of these communities, the historically black town of Union Hill, Virginia, fought the proposal to build a nearby gas compressor station as part of the pipeline’s infrastructure. 

“Its cancellation marks a victory for Virginians in Union Hill whose concerns about a proposed gas compressor station were repeatedly ignored,” Giannetti said in a statement, “and for tribal communities in North Carolina who were similarly rebuffed by state and federal agencies.”

The project was highly criticized from the start, in part because the pipeline was expected to slice under a section of the Appalachian Trail and, according to environmentalists, could have disrupted critical spawning and nursery habitats for endangered fish in the Southeast.  

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was an anvil that would have stymied investment in renewable energy for decades, harmed vulnerable communities, and crushed mountainsides,” said Greg Buppert, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “But now this risky and unnecessary project is on the scrap heap where it belongs, and the decks are cleared.”

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