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Dec 6, 6:45 PM EST

West Virginia weighs permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia environmental regulators Wednesday announced two public hearings on issuing a construction stormwater permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry natural gas southeast from the center of the state.

The 600-mile (965-kilometer) pipeline would extend almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) through five counties in West Virginia, then cross Virginia and bend through eastern North Carolina.

West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection said that if approved, that permit would give the state agency wide-ranging inspection and enforcement authority over the project.

At the same time, the department said it was waiving its issuance of a state certification under the federal Clean Water Act, saying provisions in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide permit are "designed to mirror" the state's terms. "Under the nationwide permit, enforcement would be left to federal agencies and would be limited to stream crossings," it said.

The lead developer of the 600-mile (965-kilometer), approximately $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline is Dominion Energy, along with partners Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Co. Gas. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its project approval in October.

Dominion Energy spokesman Aaron Ruby said Wednesday that the developers support the West Virginia decision, calling it "a key step toward beginning construction later this year." It will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to West Virginia, he said.

West Virginia hearings are scheduled Dec. 18 at Buckhannon-Upshur High School in Buckhannon and Dec. 21 at Pocahontas County High School in Dunmore.

Last month, the state's environmental regulators likewise waived issuing a state certification for building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas down the center of the state. FERC has also approved that project. Secretary Austin Caperton, who heads the DEP, said using the state's storm water permit on that project will "provide significantly stronger safeguards for the waters of West Virginia."

That pipeline would extend south for 195 miles (315 kilometers) in north-central West Virginia through 11 counties to the Virginia state line and nearly 110 miles (175 kilometers) through six counties in that state.

Environmentalists said the state agency was failing to do its duty.

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This story has been corrected to show that Wednesday's announcement was about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, not the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

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