State water board approves conditional certification for Atlantic Coast Pipeline project

The Virginia state water board approved a conditional certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project on Tuesday.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After hours of public comment Monday, it was the Virginia State Water Control Board’s turn to talk Tuesday.

The board was weighing whether to give a water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The natural gas pipeline would cut through three states, including Virginia.

After much back and forth, the panel voted 4-3 to approve a key permit for the controversial project, though it is not yet in effect. It’s all contingent on the board getting more information about its environmental impact.

It’s something Mara Robbins has been fighting.

She has also been vocally opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would cross western Virginia.

The same board issued a certification for that project last week.

“We have fought arm in arm,” said Robbins. “It’s all one pipeline. They are not wanted. They are not needed. Not here, not there, not anywhere.”

Robbins said Virginia is one big backyard and has seen several groups come together to try and stop the projects.

“We are a movement now and there are people here supporting this, supporting the protection of our waters. It is our single most valuable natural resource and we have to come together to protect it,” she said.

The passion was evident in the crowd. Opponents of the project could be seen wiggling their fingers at the board’s comments they supported and flashing their thumbs down at those they opposed.

But not all commentary from the audience was silent Tuesday. An outburst in the crowd followed by chanting caused a short recess.

David Sligh of Wild Virginia said the pipeline projects have drawn an unprecedented level of passion.

“We have never seen this kind of uprising of people in this state on an environmental issue. I’ve been working on these issues for over 35 years,” said Sligh. “I have never seen this kind of effort. I’ve never seen this kind of unity. That is important and I think they recognized it.”

Dominion Energy spokesperson Aaron Ruby issued a statement following the vote, calling the certification “a very significant milestone for the project and another major step toward final approval.”

Ruby said the board reached its decision after “the most thorough environmental review of any infrastructure project in Virginia history.”

Ruby said Dominion Energy has made protecting water quality a priority at every stage of the project.

“In many cases, we’ve gone above and beyond regulatory requirements and adopted some of the most protective measures ever used by the industry,” he said in the statement.

But board members still want more information about the project’s impact to water quality before their “yes” vote is finalized.

Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) spokesman Bill Hayden said it will be “a while” until that happens.

“Those reports must be completed, DEQ must analyze and approve them and present them to the water board,” said Hayden. “Once that happens, the certification would take effect.”

Hayden said a timeline for that is not yet known.

While opponents said outright denying the certification was ideal, a conditional permit — which signals a delay — leaves hope.

“The overall vote means that Dominion does not have an effective certification today,” said Sligh. “I am pleased that the board recognized that there are serious flaws here.”