- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Tuesday issued a ruling that blocks Dominion Energy from constructing its Atlantic Coast Pipeline in at least some areas covered by the Endangered Species Act, after concluding federal regulators did not set proper limits on harm to endangered or threatened species.
- Project opponents immediately cheered the decision and said the project was "stopped in its tracks." Dominion said it was reviewing its options but did not expect the decision to impact its construction schedule.
- Dominion owns the largest share of the pipeline and is leading its development, along with Duke Energy and Southern Co. The pipeline would move gas through parts of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has faced multiple challenges on the road to construction as have other proposed natural gas pipelines. As pressure increases to limit new gas-fired generating capacity, activists question the need for additional pipeline capacity.
In this latest development, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set inadequate limits to protect threatened or endangered species from the pipeline project. The court also ruled that the limits undermined parts of the Endangered Species Act.
It is unclear what will happen next. Dominion said the decision only impacts certain activities in defined areas of the route, and they "will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled."
Dominion said it will "fully comply as required." The company also said it is evaluating its options and remains "committed to working with the agency to address the concerns raised by the court's order."
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that yesterday the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told pipeline developers to halt construction in any areas covered by the Endangered Species Act, until more clarification is received from the court. Dominion must now identify those areas
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the Fish and Wildlife Service is "looking at the court’s decision and reviewing next steps." Those include appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court or requesting en banc review by the Fourth Circuit.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) argued the case on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Virginia Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club. The group says that project construction should be halted entirely, as there are other permits now in jeopardy.
"Like other agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers’ timelines," SELC Managing Attorney DJ Gerken said in a statement.
The Atlantic Coast pipeline is planned to run 600 miles, stretching from West Virginia into North Carolina, and includes three planned compressor stations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently approved Dominion's proposal to begin construction in parts of West Virginia. The company has requested similar authorization in North Carolina.