UPDATE 1-Dominion confirms $8 bln Atlantic Coast natgas pipe cost, early 2022 in service

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May 5 (Reuters) - Dominion Energy Inc confirmed on Tuesday its previous cost and schedule estimates for the roughly $8 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina that is expected to enter service in early 2022.

That cost and schedule, however, depends on the company being allowed to cut trees along the pipeline’s route during the upcoming November 2020-March 2021 season, Dominion Chief Executive Thomas Farrell told analysts after the company released its first quarter earnings.

“We can maintain the existing schedule and cost estimates, so long as we can take advantage of the November 2020 through March 2021 tree filling season,” Farrell said, noting “We remain confident in the successful completion of the project.”

Atlantic Coast, the nation’s most expensive gas pipe, is one of several projects to have received federal permits in recent years but which have been delayed by state opposition and local and environmental legal and regulatory battles.

Farrell said the company expects to overcome those challenges this year.

In the Appalachian Trail case, Dominion said it expects the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in its favor in coming weeks, allowing the pipe to cross the trail along its existing route.

In the biological opinion case, Farrell said Dominion is working with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and expects to receive needed authorizations by the end of this quarter.

Dominion suspended construction of the 600-mile (966-kilometer) project in December 2018 after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stayed a FWS biological opinion.

On the Nationwide Permit issue, which the Army Corps of Engineers uses to authorize waterbody crossings, Farrell said he expects the U.S. Department of Justice and industry will resolve a legal opinion that questions the legitimacy of the Army Corps’ use of the program “in a timely manner.”

In a case involving TC Energy Corp’s Keystone XL oil pipe, a federal judge in Montana said the Army Corps was inappropriately using the permit program.

The Justice Department asked the judge to limit his ruling so it does not affect the entire program, which could stall hundreds of projects.

Atlantic Coast is owned by units of Dominion and Duke Energy Corp.

When Dominion started work on the 1.5 billion cubic feet per day pipe in the spring of 2018, the company estimated it would cost $6.0-$6.5 billion and be completed in late 2019.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino, Editing by Bernadette Baum