Developers of a disputed natural gas pipeline project across Virginia cleared a major regulatory hurdle recently, as the U.S. Forest Service gave its go-ahead to plans to tunnel through the Blue Ridge Mountains to avoid popular attractions like the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway.What you really mean is that the opponents waged an email campaign with the agency to convince legislators to step in and take it away from them
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, meanwhile, left Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents perplexed by seemingly contradictory statements about the degree of scrutiny state regulators intend to give to nearly 2,000 stream crossings planned along the project’s 600-mile route.
Dominion and three other energy companies are seeking federal and state approval to build a new gas transmission conduit from West Virginia to North Carolina to serve what they say are growing energy needs in the region. The consortium hopes to begin construction later this year. Meanwhile, opponents have weighed in over the past few months with complaints that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff did a poor job of evaluating the potential environmental harm the project could do.
In early April, the Forest Service ended months of deliberation and approved pipeline developers’ plans to bore a tunnel through the Blue Ridge Mountains beneath the scenic parkway and hiking trail. Though more costly than laying pipe near the surface, tunneling averts significant regulatory and public relations issues that would have to be dealt with in trying to clear land to cross those scenic and very popular routes.1,787 opportunities for the anti-pipers to torpedo the project? They had to be licking their chops.
On April 6 — the same day public comment closed on FERC’s draft environmental impact statement — Virginia’s DEQ raised the hopes of pipeline opponents by announcing it would scrutinize water quality impacts on every stream crossing proposed for the Atlantic project as well as another major gas transmission line, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). There are 1,787 water body crossings along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, according to the FERC staff’s draft environmental impact statement.
The very next day, though, the state agency announced its intention to issue a blanket water quality certification for pipelines that are covered by a nationwide permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates disturbance of wetlands and navigable waterways.Is it possible that stream and lake crossings could be categorized into a few groups, and dealt with a bunch at a time?
When asked about the seeming contradiction, DEQ spokesman William Hayden said the state agency “does not have the resources to survey hundreds of stream crossings.” The DEQ would conduct its review under the less-stringent requirements of the Corps, Hayden added, and issue a single water quality certification for each of the two pipelines projects.