Water and Wetlands

Dominion Pipeline

On behalf of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, we submitted comments objecting to Dominion Energy’s application for a permit to install a 14.5-mile gas main pipeline through Florence County.
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Issue Background

Dominion Energy is proposing to install a massive pipeline known as the River Neck to Kingsburg 16-inch Gas Main, also known as the Pamplico Pipeline.

The project will impact 32 wetland areas and cross six named tributaries of the Great Pee Dee River and is using eminent domain to take land—including heirs' property and lands held by families for generations.

Reatha Jefferson, whose family has owned property in the area for over a century, said, “I don't want a pipeline on our property. I don't want the health problems that come with a pipeline.”

We partnered with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League to urge the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to deny water quality certification to the pipeline, as the pipeline has failed to demonstrate that it will satisfy South Carolina state water quality standards.

A tributary of the Great Pee Dee River. Photo by Jacob Qualls

Why We Are Fighting

The Great Pee Dee River is Designated Critical Habitat for Atlantic sturgeon and there are known occurrences of Atlantic sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon (both Federally Endangered) in the river and DNR has records of numerous State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) fish species in the streams Dominion proposes to impact, including the American eel, ironcolor shiner, flat bullhead and fieryback shiner. The federally-listed Canby’s Dropwort and Boykin’s Lobelia are also known to exist in the area.

The area is rich in wildlife, including the Northern Flicker woodpecker. Photo by Jacob Qualls

The Endangered Species Act prohibits the take of listed species through direct harm or habitat destruction. According to the Endangered Species Act, if a project will kill or harm a nearly extinct species, the project applicant must have an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With the permit, holders can proceed with an activity that results in the incidental taking of a listed species. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals previously vacated Dominion’s incidental take permit during its attempts to build the ill-conceived Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Residents of the town of Pamplico are also concerned about the possible environmental impacts of the project due to Dominion’s history of damaging South Carolina’s water supply. For example, in 2018, Dominion was cited for failing to control sediment on a construction site near a 55-mile pipeline it had built in the Upstate.

Local property owner Theresa Hyman is concerned that the Pamplico Pipeline will similarly pollute the area's river, soil and drinking water.

“They are basically destroying our very existence and way of life,” she said.

Nevertheless, the Corps of Engineers recently indicated its intention to review Dominion’s permit application under a laxer Nationwide Permit (NWP). The NWP is allowed only if construction will have minimal adverse environmental impacts.

On April 15, 2020, the U.S. District Court in Montana vacated the NWP based on the Corps’ failure to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service as required by Endangered Species Act. After heated debate, on July 6, 2020 the United States Supreme Court partially reversed the district court’s decision, temporarily reinstating the permit.

Dominion’s history indicates its proposed construction would have more than minimal environmental impacts. The Corps should require an individual Clean Water Act permit, instead of the lax NWP and DHEC should not approve Dominion’s request for 401 Water Quality Certification. We will continue to advocate against use of the NWP to condemn these rural and historic family properties.

Kathy Andrews, director of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said, “Dominion Energy is targeting this area, filled with heirs property and working-class people because they think they can get away with it. Well, the community won't tolerate environmental racism and the right to live in an environment free of toxic chemicals in the water and air pollution.”

Case Update

We filed a challenge to DHEC’s decision to issue certifications to install the pipeline in April 2022 because of the serious environmental justice implications and the unnecessary harmful impacts. Over the next several months, Staff Attorneys Lauren Megill Milton and Ben Cunningham conducted numerous depositions and reviewed over 30,000 documents while preparing for the Administrative Law Court hearing, which ultimately took place in February and March of 2023. In late July of that year, the ALC issued its ruling that unfortunately was in favor of Dominion. After a thorough evaluation and careful deliberation, SCELP attorneys decided not to move forward with an appeal.  That appeal is now being handled by other legal counsel.

South Carolina needs stronger laws requiring the energy industry to prioritize environmental safeguards, accountability, and transparency before constructing pipelines that affect our natural resources. In the absence of such laws, harmful impacts fall disproportionately on the environment and already overburdened low-income and minority communities. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a concerning push towards rushed approvals, lax oversight, and inadequate consideration for environmental justice. We will continue to push for state and federal initiatives to increase the accountability and transparency energy companies should use before constructing pipelines that affect our communities and shared environment.

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