by Charles Young
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he believes legal precedent exists to back up the argument made in a 35-page brief supporting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.
The brief, written by Morrisey's office in conjunction with the Attorneys General of 15 other states, asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review and overturn a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that halted construction of the natural gas pipeline project.
During a press conference held Wednesday morning at the Bridgeport Convention and Visitors Bureau Center, Morrisey outlined the effect he hopes the brief will have and discussed the negative impact the continued construction delays have had on West Virginia's economy.
The 4th Circuit's ruling stuck down a decision by the U.S. Forest Service permitting the proposed pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail.
Allowing that decision to stand could have a detrimental impact on future energy projects, Morrisey said.
"The folks challenging the pipeline want to make all federal land along the Appalachian Trail an impenetrable barrier," he said. "If the plaintiffs in this case, who hope to try and bring the pipeline to a grinding halt, have their way we're going to see a significant step back for energy development in our state and in our country."
While pipeline opponents have argued that construction in the area of the Appalachian Trail will hurt the environment, Morrisey said these claims are baseless.
"The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is 600-miles long. The ACP crosses the (Appalachian) Trail at just one place; just one," he said. "That single point of contact straddles two slivers of Virginia counties. So most importantly, not only does the pipeline never touch the Trail, it goes about 600 ft. beneath it using a horizontal, directional drill. That means there is going to be zero impact to the Trail."
The delays to the project have forced thousands of pipeline workers to seek other jobs elsewhere, Morrisey said.
"Because the 4th Circuit wrongly decided this case many of the hardworking men and women have had to leave their families to find work in other states in the union; maybe in Louisiana, maybe in Alaska or Texas," he said.
Bob Orndorff, West Virginia state policy director for Dominion, said the delays have nearly doubled the overall cost of the project.
"Initially we announced this project at a cost of $3.5 million," he said. "Our estimates are now more than $7 million or higher."
Cindy Whetsell, executive director of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority, said her county has felt a financial strain since construction in the area was halted.
"In Lewis County we are home to nearly 20 miles of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Marts Compressor Station. This is estimated to bring an additional $4 million annually to the county tax base," she said. "This is revenue that we should have realized this year."
The effectiveness of the brief will ultimately depend on whether or not the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, Morrisey said.
"We know that its uphill when you're asking the Supreme Court to rule just to get your case heard; that's usually considered a low probability" he said. "But I'm optimistic. You know why? Because I think we're right on the law and I think the court will understand the impact and the precedent of having these impenetrable barriers and what that would do to economic activity and job creation across the country."
He hopes the court will ultimately take the case and issue a ruling by the spring of 2020, Morrisey said.
"This would probably be heard in the spring term; that's my best estimate," he said.
Read the full article and more in WV News.