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Thirty groups join forces to ask FERC for single review for four proposed natural gas pipelines

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Thirty organizations in Virginia and West Virginia have joined forces to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to conduct a combined, comprehensive review of four natural gas pipeline projects proposed for the Blue Ridge and Central Appalachian region.

Those projects are the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Appalachian Connector Pipeline, and the WB Express Project. 

Many of the groups are based in counties where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) or Mountain Valley Pipeline would cut through family farms and national forest land.  In Virginia they include Augusta County Alliance, Friends of Buckingham, Friends of the GW Forest Against Fracking, Friends of Wintergreen Inc. and several environmental groups such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

In the letter to FERC, the groups urged the agency to do a single review, called a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), to evaluate the need for each of the pipelines in relation to the others, as well as to assess the direct, indirect and cumulative environmental and social impacts of all the pipelines.

"Our region is facing an unprecedented level of natural gas infrastructure development,” the letter said. “Although there are currently 3,000 miles of natural gas lines in Virginia alone, there are almost no 42-inch lines in the state. However, there are now three such lines, each capable of carrying up to two billion cubic feet a day, being proposed in close proximity to one another, and a fourth existing 36-inch line 
that  is  in the  planning  stages  for  an  upgrade  to  add  additional  capacity,  each  of  which  requires  at least  one  new  compressor  station.”

The letter said FERC should proceed,  “not with a separate EIS for each proposed pipeline, but with a PEIS that considers  all  of  the  cumulative  impacts  that  will  arise  from  these  four  proposed  projects  and evaluate  all  reasonable,  less  damaging  alternatives."

Joining landowner and environmental advocates in a tele-press conference this morning were Virginia State Sen. John Edwards and Del. Joseph Yost, whose districts include sections of the proposed route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Both oppose the project.

Yost (R), Giles County,  said in a letter to FERC that "“balancing the need for energy infrastructure while also respecting an individual's property rights and safeguarding our natural resources for future enjoyment is no easy task … It is my hope you will examine this project closely over the coming months taking these and many other considerations under advisement.”

On Friday, the same day that Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC filed its permit application with FERC to build a natural gas pipeline spanning 301 miles from West Virginia, over the mountains and into Virginia, 16 groups filed a formal protest against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The groups contend Dominion Transmission Inc. and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC had presented flawed and exaggerated information to FERC about the need for that pipeline, while ignoring impacts to the environment, landowners, communities and the general public.

Dominion filed a 30,000-page application with FERC in September for the $5 billion, 564-mile natural gas pipeline that would start in West Virginia, travel through Virginia and on into North Carolina. The governors of all three affected states support the project as do an array of economic development officials, other groups and some residents. Dominion has said that the pipeline is needed to meet the clean energy needs of Virginia and North Carolina. Its application asks FERC to certify the project as a public benefit and necessity, a certifciation that would allow Dominion to use eminent domain to secure rights-of-way for the pipeline route, which has been rerouted several times, as more information from surveys becomes available.

Carrying up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day from the Marcellus shale formation, Dominion says the pipeline would meet demand from electric power plants, local gas distribution companies and industrial customers in Virginia and North Carolina.

In a statement on the group's request for a single review, Dominion noted that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, in its Sept. 18 application to the FERC, said minimal cumulative impacts are anticipated because of the “implementation of specialized construction techniques, the relatively short construction timeframe in any one location, and carefully developed resource protection and mitigation plans.”

It also pointed out that in recent rulings and statements, FERC has said that a PEIS, like the one being requested, would be “estimates of potential development” and not present “a credible forward look and would therefore not be a useful tool for basic program planning.”

The groups asking FERC for a single review noted that New England is facing a similar situation of fielding proposals for multiple natural gas pipelines. In comments filed with FERC, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently asked the agency to conduct a combined review of those projects to compare each project's impacts and benefits.

Joanna Salidis, president of Friends of Nelson, one of the most vocal of the opposition groups, said in a statement, “The least we, as unwilling citizens of a directly impacted community, deserve is the assurance that the federal regulatory process responsible for approving and siting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is fair, thorough and accurate. We believe FERC’s current plan to review the ACP in isolation from the three other high-pressure, large-diameter pipelines proposed for our region is negligent in light of the ACP's threats to our property rights, economy, health and safety.”

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