The communities and wildlife living along the proposed route of the 600-mile-long Atlantic Coast Pipeline can breathe a sigh of relief this week. A federal appeals court has pulled a key U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit, a move that could halt some, if not all, construction of Dominion Energy’s proposed pipeline, which would transport natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina.
The three judges in the case, brought by the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to set clear, adequate limits for how construction could negatively affect threatened or endangered species, which would make enforcement of the Endangered Species Act too difficult. The pipeline would pass through a steep, forested mountain landscape―one of the most intact landscapes in the Southeast―and disrupt critical spawning and nursery habitat for endangered fish such as Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon.
The court’s decision is a hopeful one for those in the pipeline’s path and for the environmentalists who have spoken out loudly against the project’s threat to communities, waterways, wetlands, and wildlife.
Answering a call to action last fall, thousands of NRDC members joined the growing chorus of resistance by sending letters to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam that urged him to put a stop to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Activists also took to social media to spread the word about what was at stake:
This 300 year old maple tree is in Dominion Energy’s path of destruction. #NoACP #StandwithRed #protectourland #noeminentdomainforprofit #waterislife #StandWithNutty #atlanticcoastpipeline #NoNewPipelines #pipelines #NaturalGas pic.twitter.com/g2AnKZUVhC— Diane Sparkes (@BlueRidgeCelt) May 12, 2018
They also pointed out the disproportionate impact the pipeline would have on communities of color:
consistently grateful for the chance to learn from the black church leaders + women of color who are fighting racist and unjust fossil fuel infrastructure expansion in virginia#climatejustice #noACP #noMVP https://t.co/A4HwGmSUzf— Rachel M-G (@rachelmg22) March 15, 2018
And offline, more than a dozen protesters were arrested after participating in a nonviolent sit-in at the office of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
Neither governor heeded the call to end the construction of the pipeline, which is why the aforementioned plaintiffs took Dominion Energy to court. And when the judges’ decision came down on Tuesday, shock and joy reverberated across the Twitterverse:
I’m stunned. Never thought the court would do it. https://t.co/AM23ebxK8C— lisasorg (@lisasorg) May 16, 2018
Words matter! (So do people, communities, animals, habitats, and water!) So thankful for those on the frontlines’ courageous resistance, the courts decision, and for @selc_org’s work! #VirginiaIsForLovers #NoACP https://t.co/A5h0RZsdju— Catherine Goggins (@cmgoggins) May 16, 2018
The fight is not yet over, though. Dominion says it plans to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with the court’s order to set clear limits around the impact to endangered species and then move forward with the project. But the latest ruling is a crucial first step toward environmentalists’ end goal—stopping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for good.
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