Death of Atlantic Coast Pipeline marks ‘end of the fossil fuel era,’ advocates say

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The long-contested Atlantic Coast Pipeline is cancelled but debate continues over what this means for the future of Virginia’s energy economy.

First announced in 2014, the 600-mile underground pipeline would’ve cut across Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion Energy and Duke Energy pitched the project as a solution to a regional natural gas deficit caused by the widespread retirement of coal-fired electric generation.

The project triggered years of protests and a series of legal challenges to critical permits. In a press release on Sunday, the companies said growing legal uncertainty forced them to terminate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was 3 years behind schedule and $3 billion over budget.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would’ve crossed three states, spanning 600 miles

Virginia Conservation Network Executive Director Mary Rafferty lauded the decision as ‘the end of the fossil fuel era’ in Virginia.

“[The Atlantic Coast Pipeline] would have locked in decades more of fossil fuel infrastructure in this state, further exacerbating and adding to climate pollution in Virginia and across the country,” Rafferty said.

The announcement comes less than one week after several progressive laws seeking to reign in the state’s carbon footprint took effect. In the 2020 legislative session, Virginia’s first-in-a-generation Democratic majority joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which paves the way for 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“I think the market forces are clear here. Virginia is moving towards a clean energy future. That is where the jobs of this century are going to be,” Rafferty said.

Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry DuVal said he’s disappointed that a project, initially endorsed by former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, was ultimately dismantled by the regulatory process.

Once in operation in Virginia, DuVal said the pipeline was expected to support 1,300 ‘well-paying’ jobs and generate $10.4 million in annual local tax revenue across 13 localities.

DuVal said he’s concerned about the impact of the cancellation on economic development. He said the commonwealth needs to expand its energy infrastructure to be viable in business recruitment, particularly in the Southeast where existing capacity is–at times–exhausted.

“Businesses were looking forward to expanding and some national projects were considering Virginia that, without the right amount of energy, won’t be able to consider Virginia,” DuVal said.

DuVal added that there is a role for renewable energy in economic development. “I believe that the future is bright but 90 percent of energy today is not coming from those sources. It’s going to take a long-term horizon to move to an economically sound society based on purely renewables,” he said.

Peggy Sanner, Virginia’s executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said letting the project move forward would’ve risked wildlife and livelihoods.

Sanner said the mountainous terrain mapped out for the project was inhospitable to an underground pipeline. She said it would’ve led to the destruction of forests–critical for stabilizing the climate–and the pollution of water sources relied upon for tourism.

“It doesn’t make much sense to put in a project that undercuts the work we’ve been doing with the [Chesapeake] Bay and that prevents the full flourishing of our water-dependent industries,” Sanner said.

Sanner said the Foundation was also central to a legal challenge that blocked the construction of a natural gas compressor station in Union Hill, a town founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.

“That continues to be a majority minority town and it’s a place that would’ve been disproportionately impacted,” Sanner said. “It was a key step in Virginia’s reckoning with environmental justice.”

A protest in Richmond opposing a compressor station in Union Hill

Despite a favorable ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld key components of the project, the pipeline faced a blurry future after a federal court in Montana tossed out a nationwide water quality permit needed for construction to cross hundreds of bodies of water.

In a statement on Sunday, Dominion Energy President & CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II and Duke Energy President & CEO Lynn J. Good said various lawsuits have sought to “dramatically rewrite decades of permitting and legal precedent” from presidential administrations of both parties.

“This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States. Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged,” the statement said.

Dominion Energy declined to do an interview on Monday.

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