The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was a multi-billion dollar project supported by powerful backers. For years, a broad and diverse coalition of advocates and organizations worked tirelessly to highlight the project’s many flaws, working through regulatory boards, the courts, and in protests. CBF was one of many who fought the battle, which also included tree sitters, rural landowners, endangered species experts, local residents monitoring construction and water quality, environmental justice advocates, scientists, and lawyers. Finally, after six years into the project, the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline announced its cancellation in July 2020.
About the Pipeline
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was an extensive interstate natural gas pipeline complex proposed by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy Corporation, Piedmont Natural Gas Co., Inc., and Southern Company Gas. As proposed by its owners, it would have consisted of two main pipeline facilities, three pipeline laterals, three new compressor stations and other infrastructure capable of delivering up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to customers in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
The proposed pipeline would have spanned more than 600 miles through Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. It threatened the environment and vulnerable communities, as well as water quality throughout the Commonwealth and the Chesapeake Bay (see map of the proposed route below). The planned route crossed Virginia waterways more than a thousand times. Massive trenching and in-stream blasting at these stream crossings many within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, would have increased sediment and nutrient pollution in local streams and the Bay.
Its expected destruction of forests and disturbance of other sensitive lands would have diminished the ability of these vital regions to filter water, clean the air, and provide other essential environmental services. Traversing rugged and steep mountain terrain, concerns were raised about landslides and streams smothered with soil after runoff from heavy rains—as happened with construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in 2018.
People along the route contended with their land being taken for construction and risks to their health and well-being from the proposed pipeline--from a couple’s old growth 'Garden of Eden' on Miracle Ridge to the historically African-American community of Union Hill.
That rural community would have hosted the Buckingham Compressor Station, designed to push gas through the pipeline. But the facility raised serious environmental justice issues as it would have jeopardized the health of the many nearby residents who live less than a mile from the site. Emissions from the compressor station would also have added a new source of pollution to waterways and contributed to climate change. In a landmark environmental justice victory, CBF and partners successfully challenged the air permit for the facility in federal court.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline Proposed Route
Zoom in to view forest loss and access roads
CBF's Fight for Clean Water and Environmental Justice
Construction of new interstate pipelines is regulated by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As part of its review process, FERC prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act as well as Virginia law, DEQ must certify that the proposed project will comply with state water quality standards. CBF submitted comments to FERC on several issues throughout the process. Our 2017 analysis of the Draft EIS demonstrated that it failed adequately to address the proposed project's significant threats to wetlands, concerns about water quality impacts from sedimentation, and anticipated NOx emissions from the pipeline compressor stations which will ultimately deposit nitrogen to waterways.
CBF and 75 other conservation and advocacy groups signed on to a letter to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and DEQ urging the Commonwealth to conduct an appropriate 401 certification analysis. This Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) press release included a statement from CBF.
Throughout the following two-and-a-half-years, CBF, SELC, and other conservation groups and organizations submitted comments, sent letters, filed petitions and appeals. In August 2018 CBF joined a legal challenge to FERC's approval of the pipeline. The following February, CBF, together with SELC and Friends of Buckingham, filed a lawsuit challenging Air Board approval of the Buckingham Compressor Station. In a landmark environmental justice decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the Virginia air permit for the proposed Buckingham Compressor Station in Union Hill.
The fight experienced a major setback in June 2020, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in favor of the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline regarding the project's planned crossing beneath the Appalachian Trail. In July 2020, CBF, together with SELC, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and a host of other partners, opposed the pipeline developers’ request to FERC for two additional years to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Finally, on July 5, 2020, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announce the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project.
CBF's Anti-Pipeline Advocacy: A Timeline
- October 2017: Five conservation groups, including CBF, send a letter to the Virginia State Water Control Board urging it to exercise its authority and refuse certification of the pipeline.
- November 2017: CBF, SELC, and 19 other organizations and individuals file a petition with FERC asking it to reconsider approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
- December 2017: CBF speaks at Virginia's State Water Control Board hearing asking the board to reject water quality certification. The Board nonetheless votes to approve water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but to delay its effective date until plans for addressing threats from stormwater pollution, erosion, and sediment control are reviewed and approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.
- January 2018: CBF files an appeal of the Virginia State Water Control Board's water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
March 2018: After Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) construction began in Virginia over the winter with cutting thousands of trees, on March 16 DEQ issues a notice of violation for illegal work along streams and wetlands. ACP asks FERC for permission to extend its tree cutting work by two months, until May 15, jeopardizing sensitive bird species. CBF files comments with FERC opposing that extension and on March 28 FERC denied the extension.
April 2018: In a positive step, the Virginia State Water Control Board votes to reopen a public comment period on water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. DEQ subsequently announces a public comment period that ran from April 30 to May 30.
- June 2018: CBF submits comments to the State Water Control Board urging the Board to withdraw the water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
- August 2018: CBF joins a legal challenge to FERC's approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
- August 2018: CBF speaks at a Water Control Board Meeting, asking the board to revoke the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's water quality certification. Unfortunately,the Board approves certification that CBF believes is inadequate to protect waterways from pollution.
- September 2018: CBF submits comments to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board opposing the draft permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's proposed natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County, Virginia.
- September 2018: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond hears oral arguments in a challenge to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's water quality certification by CBF and other conservation organizations.
- November 2018: The Wilmington, North Carolina, district of the Army Corps of Engineers suspended its issuance of a nationwide general permit to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for construction. The decision was in response to a ruling in the Fourth Circuit (a different case than the one above) casting doubt on the validity of the permit in West Virginia. Recognizing that the pipeline is part of a project that runs from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina, the Corps suspended the permit for the entire length of the pipeline.
- December 2018: The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board postponed a decision on the permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station in order to take additional public comment.
- January 2019: The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board approved the permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station by a 4-0 vote.
- February 2019: CBF, together with SELC and Friends of Buckingham, files a lawsuit challenging Air Board approval of the Buckingham Compressor Station in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
- October 2019: CBF argues the environmental justice concerns around the Buckingham Compressor Station in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
- January 2020: In a landmark environmental justice decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacates the Virginia air permit for the proposed Buckingham Compressor Station in Union Hill. This comes after a legal challenge filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) with Southern Environmental Law Center and Friends of Buckingham.
- June 2020: The U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision in favor of the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline regarding the project's planned crossing beneath the Appalachian Trail.
- July 2020: CBF, together with SELC, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and a host of other partners, opposed the pipeline developers’ request to FERC for two additional years to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
- July 2020: Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announce they are cancelling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project.