North Carolina

Environmental groups want a North Carolina Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit canceled

Two environmental groups are asking the state to revoke a water quality permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an interstate underground natural gas project, because of new information about its impacts.

In their petition, NC Climate Solutions and Friends of the Earth say the pipeline will have major impacts, particularly on Robeson County, that were not disclosed in the pipeline application.

The state Department of Environmental Quality approved plans for the pipeline in January 2018. The 600-mile pipeline would run from West Virginia and into Virginia and North Carolina. Its path takes it through eight North Carolina counties, ending in Robeson County.

Lawsuits have halted construction. Most recently, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a federal permit last month dealing with threatened or endangered species, the Associated Press reported.

The environmental groups said North Carolina has the authority to revoke the pipeline water permit because conditions have changed since the water quality certification was granted, and because the application included incorrect information. The petition said the cumulative effects of the pipeline in Robeson County were not included in the application when the permit was granted.

Nine natural gas projects associated with the pipeline are planned for Robeson County, not two as disclosed in the application, the petition says.

“The ACP is a climate, human rights, and environmental disaster,” said Donna Chavis, a senior fossil fuels campaigner with Friends of the Earth and a member of the Lumbee tribe.

“We don’t always get a chance to have do-overs,” she said at a news conference Tuesday. “This is a major do-over. And it’s a do-over that not only affects an individual or even one regulatory decision,” said Chavis, who lives in Pembroke. “It’s a do-over that affects all North Carolinians, Virginians and West Virginians and the climate in general.”

Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are developing the pipeline.

The ACP has some support in eastern North Carolina from people who say access to natural gas will encourage economic development in a region that sorely needs it.

An ACP representative distributed a June 26 letter from six eastern North Carolina mayors to federal regulators asking that pipeline construction resume as soon as possible.

“Our region desperately needs new infrastructure to attract industries and jobs of the modern economy,” they wrote. “Our current infrastructure is outdated and cannot support manufacturing or other new industries that we need to grow. These industries are passing over our communities and locating in other regions with more reliable infrastructure and access to natural gas.”

Pembroke Mayor Greg Cummings was one of the mayors who signed the letter.

It’s not unusual for supporters of projects with major environmental effects to talk about economic benefits, Ryke Longest, director of the Environmental and Policy Law Clinic at Duke University, said at the news conference.

The ACP will harm the environment and North Carolina taxpayers, he said.

“This is not beneficial to the taxpayers, to the ratepayers, the people of North Carolina or the consumers in any way,” he said. “That means there is no need to have these impacts on natural resources.”

DEQ does not have to respond to the petition.

Ryan Emanuel, a hydrologist and associate professor at N.C. State University, said the pipeline will have disproportionate impacts on American Indians, particularly those residents of Robeson County. Regulators have not addressed the pipeline’s underlying environmental justice impacts, he said.

Emanuel, who is Lumbee, said the pipeline is in the census tract that has one of the largest American Indian populations in the United States and the largest east of the Mississippi River.

“Minorities in general but American Indians in particular are 10 times over-represented along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route than they are in the state of North Carolina,” he said. Along the entire 600-mile route, it’s a seven-times over-representation, he said.

“The exposure of individuals who are already potentially more susceptible to certain health outcomes who do not have access to the levers of power and decision making - because those people are concentrated in the impact area, they’re more susceptible to all the negative outcomes associated with that project,” Emanuel said.