In a coup for environmentalists, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality delayed
a decision on whether to issue a permit for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a multibillion dollar
, six hundred-mile project
that would carry fracked gas through Virginia, West Virginia, and eastern North Carolina.
DEQ faced a September 18 deadline to deny or permit the water quality certification needed to construct the pipeline. The requirement comes from the federal Clean Water Act, which stipulates that states must certify that proposed pipeline projects won't violate water quality standards before being built. The proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would traverse eight counties in North Carolina, would pass through more than 320 waterways in North Carolina.
issued yesterday by DEQ requests "additional information" from Duke Energy and Dominion, the two companies involved in the pipeline's construction, asking for "more site-specific detail to ensure that downstream water quality is protected." The companies have one month to respond to DEQ's inquiries, and the agency will have an additional two months before it must decide whether to grant or deny the certification, according to the letter.
The controversial pipeline has generated fierce criticism from opponents, who say the proposed route would adversely impact water quality and would lock the state into a fracked gas economy when renewable energy sources are widely available. Supporters say it would bring jobs and infrastructure to depressed parts of the state. The Southern Environmental Law Center, meanwhile, estimates
that the project will result in just thirty-nine permanent jobs in Virginia.
On Wednesday, anti-pipeline activists and concerned landowners held a prayer vigil
in front of DEQ's office in Raleigh, where Greg Yost, a former high school teacher, has been holding an eleven-day fast in opposition of
the project. "If this infrastructure gets built, it’s there for the next thirty or forty years, and it yokes us to this price-volatile, very dangerous fuel," he said. "If we build this stuff, we can’t build the clean energy solutions that the state really needs."
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is slated to issue its final decision on the pipeline in mid-October. FERC can still issue an approval for the project, but if DEQ ultimately denies the state water quality permit, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be barred from construction.
"They would have to have the certification in order to construct the pipeline," Kelly Martin, the associate director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign of the Sierra Club, told the INDY
. "I think we're seeing the North Carolina DEQ making sure it is getting all the information it needs before making a determination about whether or not his pipeline would impact water quality. Our read is that it absolutely would impact water quality and that it needs a thorough review and that the information that was provided was woefully inadequate in order to make the determination. We absolutely applaud the North Carolina DEQ for requesting a substantial amount of information be provided by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline."