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States, trade groups back Atlantic Coast pipeline at Supreme Court

Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC received the support of several states, a rival pipeline and trade associations in its attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that blocked a 600-mile, 1.5-Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project from crossing the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The pipeline company, a joint venture of Dominion Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co. Gas, would like to reverse a ruling of the U.S. Appeals Court for the 4th Circuit that canceled U.S. Forest Service authorizations that would have allowed the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail and sections of national forest. The appeals court decision was supported by environmental and local groups.

Calling the 4th Circuit ruling "inaccurate," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the company's appeal. Morrisey filed a West Virginia-led friend of the court brief supported by Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. (U.S. Supreme Court dockets 18-1584 and 18587)

"The appeal court's decision has devastating effects for West Virginia," Morrisey said in a Dec. 9 news release. "We ... believe a decision to overturn the prior ruling will end unnecessary delays that have halted pipeline construction, kept heating fuel prices high, negatively impacted struggling working-class families and been detrimental to the services they receive."

The pipeline project, which would run from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina, also received supporting briefs from Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a 2-Bcf/d pipeline in the same region that has encountered its own legal challenges, and from trade associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Forest Resource Council.

Mountain Valley, a joint venture of EQM Midstream Partners LP, WGL Midstream Inc., NextEra Energy Inc., Con Edison Transmission Inc. and RGC Midstream LLC, told the court that a 4th Circuit decision had forced it to stop construction of its project when it was about 90% complete. The company said 264 miles of pipeline, three compressor stations and interconnections with other pipelines are in place, and more than $4.3 billion has been invested in the project.

"Every alternative route potentially available to Mountain Valley also crosses the [Appalachian] Trail," Mountain Valley said. "Thus, as a direct result of the Fourth Circuit's decision, energy consumers have been cut off from a major new source of domestic natural gas and any future prospect of new pipeline infrastructure to serve the Eastern Seaboard has been cast into doubt."

Despite the Supreme Court appeal and other court cases, Dominion Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Farrell said on a November earnings call that he expected the Atlantic Coast developers would complete the pipeline by early 2022 and that project costs should not change from an estimated range of $7.3 billion to $7.8 billion.