alexandrianews.org Staff Report 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has issued a decision in a case brought by Defenders of Wildlife, Virginia Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club and argued by the Southern Environmental Law Center that requires all construction and any activity associated with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline halt immediately. 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. 

Order
PER CURIAM:

Petitioners 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. As to five of the affected species, Petitioners argue that the agency failed to set clear limits on take as required by the Endangered Species Act. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 717r(d)(1), we conclude, for reasons to be more fully explained in a forthcoming opinion, that the limits set by the agency are so indeterminate that they undermine the Incidental Take Statement’s enforcement and monitoring function under the Endangered Species Act. Accordingly, we VACATE the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incidental Take Statement. See 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). We reserve judgment on the parties’ remaining disputes until our forthcoming opinion. 

The proposed 600-mile underground Atlantic Coast Pipeline would begin in West Virginia and end in North Carolina. It would cut through one of the most intact conservation landscapes in the Southeast in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina to move natural gas from the well-fields to Mid-Atlantic and Southeast customers. Its route includes remote sections of the George Washington and Monongahela national forests. Atlantic, a company formed by four major, regionally based energy companies; Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas, would develop, construct and operate ACP.

"Like other agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers’ timelines. We are grateful this decision upholds the protection of endangered species as the law requires.  It's foolish and shortsighted to risk losing rare species for an unnecessary and costly pipeline boondoggle,” said D.J. Gerken, Southern Environmental Law Center Managing Attorney Asheville Office.

Dominion Energy vowed to move forward with the ACP. The company released the following statement in response to the Court's order:  "We remain confident in the project approvals and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled. This decision only impacts activities directly covered by the Incidental Take Statement in certain defined areas along the route. We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project. 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,"

Sierra Club Attorney Nathan Matthews said: “The Sierra Club applauds the court for recognizing that the Fish and Wildlife Service, like other agencies involved in permitting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, failed to impose meaningful limits or adequately scrutinize the project. This fracked gas project has been proven to be perilous to our health, our communities, and wildlife, and now, thanks to tonight’s ruling, must be stopped.”