Atlantic Coast Pipeline Plan Clears Key Regulatory Hurdles

Published March 12, 2018

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) approved a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), moving one of the nation’s largest proposed energy infrastructure projects a step closer toward construction.

West Virginia approved an additional permit on the same day.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are jointly developing the $5.1 billion ACP to transport natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia 600 miles through central Virginia before turning south into North Carolina. The pipeline may be extended into South Carolina at a later date.

NCDEQ approved a Section 401 permit regulating the discharge of material into navigable waters under the federal Clean Water Act for the ACP on January 26. NCDEQ Secretary Michael Regan issued a statement saying the agency’s comprehensive permitting process aims at ensuring the environment is protected.

“DEQ has left no stone unturned in our exhaustive eight-month review of every aspect of the 401 application,” said Regan in a statement. “Our efforts have resulted in a carefully crafted permit that includes increased environmental protections while giving us the tools we need to continue close oversight of this project as we move forward.”

Interstate natural gas pipelines fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The power to issue or reject a Section 401 permit is one of the few things a state can do to block a gas pipeline.

West Virginia Greenlights Project

The same day NCDEQ issued the water permit, officials at West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection approved ACP’s erosion and sediment-control permit.

West Virginia, which lost thousands of jobs in the coal industry during the Obama administration, has long supported the pipeline as a way to boost the state’s economy.

In neighboring Virginia, ACP’s approval process encountered an unexpected delay in December. After approving permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will run roughly parallel to ACP in central Virginia, the state’s Water Control Board required new studies examining ACP’s potential environmental impacts before it would consider approving a Section 401 permit. Those studies are expected to be completed in April.

Early Spring Construction Targeted

In a media statement, Dominion said it expects to receive all remaining permits and hopes to begin construction in the spring.

“Once we receive a few remaining approvals from state and federal agencies, we’ll take the final step of requesting a notice to proceed with full construction from FERC,” the company said. “We expect to receive these remaining approvals in time to begin full construction activity by the early spring.”

Dominion has already begun clearing trees along the pipeline’s projected route. The company says it expects the pipeline to begin operating in 2019.

‘Least Expensive Power’

James Taylor, president of the Spark of Freedom Foundation and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says the pipeline will help ensure delivery of cheap electric power.

“As documented by federal data and the Institute for Energy Research, natural gas is America’s least expensive power source,” Taylor said. “This new pipeline will assure an ample supply of affordable and reliable power to a greater number of electricity consumers.”

In April 2017, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation denied a permit for construction of the Northeast Access Pipeline within the state’s borders, blocking a plan to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to Canada and other locations in the Northeast.

Institute for Energy Research Policy Analyst Jordon McGillis says New York’s decision was shortsighted.

“As the Atlantic Coast Pipeline nears the end of the permitting process, one can’t help but think about the would-be pipelines that have been blocked in New York and New England,” said McGillis. “While the southern states are set to benefit from plentiful Marcellus Shale gas reserves, northeastern states are burdening themselves with high electricity prices and future energy-security crises.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.