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Court ruling could impact ACP

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) faces a ruling Tuesday from the The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which could require construction of the pipeline to cease.

The case was brought by Defenders of Wildlife, Virginia Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club, and argued by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), contending that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion failed to set clear limits on threatened or endangered species in its operation, potentially violating a requirement by the Endangered Species Act, a release from the SELC cited.

According to documentation of the case from the SELC, petitioners asked the court to seek review of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incidental Take Statement, which authorized the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project to take certain threatened or endangered species.

To take, according to a definition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” For five of the endangered species included within this authorization, the release cited that “The three judge panel found the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion required to certify the Atlantic Coast Pipeline did not meet minimum legal standards.”

A statement from Dominion Energy, one of four major U.S. energy companies with the ACP, said that the agency will comply with activities related to the Incidental Take Statement, but will go forward in constructing the pipeline.

“We spent more than three years developing the safest and most environmentally responsible route for the pipeline,” the statement noted. “We carefully studied more than 6,000 miles of potential routes before choosing the best 600-mile route with the least impact. After consulting with landowners and performing extensive field surveys, we made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, wildlife habitats, drinking water sources and sensitive geologic features.”

“We are continuing to analyze the order and the effects it will have on the project,” the statement noted about potential effects to the ACP construction. “We can say that the impact of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is on a small portion of the 600 mile route and there will be no impact in North Carolina. Through our project planning, we purposefully avoided areas of endangered species which is why the impact of this ruling is relatively limited.

“While we do not have a specific date of when the revised Incidental Take Statement will be prepared, ACP has conducted extensive survey work for all six species over the past four years and there is a robust record on which to resolve this matter in an expedited manner,” the statement noted. “We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project.”

Lou Zeller, executive director with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Inc., who has placed a petition for a separate case regarding the ACP that was heard Jan. 29 at the Buckingham County Circuit Court, said the rule could potentially have an impact on the ACP development.

“It puts the whole thing on hold,” Zeller said. “Because there is a remedy that needs to be provided under the Endangered Species Act having to do with the (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) — that’s my understanding of the case — they have to go back and do their homework, back to the drawing board.”