In a Friday night surprise, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 2-1 to approve the $5.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, 160 miles of which will run through eastern North Carolina. However, the project still has yet to receive its required state permits and it is likely to face legal challenges from environmental advocates.
FERC “completely abdicated its responsibility,” said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina. “It based its decision on cyclical reasoning and was highly dependent on accepting unconditionally the information provided by the utilities.”
The 159-page order, which included an extensive dissent from Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, contains many puzzling if not contradictory conclusions. The decision acknowledged “the project will result in some adverse and significant environmental impacts,” including to the detriment of more than 100 endangered, threatened or at-risk species over the entire 600-mile route, “but that these impacts will be reduced to acceptable levels,” as long as contractors meet the 73 conditions — which are not enforceable — as laid out in the ruling.FERC completely abdicated its responsibility, says @cwfnc Click To Tweet
Duke CEO Lynn Good issued a statement Friday 10:38 p.m. calling FERC’s approval is an important milestone and a critical step forward for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to deliver the benefits of affordable, clean natural gas and affirms the project will be built with minimal impacts to the environment.”
In North Carolina, state regulators and environmental groups are concerned about the project’s effect on wetlands and waterways, particularly the Neuse River. Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, which is primarily owned by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, plan to use an invasive method of installing the pipeline across the river, called a cofferdam. To put it in human medical terms, a cofferdam is like having an open incision rather than laparoscopic surgery.
An example of cyclical reasoning is FERC’s contention that ACP, LLC is new to the pipeline marketplace “with no existing customers.” While the ACP is Duke and Dominion’s first foray into the pipeline world, these utilities do have existing customers — their electric ratepayers, who will foot the bill for the project, plus the 14 percent rate of return.
In her prepared statement, Good said that “natural gas from the pipeline will increase consumer savings, enhance reliability, enable more renewable energy and provide a powerful engine for statewide economic development and job growth.”
The details of how those purported benefits, particularly regarding renewable energy will be realized is unclear. Opponents have argued that natural gas can be shipped via existing pipelines, and that the additional supply is not needed. Duke and Dominion have countered that 96 percent of the natural gas is spoken for. However, these are not outside parties — industry, for example — clamoring for natural gas, but the utilities themselves. FERC acknowledged that five of the six “shippers,” as they are known, are affiliated with the utilities. But FERC determined that the incestuous relationship doesn’t require the commission to examine the agreements to evaluate the need for the project.
FERC also denied commenters’ requests for an evidentiary trial-type hearing on the project, saying that the issues “have been adequately argued, and a determination can be made on the basis of the existing record in this proceeding.” This is likely a response to repeated protests at its hearings. FERC has enacted rules to keep demonstrators at bay; it also has sequestered commenters from the media while making their statements.