On Jan. 21, the United States Forest Service formally denied the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s (ACP) application for a Special Use Permit. The denial is likely to seriously delay the project. The ACP must provide a new route or system alternatives before it can proceed.
As planned, the ACP would run over 550 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. It would be larger in diameter than the Keystone XL. Approximately 40-50 miles of the ACP would cut through the Washington and Monongahela National Forests. The pipeline would cut large and permanent clearcut throughout the entire length of the pipeline, causing dramatic forest fragmentation through some of the most high-quality forest habitat in our region.
Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, stated, “We’re thrilled the Forest Service followed through on its duty to protect the forests. Dominion’s arrogance in trying to force its project into an entirely inappropriate area is shocking.”
The Forest Service’s basis for denying the special use permit is the proposed route’s likely impacts on the Cow Knob and Cheat Mountain Salamanders and the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel. The Forest Service’s regulations and the relevant Forest Plans prohibit the agency from authorizing any activities that would harm those rare and endangered species. It rejected ACP’s contention that using a technique called horizontal directional drilling to go under Shenandoah Mountain would avoid these impacts.
“This project has been fast-tracked from the beginning with no regard for the treasure trove of natural resources in its path, as today’s decision by the Forest Service clearly shows, nor the extent of the impact on communities and property owners,” said Hannah Wiegard, Virginia campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices. She noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which must issue a permit for the project, had sent ACP a 30-page notification last month detailing scores of deficiencies in the company’s permit application.
This denial also sets the tone for the Forest Service’s forthcoming response to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a similarly sized pipeline routed through West Virginia and Virginia. The MVP is proposed to cut across the Jefferson National Forest, land managed by the same branch of the Forest Service that issued today’s route denial. The MVP proposal threatens many of the same devastating impacts on prime forest habitat. The Forest Service is expected to comment on the MVP proposal in the coming months.
Several conservation groups oppose these proposed pipelines not only because of the direct forest impacts, but also for the role they would play in delaying renewable energy development.
Kate Asquith, program director for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, explained, “Billions of dollars of new natural gas infrastructure is proposed for our region. Dominion’s ill-conceived plan to sink that massive investment in gas would lock us into continued reliance on dirty, climate-altering fossil fuels for decades. Every dollar invested in this outdated and destructive infrastructure could be invested in clean, renewable energy instead.”
“This would not have happened but for the constant work of citizen groups and coalitions forcing the Forest Service to conduct more stringent reviews of these proposed routes,” said Elise Keaton with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association. She concluded, “This decision is positive in that it reflects the Forest Service’s willingness to protect the ecology within the National Forest which many residents of West Virginia and Virginia have worked hard to preserve. However, re-routing the proposed pipeline through another area does not necessarily mean that these same species won’t be impacted.”
“As more details emerge about the devastating impacts the pipeline will have on our health and natural heritage, and on the world’s climate, the pressure will only grow for other agencies to follow the Forest Service’s lead and put the public interest ahead of Dominion’s profits,” stated Anne Havemann, general counsel, Chesapeake Climate Action Network.