Judges Rule Against Controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline Because Wildlife Matters

A sign protests the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
A sign protests the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Photo: AP

A controversial natural gas pipeline in the South met an obstacle Tuesday in the form of a court order on the side of wildlife. Dun dun dun.


Three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a decision that canceled a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile long project that would travel from West Virginia to North Carolina. The panel found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) didn’t set clear limits on how the Dominion Energy-owned pipeline would impact threatened or endangered species in the Biological Opinion required under the Endangered Species Act.

This opinion includes an Incidental Take Statement, which is the issue here. “Take” means “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect,” per the FWS. As plaintiffs argued—and the court agreed—the federal agency granted Dominion Energy this permit under “indeterminate” limits on the “take” of certain species, including a migratory shorebird called the piping plover, and sea turtles. The federal agency never clarified what percentage of threatened or endangered species are allowed to be killed during construction, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Plaintiffs, which include the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, filed this lawsuit (among others) against the Department of Interior and FWS back in January. The pipeline has met serious opposition from environmentalists throughout its proposed route—and not only for the ways it could harm wildlife.

Local advocates worry about air pollution from compression station sites concentrating near a black community in North Carolina. There’s also the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, which feels it wasn’t properly consulted.

“This fracked gas project has been proven to be perilous to our health, our communities, and wildlife, and now, thanks to tonight’s ruling, must be stopped,” said Sierra Club Attorney Nathan Matthews, in a press release.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is set to be completed by the end of this year. This decision won’t halt all construction, so the project should stay on schedule for now. Earther contacted Dominion Energy for comment and will update upon a response.


This latest ruling might just be a blip for this energy company, but opponents are savoring every win. For them, it’s another signal that this pipeline does not belong in their communities.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


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Wait a minute. How is this a win? Environmental NGOs sue and seemingly win against the US Government, but the gas company still gets to build its pipeline? Once that’s built it will probably operate.

It’s good for Sierra Club and NRDC and those living along the pipeline route who didn’t want it, sure, but it doesn’t stop production and consumption of the Marcellus shale gas one molecule.

More to the point, it will actually benefit Dominions competitor Williams Pipeline for its main trunk of the Transco Pipeline system:

Given the planned ACP competing feeder lines from the gas fields to the main trunk above, you’d think there would be more protests and shit.

I truly apologize for seeming like a jagoff on these EJ endeavours. It helps to get an understanding of who the players involved are and for what purpose environmental groups are taking this on. Sierra Club was instrumental in getting the Marcellus shale developed after receiving a $25 million check from gas developers. NRDC had natural gas as a key electricity generation ingredient for its early promotion of the eventually named US EPA Clean Power Plan. This was the heavily marketed“beyond coal” campaign spearheaded by Sierra Club. Yes, Carl Pope who headed Sierra Club and nat gas promotion is gone.

When lawyers are tasked to support or contest something and there’s an environmental component - holy fuck do the oddest bedfellows start sleeping together. And remember, when you tie up fish and wildlife dollars for litigation - that takes money away from other activities. Especially when republicans are cutting funding of pretty much all environmental work through government agency.