McAuliffe called the pipeline, which would cross Virginia as it runs from West Virginia to North Carolina, a "game changer for manufacturing," according to the News Leader.
Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas announced on Tuesday morning that they selected Dominion to build and operate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The companies said they would like to have final approval for the project by the summer of 2016.
“We’re talking jobs, economic development and it’s good for the environment,” McAuliffe said, according to The Washington Post's coverage of the event announcing the agreement. "In addition this will allow Dominion who has coal plants that are 50, 60 years old, which they plan on shutting down -- this a lot less emissions. So what we’re doing today is great for the environment."
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good also touted it as an environmental boon in an interview with The Associated Press, arguing that the pipeline is part of the company's transition away from coal.
"We’ve retired half of our coal fleet for the last 5 years, and certainly that will continue,” said Good. “We see natural gas as an important part of the electricity generation mix for many decades to come."
Environmental groups criticized the pipeline and McAuliffe's support for the project. Nancy Sorrells, co-chairwoman of the Augusta County Alliance, which opposes the pipeline, called the move "disappointing" in an interview with The Huffington Post.
"This is really just an ill-advised pipeline proposal for so many reasons. I can't find a reason why it's a good thing," she said. Forty-three miles of the pipeline would cross Augusta County, and Sorrells said that between 400 and 500 county residents have come out to speak against the pipeline at recent meetings.
The Southern Environmental Law Center noted that the pipeline would pass through the George Washington National Forest, the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains, and the Shenandoah Valley. "It crosses prime recreational and biological and recreational areas in the national forest, including much of the best remaining wild landscape in Virginia," said SELC senior attorney Greg Buppert, arguing that it raises "serious questions about whether it can be built without significant damage to pristine forests and rivers." It would also cross the Appalachian Trail.
SELC also noted that McAuliffe has previously expressed concern about other natural gas projects in the state. The governor sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack earlier this year in which he opposed gas drilling in the George Washington National Forest, citing concerns about the effects of hydraulic fracturing on public water supplies, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation in the region.