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Federal appeals court vacates key approval for Atlantic Coast pipeline

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Federal appeals court vacates key approval for Atlantic Coast pipeline

A federal appeals court vacated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval that allowed developers of the 1.5-Bcf/d Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline project to potentially harm threatened or endangered species along the construction route from Appalachian production regions to markets in North Carolina.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on May 15 determined that the agency failed to clarify limits on the authority, which undermines the enforcement and monitoring of the approval, known as an incidental take statement. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, an incidental take statement is an estimate of actions that could harm a threatened or endangered species as the result of a federal action.

The environmental group that argued the case said the court decision should halt construction on the Dominion Energy Inc.-led project. "The Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers' timelines," said D.J. Gerken, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center's Asheville, N.C., office.

Dominion said the court ruling only covers certain sections of the proposed route for the 600-mile project and expects to continue with construction as scheduled. "We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project," the company said in a May 15 statement. "Although we disagree with the outcome of the court's decision, and are evaluating our options, we are committed to working with the agency to address the concerns raised by the court's order."

The Atlantic Coast project and connected supply header and capacity lease projects would run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, bringing gas supply from Appalachia to mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets. It is a joint venture of Dominion, Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co.'s Southern Co. Gas. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit case 18-1082).