Recent court rulings provide hope as federal regulators contort logic to cut corners, abuse low-income and communities of color, and ignore climate impacts
A broad alliance of local and state public interest groups today began the appeal process of a hotly contested natural gas pipeline, saying federal regulators cut corners, ignored environmental injustice and climate destruction, and usurped state authority in approving construction. The groups* called for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s federal approval to be suspended until the courts consider the case and three North Carolina state agencies rule on broad areas of information that are either missing or which disqualify the project outright.
The challenge, led by NC WARN attorney John Runkle, charges that the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) made a mockery of legal requirements by allowing the $6 billion pipeline’s developers, Duke Energy and Dominion Resources, to supplement their application 18 times – with thousands of pages of technical documents on critical issues – even after the public comment period ended, and despite repeated protests by NC WARN and others.
The utilities even added five more batches of new data after FERC completed its environmental review. It’s clear based on this timeline that FERC didn’t carefully assess the massive flow of complex data. This is a straight-up flaunting of federal law, which requires that interested parties be able to provide meaningful input on the environmental risks and costs reflected in a completed application that has been fully reviewed by FERC staff – not the spotty application Duke and Dominion kept changing.
Moreover, FERC cut corners on assessing the fundamental need for the pipeline, environmental justice considerations, impacts on climate, the likely expansion of fracking due to the pipeline, the cumulative health impacts, and eminent domain implications.
FERC is also trying to preempt state authority after NC Governor Roy Cooper has stood up against the federal corner-cutting, with two state agencies citing broad gaps in required information regarding
ACP impacts on the state’s waterways.
In dodging careful assessment of the climate impacts of super heat-trapping methane that would be routinely vented from pipeline equipment as gas moves toward power plants, FERC is ignoring a recent federal appeals court ruling. In doing so, FERC is joining Duke and Dominion in increasing the hazard to the very same eastern communities being hammered by flooding from hurricanes and torrential rain events in recent years – which are worsening due to pollution from the fracked gas and power industries.
Injustice toward African American, Native American and low-income communities is rife in the FERC approval. As attorney Runkle wrote, the agency’s “analysis of minority populations is remarkable in its contorted logic used to minimize the relative impact on people of color … In fact, in comparing the current ACP corridor to earlier proposed ACP routes, it is clear that the pipeline has been moved to areas of greater poverty and more people of color.”
Runkle added that FERC failed to identify major impacts on multiple Native American populations living along the route, and he said that FERC’s proposal to consult them later is insulting, a mere “afterthought” to the pipeline’s approval.
FERC failed to address the cumulative impacts of compressor stations, and even failed to acknowledge the presence of an existing compressor station in Northampton County near the new one the ACP would bring. Compressor stations are of particular concern because of toxic emissions that cause health impacts on the surrounding population. Such communities are often lower income and communities of color – and are known in the gas industry as “sacrifice zones.”
Although Dominion owns over 50 percent of the pipeline project, Duke Energy customers would pay 59 percent of its $6 billion price tag through fuel pricing.
After years of consistently siding with the gas and power industries, FERC was recently rebuffed by two federal courts in cases involving pipelines.
Clean Water for North Carolina
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League
Protect Our Water!
Concern for the New Generation
Halifax & Northampton Concerned Stewards
No Pipeline Johnston County
Nash Stop the Pipeline
Wilson County No Pipeline
Sampson County Citizens for a Safe Environment
No Fracking in Stokes
Cumberland County Caring Voices
Concerned Citizens of Tillery
NC Alliance to Protect the People and the Places We Live
Beyond Extreme Energy
Triangle Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Haw River Assembly
Winyah Rivers Foundation, Inc.
River Guardian Foundation
Chatham Research Group