FERC has denied Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC’s (ACP) request to extend tree clearing activities in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina beyond seasonal restrictions, finding that it would not offer an equal or greater level of environmental protection as the company claimed in a filing in mid-March.

ACP had adopted restrictions to protect migratory birds and threatened/endangered species, such as Indiana bats and Northern long-eared bats. With a few exceptions, ACP generally agreed not to conduct tree felling from April 1-Aug. 31 in West Virginia and North Carolina, and from March 15-Aug. 31 in Virginia.

However, the company had said it would be unable to complete scheduled tree felling before the restrictions were to take effect. It asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to continue clearing trees until May 15 except in U.S. Forest Service lands and some other areas where the Indiana and Northern long-eared bats might be impacted.

After a “thorough review” of the request, FERC refused to lift the restrictions. ACP spokesman Aaron Ruby said the project still has “a path forward” to begin construction this spring and complete the pipeline by the end of 2019. The company has completed tree felling on more than 200 miles of the 600-mile route, he said.

“While that’s less than we planned for this year, we’ll still have a productive construction season. For any large infrastructure project, we have to plan for contingencies,” Ruby said. “By rearranging some of our construction plans and shifting some work to 2019, we’ll keep the project on track for completion by the end of next year.”

ACP had argued that tree felling crews were mobilized and that completing clearing activities within one season would limit the amount of disturbance along the route.

The Sierra Club hailed FERC’s decision, calling it was “a win for the people and communities” in the path of the pipeline.

The 1.5 Bcf/d project is backed by Dominion Energy Inc., Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas. ACP would originate in West Virginia, run southeast through Virginia and into North Carolina. The project is designed to pair Appalachian shale gas with growing power generation and heating demand in the Southeast.