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Court upholds Virginia-issued water permit for Atlantic Coast pipeline

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Court upholds Virginia-issued water permit for Atlantic Coast pipeline

A federal appeals court turned down an environmentalist challenge to a Clean Water Act permit issued by Virginia for the 1.5-Bcf/d Atlantic Coast pipeline project, which has faced a number of lawsuits over federal and state permits.

In a Jan. 14 opinion and order, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 4th Circuit declined to review a Clean Water Act permit issued by the Virginia State Water Control Board and supported by the state's Department of Environmental Quality. A coalition of environmental groups that included Appalachian Voices, the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network had challenged the permit as part of a multipronged effort to stop the project.

The 4th Circuit found that the two agencies had properly issued the permit, including relying on a Department of Environmental Quality's assessment of the environmental impacts of the Dominion Energy Inc.-led pipeline project.

"The state agencies more than satisfied their obligations by reviewing upland activities as well as stream and wetland crossings," the court said. "The board's decisions are not rendered arbitrary and capricious because it did not conduct an independent review of the cumulative effects on water quality within individual watersheds, even if this was petitioners' preference."

The court observed that the Atlantic Coast pipeline project has had to acquire many authorizations, including Natural Gas Act authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Clean Water Act Section 401 certification by Virginia. In November 2017, the Department of Environmental Quality recommended that the board approve a Clean Water Act Section 401 upland certification, which is separate from a wetlands and streams certification. In December 2017, the State Water Control Board issued the certification with conditions. The board said it was satisfied that construction of the pipeline would not degrade state water resources.

The 600-mile Atlantic Coast pipeline would run from West Virginia to pipeline interconnects and customers in Virginia and North Carolina. Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a joint venture of Dominion, Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co.

The project would make 890 water body crossings in Virginia, and its route would touch 74 migratory fish spawning waters or tributaries, according to the court opinion. Access roads would intersect 89 Virginia rivers and streams and would require clearing thousands of acres in the state. (U.S. Appeals Court for the 4th Circuit docket 18-1077, et al.)