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Federal Panel Voids Key Pipeline Authorization Document

Construction on parts of the controversial 6,000-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is now halted. WCVE’s Saraya Wintersmith reports a federal appeals panel has vacated an authorizing document from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmental groups challenged the authorization saying that endangered species would be harmed.

The incidental take statement is a document crafted to restrict how much endangered species may be harmed, disturbed, or “taken” throughout the course of a project without jeopardizing its population.

Attorney Austin Gerken, who argued the case on behalf of the Southern Environmental Law Center says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to set clear limits for five endangered species in the pipeline’s path - the Indiana Bat, the Northern Long-eared Bat, the Clubshell Mussel, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee, and the Madison Cave Isopod.

“‘Small percent’ is the wording that they used. It’s not a limit,” said Gerken in an interview with WCVE Tuesday evening (5/15). “The problem with it is not just that it’s vague, it’s unenforceable. This is like a speed limit that says please don't drive too fast.”

In a three-page, unpublished opinion Tuesday, judges from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s incidental take statement and said a more thorough opinion is forthcoming.

A spokesperson for the pipeline’s lead energy company, Dominion, says it remains unclear what areas and how many miles of pipeline are impacted by the ruling. That Dominion official also says Atlantic Coast Pipeline will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled.