- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline across the Blue Ridge Mountains lost a legislative battle Monday.

Environmentalists and property owners in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline were seeking repeal of a 2004 state law that allows interstate natural gas companies to do testing and surveying on private property without the consent of the owner.

Richmond-based Dominion Resources is joining other utilities seeking to build the $5 billion, 550-mile pipeline that would bring gas to the coast from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

State Sen. Emmett Hanger’s bill to repeal the 2004 law died for lack of a motion in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Hanger, an Augusta County Republican, said he supports energy development but believes the current law tramples private property rights.

Pipeline supporters said legislation would be unwise because of pending litigation over the issue.

The committee heard from four landowners who are fighting Dominion’s efforts to survey their property.

Carlos Arostegui, a Buckingham County farmer, said the company wants to dispatch surveyors through the middle of his largest pasture.

Dominion refuses to even discuss the issue with him, Arostegui said, because it can rely on the 2004 law as a “legal crutch.”

“Make them talk to us,” he pleaded. “Make them persuade us, not ram it down our throats.”

Dominion said it is simply following the current law.

The 2004 law was sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, a Virginia Beach Republican. This year Wagner is sponsoring a measure, now close to passage, that would weaken state regulatory oversight of Dominion’s electric rates.

Dominion successfully defeated a bill earlier this session involving a well-organized group of citizens from Prince William County who have expressed concerns similar to those of pipeline opponents about Dominion’s ability to affect their property values.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Bob Marshall, was aimed at limiting Dominion’s ability to put heavy-duty power lines around the town of Haymarket for a proposed data center.

AP writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.

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