Anti-pipeline protesters were vocal through two days of public hearings on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. But when a vote finally came, there were no rounds of applause, no shouts of anger. Just confusion.
The state water control board voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve the project. But that approval is contingent on getting more information from state regulators, effectively slowing down the permitting process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
For opponents of the 600-mile natural gas pipeline, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the vote was a win or a loss.
“The right outcome is denial. But this is an advance over what we thought we might get today,” said David Sligh with Wild Virginia. “The overall vote means that Dominion does not have an effective certification today... I am pleased that the Board recognized that there were serious flaws here.”
Board members were concerned that state regulators hadn’t completed key parts of their analysis yet. Among other things, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality still has to finish plans for erosion and sediment control, stormwater management, and karst testing.
— Mallory Noe-Payne (@MalloryNoePayne) December 11, 2017
But the board also had to weigh those concerns with timing. If they didn’t act on the permit before a one year deadline, they could waive their right to impose any conditions on the project at all. They would have ceded all control to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has already approved the ACP.
“Theoretically if DEQ or Virginia did not take action within that twelve month window FERC could make the final decision,” explained Bill Hayden, spokesman for DEQ.
Complicating the situation is that neither the board nor state regulators know when that deadline is.
“So that’s something that still needs to be resolved,” said Hayden. “It’s up to FERC and they have not told us.”
In an attempt to pass the certificate before that unknown deadline, and still retain the power to review future plans, board member Tim Hayes added a last minute amendment to the water certificate. The amendment states that the certification “shall be effective only following submission, review and final approval as required by law,” of the still outstanding plans.
This amendment has been added to the certification 4-3 pic.twitter.com/ZfQkkvRXZm
— Mallory Noe-Payne (@MalloryNoePayne) December 12, 2017
It’s now unclear what will happen when DEQ finishes those analyses.
“We don’t even know what form these reports will take,” Hayden said. “If we understand what the board was asking for we would make them public, we would present them to the board, and then in some way the board would evaluate them.”
DEQ doesn’t have a timeline on the unfinished regulations. But some may not be complete until March or April, meaning construction on the pipeline can’t begin until at least then.
In a statement, Dominion Energy spokesperson Aaron Ruby characterized the vote as a major step toward final approval.
“We will work closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to complete all remaining approvals in a timely manner and ensure we meet all conditions of the certification,” wrote Ruby.