A federal appeals court on Friday tossed out key permits related to the Atlantic Coast pipeline, saying that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decisions regarding the permits were “arbitrary and capricious,” and that the agency seemed to have “lost sight of its mandate” to protect endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Patrick Hunter is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents several environmental groups opposed to the pipeline. He said this ruling is the latest in a string of court decisions to overturn permits for the project.
“With all of those permits outstanding, this project cannot move forward with construction at this point, so it’s sort of at a standstill situation,” said Hunter.
The 600-mile long pipeline was designed to transport natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. Construction started last year, but was halted due to legal challenges.
Supporters and opponents are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to review a ruling by a lower court that prevents the pipeline from crossing the Appalachian Trail.
Dominion Energy Spokesman Aaron Ruby said partial construction could continue once the Fish and Wildlife Services permit is re-issued, even if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case.
“We're confident we're still on track to complete the entire project by 2021,” said Ruby.
The pipeline, which is slated to run from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina, has been in the planning process for five years. Ruby said it’s been highly scrutinized each step of the way.
“The additional scrutiny that we’re being held to in the courts only reinforces the very high standard that’s being applied to the project,” he said.
Environmental groups opposed to the project say it’s unnecessary, and will cause environmental harm in three states.