The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on Friday issued a necessary water quality permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
If the $5.5 billion pipeline is built, it would transport natural gas through eight counties in the eastern part of the state. The 600-mile pipeline, which would also run through West Virginia and Virginia, still needs five state permits and one federal permit before construction can begin in North Carolina. The water quality permit included several conditions, including drilling and well testing regulations and mandatory DEQ inspections throughout the construction process.
“DEQ left no stone unturned in our exhaustive eight month review of every aspect of the 401 application,” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan, in a press release on Friday. “Our job doesn’t end with the granting of the permit but continues as we hold the company accountable to live up to its commitments."
Geoff Gisler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, disagrees with the DEQ’s decision to issue the permit. He’s studied the pipeline’s water permit application, which he describes as inadequate, he said.
“In these places where they’re digging through streams and wetlands, there wasn’t enough information about what they were going to do to collect baseline data – to figure out what’s there now,” he said.
Additionally, the proposed restoration methods weren’t specific enough, Gisler said.
“They didn’t provide enough information to reach some of the conclusions that the agency’s required to make,” he said. “And that is that they’re going to protect water quality standards during construction and importantly after construction.”
Gisler also expressed doubt in the department's ability to make sure the pipeline project doesn't violate water quality standards.
“The DEQ staff has been decimated over the last few years,” he said. “Relying on them to inspect is asking a lot from that agency.”
The SELC filed a lawsuit earlier this month, challenging a Virginia state agency's approval of water quality permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. But it’s too early to tell if the organization will challenge North Carolina’s permit, Gisler said.
On Friday, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, the two companies leading the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, agreed to put $57.8 million into a state fund to help offset the pipeline’s environmental costs. Gov. Cooper's office has announced the state would use the money to mitigate damages to natural resources, invest in renewable energy and promote economic development in the eight affected counties.
“If it is a step forward for renewables, it’s only in the context of many steps back by investing in this pipeline,” Gisler said.