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Atlantic Coast Pipeline Can Start Tree Clearing, FERC Says

FERC has approved limited tree felling activities for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a step forward for a project that continues to encounter vocal pushback from opposition groups and is still seeking final approval on some state-level permits.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff on Friday authorized developers Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC and Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. to begin non-mechanized upland tree-felling in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d ACP and the related Supply Header Project.

Dominion, ACP's lead joint venture partner, said full construction of the Marcellus-to-Southeast pipeline is on track to begin in the spring.

"Tree felling will begin in the coming days in West Virginia and Virginia, while activity in North Carolina will begin once we receive remaining state agency approvals," Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said Friday.

Ruby said no tree-clearing will occur in wetlands, near water bodies or in other areas where additional permitting is required. The developer will also limit work to properties where it has reached agreements with landowners, and property owners will be notified in advance, Ruby said.

"It has been a lengthy and rigorous regulatory process over the last three and a half years," Ruby said. "More than a dozen state and federal agencies have thoroughly reviewed the project and left no stone unturned. We are now days away from beginning pre-construction work that will pave the way for full construction in the spring and completion of the project in late 2019."

ACP, backed by Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas, is designed to traverse the rural and mountainous West Virginia/Virginia border to deliver Marcellus and Utica shale gas to destinations in Virginia and North Carolina.

The project received certificate approval in October, but it came in a rare split decision, with the dissenting Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur raising concerns about the cumulative environmental impacts of building both ACP and the similar Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) wrote to FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre urging the Commission to grant rehearing requests challenging its certificates for the Marcellus-to-Southeast pipelines.

"Given that the Commission now has a full complement of five members, there is a real concern about whether the divided rulings by a partial Commission fairly reflect the FERC position," Kaine wrote. He noted that nearly all of FERC’s 2016 decisions were unanimous.

About a month after Commissioners Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson provided the two votes needed to approve ACP and MVP, dozens of groups and individuals filed rehearing requests challenging the projects' certificate orders.

Meanwhile, ACP has been back and forth with North Carolina regulators for months on a series of required state-issued environmental permits.

On Jan. 4, the Division of Energy for the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) asked ACP to make changes to its most recent erosion and sediment control plan. ACP has also been working to obtain water quality, stormwater and air quality permits from the DEQ.

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