North Carolina Citizens Try New Approach in Opposing Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Citizen groups in North Carolina are trying a new tactic in their opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  They contend that conditions have changed so that North Carolina must now reconsider its 401 Certification.

Activities such as filling a stream or a wetland, crossing a stream or a wetland, etc. require a permit under the Clean Water Act.  For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, such a permit would be issued by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Approval by the Corps of Engineers is not, however, the final approval.  In addition to the permit, before a project may go ahead the state where it is located must determine that there is “reasonable assurance” that the project will not cause a violation of state water quality standards.  The goal is to assure that, even though federal authorities approve a project, state authorities have a chance to make sure that local water quality standards are not violated.  This approval is referred to as a “401 Certification”, named for the section of the federal Clean Water Act which requires it.

North Carolina had previously issued a 401 Certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  Now North Carolina environmental advocates have filed a petition seeking to revoke the Certification.  They can do this because North Carolina has a rule which allows state officials to cancel the certificate if the conditions around its approval change, or if the information justifying it turns out to be wrong.  The petitioners say that the Certification should be revoked because the developers underestimated its environmental effect, especially in Robeson County.

Home to the Lumbee Tribe, the largest community of Native Americans east of the Mississippi, Robeson is one of the most racially diverse rural counties in the U.S. It is one of several along the pipeline route that has more people of color and Native Americans than the state as a whole.

Nearly all of the county’s streams and wetlands, part of some 300 in the state crossed by the pipeline, drain into the Lumber River, a slow-moving stream that’s been the center of Lumbee culture for millennia. 

Robeson is also one of the nation’s poorest counties, with public health threats, rising poverty rates and an affordable housing crisis all exacerbated by two recent hurricanes. And the county is already home to two existing gas projects: a smaller pipeline and a compressor station.

Duke and Dominion didn’t account for the environmental impact of these two existing facilities combined with a new compressor station and new connecting pipeline. Plus, petitioners say, the companies didn’t calculate damage from five other projects it claims are related to the project, including a liquified natural gas storage facility and a possible extension into South Carolina.

Note: Much of the information for this article came from an article by Elizabeth Ouztsfor the Energy News Network.