Monday, December 17, 2018

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Hits a Delay in Virginia

At the recent annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts one of the speakers was Virginia State Senator John Edwards of Roanoke. Senator Edwards wanted to discuss his concerns about the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which many environmentalists and rural Virginians oppose for various reasons. Our group was concerned about stabilizing soils and preventing erosion of the slopes and sedimentation of the rivers after removal of the trees. Last Thursday the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond stopped the project (at least for the moment).

Judge Stephanie D. Thacker of West Virginia writing the opinion for a three judge panel of the 4th circuit court of appeals vacated the permit that the U.S. Forest Service had issued 14 months ago to allow construction of the pipeline. In her opinion Judge Thacker stated that the judges concluded that the Forest Service’s decisions violated the National Forest Management Act and National Environment Policy Act, and that the Forest Service lacked statutory authority pursuant to the Mineral Leasing Act to grant a pipeline right of way across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The court vacated the Special Use Permit and Record of Decision authorizing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be built through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests; an remanded the Forest Service for “further proceeding consistent with (the) opinion.”

Dominion Energy, lead developer of the $7 billion project, immediately released a statement that they would appeal the panel’s ruling to the full 4th Circuit Court. This underground natural gas transmission pipeline will transport natural gas from West Virginia to communities in Virginia and North Carolina. The 600-mile underground Atlantic Coast Pipeline will originate in West Virginia, travel through Virginia with a lateral extending to Chesapeake, VA, and then continue south into eastern North Carolina, ending in Robeson County. Two additional, shorter laterals will connect to two Dominion Energy electric generating facilities in Brunswick and Greensville Counties. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide a consistent supply of natural gas to the power plants in the region as well as other uses, in addition bring natural gas to the coast for export.

The abundance of shale natural gas coming from the Marcellus is expected to keep prices for natural gas relatively low into the foreseeable future and has created a glut in natural gas that can now be exported. In Pennsylvania and Ohio power companies are building new generation gas fired power plants using the Marcelles shale natural gas to replace coal fired plants. In the past several years 9.3 gigawatts of coal generating capacity has been retired while 8.7 gigawatts have been added so far, and currently there is an addition 8.6 gigawatts of natural-gas fired generation under construction. The gas fired generation can serve as swing power, rather than base supply.

Coal plants generate about twice the CO2 per megawatt of power as gas fired generation plants. In addition, coal plants have higher particulate pollution than gas fired electrical power plants. Though electric demand is not growing nationally, the sources of power generation are changing. Though the Clean Power Plan regulation was replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, that gives states more authority to make their own plans for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Virginia has moved forward to reduce CO2 emissions. The U.S. overall, has seen a decline in CO2 emissions from power plants, as growth in renewable energy and abundant and relatively cheap natural gas have changed the makeup of power generation in the U.S.

A lot of people feel very passionately about the pipeline (both for and against). Our association has questions about the route selection and mitigations to negative impacts on soils and waters of the Commonwealth. Stay tuned to see how this goes.

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