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Atlantic Coast pipeline opponents tell North Carolina to revoke water permit

Two environmental groups asked the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to rescind a Clean Water Act certification for the 1.5-Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC natural gas transportation project designed to move Appalachian production to mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets.

NC Climate Solutions Network and Friends of the Earth based the request on what they described as old or inadequate environmental impact information submitted by Atlantic Coast Pipeline and project lead Dominion Energy Inc.

Among other things, the groups told the state agency that the developers failed to communicate the impacts from the Atlantic Coast project and other gas infrastructure projects in the region to water quality, climate and the quality of life in Robeson County, N.C. The groups said the Atlantic Coast project would threaten the safety and health of a vulnerable minority community, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which would be a violation of environmental justice rules established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the fair treatment of all communities.

"These risks fall heaviest in North Carolina on the Lumbee community in Robeson County, with analysis showing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its related projects creating an environmental injustice," the groups said in an Aug. 13 letter. "Facts we have discovered since January of 2018 show significant adverse impact to the largest community of American Indians east of the Mississippi River from the construction and operation of the Atlantic Coast pipeline and projects dependent on it."

The groups also said the project is unnecessary. They said the North Carolina Attorney General's Office provided evidence that energy economics have changed in the state and reduced the need for additional natural gas.

Dominion does not expect the petition to affect the project schedule. It still expected to complete the project by late 2021.

The energy company said the groups' summary of the attorney general's office findings was based on "flawed assumptions" that did not take into account retiring coal-fired power generation facilities being replaced with gas-fired generation. The company said the pipeline project could benefit North Carolina communities through the use of "cleaner-burning natural gas" instead of coal and listed mayors and officials who favor the project.

"The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been the most thoroughly reviewed infrastructure project in the history of our region," Dominion spokesperson Samantha Norris said in an Aug. 14 statement. "We remain committed to bringing this vital resource to the homes, businesses and communities who are being disadvantaged by the lack of access to natural gas."

The Atlantic Coast project has run into permitting and legal challenges since it was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2017 and has faced opposition from conservation groups and landowners. Setbacks, including the loss of a U.S. Forest Service authorization to cross the Appalachian Trail and other lost permits, have delayed construction and increased costs.

The 600-mile pipeline would run from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. The project is a joint venture of Dominion Energy, Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co.