Home Energy and Environment Virginia Landowners Challenge Mountain Valley Pipeline’s Clean Water Act Section 401 Permit

Virginia Landowners Challenge Mountain Valley Pipeline’s Clean Water Act Section 401 Permit


by Southwest Virginia landowners opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline

Bent Mountain, Virginia – Today landowners, local businesses and grassroots groups filed a challenge to the 401 water quality permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The permit was granted on December 8 during a Virginia State Water Control Board (SWCB) meeting in Richmond despite visceral, viable and vocal objections from affected landowners, lawyers, scientists, politicians and concerned citizens.  Four days later, the SWCB approved the permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), but with a stipulation. The permit for the ACP cannot go into effect until outstanding information about the project’s impacts to water quality is completed and presented for review to the SWCB.

Bill Wolf, founder and co-director of Preserve Craig, said: “Governor McAuliffe announced his complete support for MVP years ago, without considering the devastation it would cause Virginia and Virginians.  He even directed the DEQ to expedite any required approvals.  Now Preserve Craig and other citizens of Virginia have to take the State to Federal Court because DEQ did not do its job. The review was incomplete, the 401 permit seriously flawed and the decision pre-determined.  The Water Control Board even approved the MVP 401 permit without the restrictions placed on the ACP permit, even though the managing partner of MVP has pled guilty to intentionally polluting other state waters and is a convicted environmental criminal. Governor-elect Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring should immediately require that the 401 permit be re-opened while a thorough investigation is completed. Our water quality should be the most cherished resource that Virginia officials protect for us.”

Roberta Bonderant from Preserve Bent Mountain, said: “Our Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) followed the lead of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), rubber stamping natural gas applications that have been impeached by scores of reputable professionals as ill-advised and deeply flawed. The Board members obviously struggled to understand process and substance in the two-day fiasco in Richmond. Their questions and concerns were thwarted, corralled and manipulated by permitting staff and counsel at every turn. It was obvious that a permitting decision had been preordained.”

A petition for reconsideration on the MVP was presented to the SWCB during their meeting regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) on December 11, but theBoard chose not to take action. The appeal filed today seeks to require action that the Board should have taken before considering whether there is reasonable assurance that MVP can protect water quality.  If the Board now wants to impose the same conditions on the MVP that it imposed on the ACP it must reopen the permit itself.

Mara Robbins, a community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), expressed frustration over the SWCB’s decision. “It makes no sense. They delayed the ACP permitting until erosion and sedimentation reports are complete. Many of the issues presented were identical. Yet the permits for the ACP were delayed and the ones for the MVP were not? They need to go back to the drawing board and get this right. Does the Board have reasonable assurance or not?  Scientists, farmers, politicians, business owners and most especially affected landowners are all ‘reasonably assured’ that MVP will cause harm to our water. Yet no assurances and no reasons are really being applied.”

The issues addressed in the appeal include: failure to analyze impacts to the Water Quality Standards (WSQ), including narrative standard, beneficial/designated uses, and antidegradation. There was also a failure to identify applicable WQS and a failure to evaluate/regulate impacts to WQS on a holistic scale. The SWCB issued the 401 certification based on information that was not yet available before them, such as erosion and sedimentation analysis. They also lacked a completed engineering report, relying on only a draft.

Many have expressed shock and dismay that a citizen’s board charged with the responsibility of protecting fellow citizens water quality could hear all the evidence they did and still approve the permits. Bonnie Law, chair of Preserve Franklin, said, “When a hired government contractor stands up and admits in a public meeting that our private water supplies will be contaminated, this is unconscionable! No one gave them the right to poison me or my child and I will most certainly not give it to them.”

“Bureaucratic tyranny is undermining citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Karen Maute, who lives in Pittsylvania County where the proposed MVP would end at an existing Transco compressor station. “MVP has been allowed, through insufficient process with no accountability to citizens, to bully individuals to bend to their demands. This assault, encouraged by our government, is an affront to every citizen and will not be tolerated.”

Carolyn Reilly’s family owns and runs Four Corners Farm in Franklin County. “Our livelihood and our very lives depend upon clean water. As farmers, our hackles have been raised from day one of this pipeline fight because we know how vital and necessary our soil and water is for our farm. But not just for us, for the greater community, country, and world. And most especially for future generations,” said Reilly. Her seventeen-year old son, Jonas, pointed out: “Water is one of our most fundamental basic needs, without it we’re dust. Water is life.”

Roberta Bonderant is confident that the legal action will be effective. “Following six months of DEQ policy mistakes, machinations and manipulations of the Clean Water Act, citizens of Southwest Virginia once again traveled great distances to Richmond to make sure their voices were heard. If they will not listen in a meeting room, they’ll have to listen in a court of law. DEQ leadership’s manipulation of process is evidenced in the staff summary document.  The DEQ SWCB meetings were a final flourish to a process managed by state employees who were coerced by an administration and industry to ignore and suppress the foretelling of environmental havoc.”

Sam Rasoul, the 11th District Virginia Delegate and a strong supporter of water protections in Southwest Virginia and across the commonwealth, is a petitioner in this appeal. He said: “If you care about our drinking water, this is the fight of our generation in Southwest Virginia. The largest pipeline to ever cut through Virginia mountains would hurt our water. We must do everything in our power to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”


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