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Environmental Groups Take Aim at Atlantic Sunrise, Mountain Valley Pipeline Projects

As Pennsylvania regulators readied for a series of public hearings this week on the earth disturbance and water-crossing applications for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline project, a coterie of environmental groups called on the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to reject the permits.

"The applications for this destructive project are still incomplete and deficient," said Clean Air Council attorney Alex Bomstein. "It would be premature and against the law for DEP to permit this pipeline without first making sure Williams fixes the problems in its applications."

While the project still needs approvals in other states and from federal agencies, the Chapter 105 water obstruction and encroachment permits and the Chapter 102 erosion and sedimentation control general permit are considered to be among the final crucial regulatory pieces for moving the pipeline forward.

Environmental advocates have increasingly turned their attention to the state permitting process to frustrate the progress of natural gas pipelines in the region. Both the Northern Access expansion project and the Constitution Pipeline are on hold as their sponsors fight the state of New York's denial of Clean Water Act (CWA) permits in federal court. While New York has implemented an unusually rigorous environmental review process, a more involved public has been time-consuming for some infrastructure projects at the state and federal levels.

"We have been working closely with the DEP since early 2014 and are committed to utilizing construction best practices, which avoid or minimize impacts to wetlands, water bodies and other sensitive environmental areas," Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said in response to the groups' concerns, adding that the project would "create a crucial connection between Pennsylvania and consuming markets all along the East Coast."

The company has already received several technical deficiency letters from the DEP regarding its permit applications, to which it must respond by June 23. The environmental groups also charge that the project has "failed to receive both the serious environmental review and adequate public participation necessary."

The first of four public hearings in the eastern part of the state was scheduled for Monday evening. The DEP opened a public comment period on May 27 that expires on June 26. The environmental groups also want that period extended, saying Monday that their representatives and like-minded residents from across the state would attend the public hearings to voice concerns.

The nearly 200-mile, 1.7 Bcf/d project would cross 10 counties in the state to deliver stranded Marcellus Shale gas in Northeast Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February, it would expand the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (Transco). The project is scheduled to enter service in mid-2018.

In a similar development last week, the Sierra Club, which joined Monday's calls against Atlantic Sunrise, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging West Virginia's water quality certification for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Several other environmental groups are parties to the complaint.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) last month denied a hearing request filed by one of the groups to appeal the pipeline's Section 401 Water Quality Certification, which the agency issued in March after three public hearings.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, seeks to invalidate the certification and require the state to reconsider whether it can go forward in compliance with the federal CWA. The environmental groups fear the pipeline would cross undeveloped, rural agricultural land and fragment a national forest and the Appalachian Trail. WVDEP could not be reached to comment about the lawsuit on Monday.

The 300-mile pipeline would originate in Wetzel County, WV, and move up to 2 million Dth/d of Marcellus and Utica shale gas to an interconnect with Transco in Virginia for delivery to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. It is expected to be in-service by 4Q2018. The project is a joint venture of EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC. 

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