By Sukainah Abid-Kons, contributor
Last Thursday, a Dominion Energy media relations representative talked with The Citizen for 22 minutes about the future of the long-debated and controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which just a few weeks earlier had cleared a major hurdle in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The spokeswoman, Ann Nallo, discussed the details of the court’s ruling, which addressed the U.S. Forest Service’s jurisdiction over approving such a pipeline. She described how the pipeline would be “low risk” for accidents and would go “above and beyond” regulations. She even outlined in detail the pipe’s dimensions and the metal that the companies were planning to use for it.
“We are looking at about 17,000 construction jobs, some permanent jobs, as well as long-term economic development in those areas,” Nallo said. Like any effective corporate spokesperson, Nallo kept bringing her answers back to the benefits the pipeline would bring to the region traversed by the planned pipeline — an area that stretched from West Virginia to North Carolina by cutting through the Valley, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and George Washington National Forest.
But, in a sudden reversal Sunday, July 6, Dominion and Duke announced they were canceling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s construction. There would be no project. No more permitting battles. No more “No Pipeline” signs in yards and in the hands of environmentalists, protesters and residents along the pipeline’s route.
In a follow-up interview this week after Dominion and Duke’s reversal, Nallo didn’t directly answer whether she had any inkling last Thursday that the pipeline project she was touting wasn’t going to come to fruition after all.
“We were committed to the project as long as there was a clear path forward to a successful outcome within a reasonable timeframe and cost,” Nallo said.
But she said the energy companies expected that “complications with circuit courts in Montana presented serious challenges.” She referred to a court ruling earlier this year that set a precedent regarding pipeline projects running through or near wetlands. The April decision ultimately canceled a planned pipeline in Montana.
Nallo also mentioned plans for Dominion Energy to be carbon neutral in certain energy fields by 2050 as part of its effort to become a more sustainable company.
Some local activists who have opposed the pipeline project said they suspected low natural gas prices, as well as growing public pressure to move away from reliance on fossil fuels, could have factored into Dominion and Duke’s sudden announcement.
Joy Loving, who is part of the Climate Action Alliance of the Shenandoah Valley, said she was excited and relieved to hear the companies’ decision, which ended a six-year fight she and others had been waging against the project.
“We’re happy the Dominion finally determined that the risks outweigh the benefits,” Loving said.
Loving had for years been arguing against the project because of how pipelines can disturb natural habitats if they rupture or burst and leak their contents into the ground, similar to what happened with the Dakota Access Pipeline in November. This can happen because of the age of the pipeline, weather conditions or natural disasters. Between 2010 and 2019, there were 16 pipeline accidents in the United States.
But she added she was disappointed Dominion and Duke “never acknowledged that there wasn’t a need for the pipeline.” But she said she considers the cancellation a win nonetheless.
While the cancelation of the pipeline means those jobs related to the project will no longer materialize, Loving said she believes a shift toward renewable energy will be equally beneficial to the economy.
“The good news about a lot of renewable energy jobs is that they’re not outsourced, so Virginians should not despair over the pipeline jobs that will no longer be coming,” Loving said.
The saga of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline stretched over six years, through courtrooms and permitting offices. Dominion and Duke kept fighting legal battles, including in recent months, to gain the required permits for construction.
A Richmond-based court in December 2018 decided to revoke a permit in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — a decision that ultimately landed the project before the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond became known as the“Lorax Decision” because the appeals judges’ ruling quoted from Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax” by saying the U.S. Forest Service is obligated to “speak for the trees because the trees have no tongues” and, thus, not endanger trees by granting a pipeline permit.
It was that decision the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed when it decided late last month that it was within the U.S. Forest Service’s jurisdiction to grant permission to Dominion and Duke to build the pipeline.
Loving said in light of all the legal fights, she and other members of the Climate Action Alliance were skeptical about the reasoning behind Dominion and Duke’s sudden decision to walk away from the pipeline.
“I think it was unwise for Dominion to choose this route to begin with,” said Lynn Cameron, a local hiker, and trail maintainer.
Cameron, in an interview with The Citizen last Friday, said activists were preparing for more efforts to try to halt the project on the local level.
“The pipeline still has eight permits that it will need, so this is not a done deal,” she said in a phone conversation Friday morning.
Little did she know that two days later, the project would be abandoned.
She said Wednesday she and her husband learned were in “disbelief” when they learned of the decision.
“A 6-year effort had come to an end,” Cameron said.
Cameron also reflected on what she considered to be some of the positives that had come from the long legal battle.
“Opposition to this pipeline has been a unifier in a divided country,” she said, referring to how so many people — residents, hikers and preservationists — of different political affiliations opposed the project.
Cameron also said she hopes the battles that Dominion and Duke had to fight over the now-scrapped Atlantic Coast Pipeline project might deter other companies from trying to build pipelines along this route in the future.
While Loving is unsure about what the future will bring in terms of fossil fuels in the Valley, she said she too is more hopeful now.
“Virginia’s biggest battles with pipelines are over,” she said.
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