By Lindell John Kay
The state has granted the final regulatory approval needed for pre-construction work on an interstate natural gas pipeline through Nash County, opponents appear to be digging in their heels and Republican lawmakers have made a move to capture a fund set up by builders to lessen the impact in Nash and the seven other counties in the pipeline’s route.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued the remaining Erosion and Sediment Control Plan for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline last week, meaning Duke and Dominion Energy can begin clearing trees.
Republican lawmakers voted late last week to direct the $57.8 million fund toward schools in the eight counties. The language in the bill was designed so that if Democrats vote against the pipeline fund they will have to vote against school funding.
Ford Porter, spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, said Republicans are being hypocrites.
“Legislative Republicans have set a new low for partisan hypocrisy this week,” Porter said. “Nearly every Republican legislator claims to support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline yet they wanted to stop counties in its path from getting resources to ensure this project is a success.”
While meeting the state’s energy needs, it’s vital that steps are taken to grow the economy and protect the environment in the counties the pipeline will cross, Porter said. Pipeline builders have provided similar funds in Virginia and engaged in negotiations with all three states where construction is to occur.
“It was intended that decisions about the distribution of the fund would be made by experts through an open and transparent application process for government entities and qualified nonprofits,” Porter said. “The Rural Infrastructure Authority and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund are examples of two places that could fulfill those goals and distribute the funds. This is a good thing for our state. For Republican legislators to hijack this mitigation fund in favor of partisan political attacks is shameful and hurts Eastern North Carolina.”
Other than the political drama, it’s been a couple of good weeks for pipeline builders. The project recently received its state water quality certification and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval to begin tree felling and vegetation clearing in upland areas of the route. Upland locations exclude wetlands, waterbodies and other areas that require additional federal approval.
Over the next two months, tree clearing will begin in Nash County as well as in Northampton, Halifax, Cumberland and Robeson counties.
“This pre-construction work will be done on foot, using hand-held equipment,” said Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby. “We will only be working where we’ve reached easement agreements with landowners, who will receive advance notice before we begin work on their properties.”
Tree felling, under a FERC-authorized limited notice to proceed, will continue through the end of March. Per FERC requirements, all trees will remain along the right of way until the builders receive the remaining federal approval to clear trees and begin full construction work.
The pipeline means a growing economy, thousands of new jobs and lower energy costs for consumers, Ruby said.
“With new infrastructure, the region will be able to attract manufacturers and other new industries, and the good-paying jobs they bring,” Ruby said. “It will also accelerate the transition from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas and support new investments in renewables, resulting in cleaner air and lower emissions in communities across the state.”
While running out of options, opponents to the pipeline aren’t giving up the fight easily.
Landowners opposed to the pipeline held a press conference and people’s hearing in Raleigh last week. Organizers said the events were meant to counter political pressure used to pre-empt the state’s regulatory permitting process.
Mac Legerton, a landowner in Robeson County where the pipeline will end, said builders exhibited a documented pattern of avoidance in providing concrete details of their plans requested by regulators.
“The acknowledged political pressure by Duke and Dominion Energy to gain approval for the ACP has been unrelenting and our governor and other officials finally yielded under their weight,” Legerton said. “The financial payoff to our beloved state is disposable income to Duke and Dominion Energy and is no compensation for the disposing of our rural culture, our environment, and diverse peoples that constitute the Coastal Plains.”
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League has submitted an extensive public records request with the state regarding the pipeline. The league has filed numerous queries for public records which have only been partially fulfilled, said league organizer Therese Vick.
“It is unacceptable that the (state) is so slow to respond, it is vital that the public have a complete understanding of the events that led to the approval of the state 401 water quality certification for the ACP; it is clear that the decision was not based on protecting water quality,” Vick wrote in the request letter.
A recent critical report authored by earth scientist J. David Hughes voiced doubts about federal projections for shale gas production.
Jim Warren, the executive director of the environmental advocacy organization NC WARN, claims the report adds to evidence the natural gas industry and its captive regulators continue to grossly exaggerate the amount of gas underground.
“This means higher prices and supply shortages are likely, possibly sooner than later,” Warren said. “What a tragedy that Duke Energy and others are locking in billions of dollars in shale gas infrastructure investments – leading to economic challenges and runaway climate chaos – based on pixie dust forecasting by fossil fuel cronies.”