A December 15 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by the owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, requesting permission to begin felling trees along the pipeline’s path, has been challenged by several member groups of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. The ACP request proposes:
. . . to fell upland trees and vegetation at or above ground level, using methods that will not rut soils or damage root systems. The contractors will not be allowed to use mechanized clearing methods or heavy equipment when tree felling. Trees and vegetation will not be felled within or into delineated wetlands and waterbodies. Mats and bridges will not be used; waterbodies and wetlands will be crossed on foot. Felled trees will be left in place until all applicable permits and approvals and FERC’s issuance of a separate notice to proceed to begin earth disturbing activities are received. The felling of trees will not occur on lands for which easements have not been obtained or for which additional state or local permits are required for such activity.
The ACP request was promptly challenged. Thirteen conservation groups, most of them ABRA members, filed a motion December 21 with FERC urging the agency to deny the ACP request to fell trees. The principal arguments set forth by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the groups were:
- Multiple permits and approvals are outstanding or incomplete, including Clean Water Act Section 401 Certifications in Virginia and North Carolina, the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 Programmatic Agreement, the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act, and state erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans. The Commission also has not resolved numerous requests for rehearing and motions for stay.
- In North Carolina, state law prohibits tree felling because the state has not fully approved Atlantic’s proposed Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan. North Carolina has also not issued a Section 401 Certification for the project. And in West Virginia, the Department of Environmental Protection has not approved a required stormwater permit.
- In Virginia, the State Water Control Board has not issued an effective Section 401 Certification for the project, and therefore, Atlantic does not have the required state approval for tree felling. The Board is not expected to make a final decision on whether to certify the project until March or April 2018 at the earliest.
Friends of Nelson (FoN) also filed a request with FERC to deny the ACP’s tree-felling request. The FoN December 19 letter pointed out that reviews of various forthcoming reports, required by the Virginia State Water Control Board in its approval of water quality certification for the ACP, “could result in possible denial of the final permit, changes in the route, or further conditions placed on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In addition, the Section 106 permits are still outstanding, and while ACP intends to avoid these areas, adjacent properties could potentially be impacted and there is a possibility of minor or significant route changes.”