Two controversial pipeline projects with prior legal challenges that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court now face new risks.
A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 7 vacated a state permit for a critical air compressor for the $7.8-billion Atlantic Coast pipeline, saying the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board did not determine if the facility is suitable for a predominantly African-American community close by or poses health risks. The 600-mile line is set to cross parts of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
The board’s reliance on air quality standards led it to dismiss environmental justice concerns, the court said. “The board failed to grapple with the likelihood that those living closest to the compressor—an overwhelmingly minority population—will be affected more than those living in other parts of the same county,” the ruling said, adding that the omission “resulted in a flawed analysis.” John Mueller, Chesapeake Bay Foundation vice president, termed the decision “a major step forward for environmental justice.”
The project faces the next hurdle on Feb. 24, when the Supreme Court considers whether the U.S. Forest Service has authority to grant right-of-way for it to cross under the Appalachian Trail within National Forest land. Dominion and Duke Energy shut down construction on the pipeline more than a year ago.
Elsewhere, PennEast Pipeline Co. has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a two-year extension to Jan. 19, 2022, to finish construction of the 115-mile project to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The company said it is having difficulties obtaining all needed permits in the states. PennEast is continuing to respond to requests from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for additional information in Pennsylvania and is pursuing clearance under the federal Clean Water Act in New Jersey, the company said. PennEast also has asked the Supreme Court to review an unfavorable 2019 decision by the appeals court in Philadelphia related to eminent domain on state land in New Jersey.