In a rare turn of events, last Wednesday the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied Dominion Energy’s request to extend seasonal tree cutting along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline path (ACP), the proposed 600-mile natural gas line running from West Virginia through North Carolina.
Dominion Energy was originally given until March 14 of this year to cut trees due to time-of-year felling restrictions intended to protect migratory bird species and endangered species such as warblers, owls, and the Indiana bat. FERC determined that “it would not offer an equal or greater level of protection” to extend their allotted time for tree felling, according to the letter sent to Dominion by FERC’s Division of Gas Director, Richard McGuire.
“FERC made the right decision [Wednesday] by holding ACP developers to their promise to protect migratory birds. Tree-cutting restrictions are a critical part of the measures FERC required to minimize the harmful effects of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Greg Buppert said in a statement. “Dominion’s last-minute request to renege on its commitments to environmental protection is another example of the company’s attempt to flex its political muscle for quick rubber-stamp approvals.”
Legal teams and environmental groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, and the Sierra Club have spent the past several years fighting the pipeline construction. Despite these efforts, Dominion predicts the project’s completion by 2020.
“For any large infrastructure project, we have to plan for contingencies,” Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said. “By rearranging some of our construction plans and shifting some work to 2019, we’ll keep the project on track for completion by the end of next year.”
Thus far, Dominion claims to have cut over 200 miles of trees on the projected pipeline path. This rejection to extend tree felling follows another blatant negligence from Dominion, as the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) cited 15 violations of State Water Control laws and regulations that occurred during the felling along the ACP last month.
“It’s just criminal that they get permission to do this… They just dropped the trees,” said David Seriff, a Virginia landowner. “They got permission to cut the trees, but they don’t actually have permission to start the pipeline yet. It’s a horrible scar across the land.”
Dominion’s sister project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), has also met resistance from landowners and environmental groups. Similarly to the ACP, locals fear sediment pollution in waterways, unstable conditions due to a karst landscape, damage to private lands and to local endangered species, among other concerns. Last month, MVP began tree felling in the Brush Mountain Wilderness area in the Jefferson National Forest, land that is normally protected by the Department of the Interior.
The United States Forest Service granted MVP the permit required to build through the national forest, roadless land normally reserved for wildlife and outdoor recreation.
“Normally, the Forest Service is on our side,” said Kirk Bowers, pipelines program coordinator at the Sierra Club. “When Trump came into office, the entire political situation changed and they caved in to pressure from the oil industry and political interests to approve the permits.”
Groups like the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center continue to take legal action against ACP and MVP. Dominion has permission from FERC to continue tree felling in the fall, once the migratory bird species move on for the winter.