January 31, 2019 / 12:52 AM / 6 months ago

U.S. court stays ruling against Dominion Atlantic Coast natgas pipe

    Jan 30 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court has stayed a
previous court decision against Forest Service permits that
allowed Dominion Energy Inc       to build the $6.5-$7 billion
Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline across national forests and
the Appalachian Trail.
    The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday froze the
previous decision by a three-judge panel until the full court
decides whether it will rehear the case en banc.
    The appeals court panel had said in December that the U.S.
Forest Service had "abdicated its responsibility to preserve
national forest resources" when it issued the permits.
            
    Dominion argued that the ruling by the three-judge panel to
vacate the Forest Service permits went beyond the court's
authority and created an "impregnable barrier (from Georgia to
Maine) dividing energy sources west of the (Appalachian) Trail
from consumers east of the Trail."
    Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien said on Wednesday the
company remained confident it would complete the 600-mile
(966-kilometer) pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina,
even though the timing is "somewhat fluid" due in part to
federal lawsuits.
    In the past, Dominion said it expected to finish the project
in mid-2020, but the company has suspended all construction
since early December after the Fourth Circuit stayed a federal
permit in another lawsuit.
    That other lawsuit involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service's Incidental Take Statement, which authorized the
pipeline to build in areas inhabited by threatened or endangered
species.
    Given the composition of the Fourth Circuit, analysts at
Height Capital Markets in Washington, D.C. said "a rehearing en
banc could plausibly bode well for Atlantic Coast."
    Height Capital Markets said the panel was comprised of three
judges nominated by Democrats, while 7 of the 12 remaining
active circuit judges were appointed by Republicans.
    "While the appointing president's party doesn't necessarily
define a judge's legal perspective, we continue to see political
affiliation play an outsized role in debates involving
environmental rules," Height Capital Markets said.
    Separately, a bill passed a committee in Virginia's
legislature last week that would add restrictions on Dominion's
ability to pass the costs of transporting gas on the Atlantic
Coast pipeline to its Virginia-based power plants.
    Dominion said the bill was unnecessary since Virginia's
utility regulator "already has a strong process in place to
protect consumers."
    "Atlantic Coast is going to lower consumer energy costs and
make their electricity more reliable," Dominion's Neddenien
said.

    
 (Reporting by Scott DiSavino, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)
  
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