A more thorough and less rushed process in developing a new biological opinion and taking statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been advocated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in separate comments submitted to the agency by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and by ABRA.
In its October 1 comments to FWS, SELC said:
. . . this is the second time its approvals for this project have been vacated. Both vacaturs followed rushed, incomplete analysis unsupported by best available science. We urge the agency to resist pressure from the pipeline companies to fast-track yet another approval for this unnecessary project and to instead heed its mandate under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to protect and conserve endangered and threatened species and their habitats. That requires avoiding inflicting further harm on species where that injury may jeopardize the species, as it would here for rusty-patched bumble bee, clubshell, and Roanoke logperch.
In the year since the agency issued its last biological opinion and incidental take statement, facts regarding the impact of constructing this pipeline on protected species have changed. The agency must take these changes into account to issue a valid approval for this project.
ABRA’s October 23 letter to FWS focused on the shortcomings of previous agency reviews of the threat the ACP would pose to the Madison Cave Isopod (MCI). ABRA pointed out that there is “abundant evidence from the Final Environmental Impacts Statement and other sources makes clear that the entire extent of karst terrain along and adjacent to the ACP’s path may harbor MCI and should be protected in accordance with that fact. FERC and other agencies have described testing they deemed necessary to make valid predictions and we find no evidence that that testing has been completed.”
Continuing, ABRA’s letter argues:
Multiple agencies, such as the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Cave Board as well as numerous other credible experts have recommended that the ACP be routed around sensitive karst areas including, but not limited to, Valley Center, Burnsville Cove, Little Valley, and Cochran’s Cave. Dominion’s answer that it is “not practicable” is not acceptable, especially in light of the fact that those same agencies have offered to help with rerouting options. Dominion’s timetable and bottom line are not acceptable reasons for avoiding their legal responsibilities.