From Food & Water Watch:
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Releases Draft Recommendation to Approve Key State Water Permit for Controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline
Environmental and social justice advocates decry expedited decision
Richmond, VA—Today, after the better part of a decade of pushback from local and national groups urging ruling bodies to stop the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a draft recommendation to approve a key state water permit that would allow the project to move forward. Environmental and social justice groups decry the DEQ’s draft ruling, which was expedited in recent months, and which ignores a recent EPA recommendation arguing for the permits to be denied.
“In what has become an alarming trend for Gov. Northam’s DEQ, the agency is once again disregarding environmental impacts and widespread community opposition in their approval process for a fracked gas pipeline,” said Food & Water Watch Virginia Organizer Jolene Mafnas. “This is a failure of leadership at a time when many Virginians are looking to keep fossil fuel infrastructure out of Virginia. Governor Northam must step in to ensure DEQ denies Mountain Valley Pipeline its permits.”
According to Virginia law, MVP is subject to the Virginia Water Protection (VWP) Permit in order to fulfill the CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification, issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. This past March, DEQ asked the Army Corps for an extension in issuing the final permit ruling stating that, “based on the complexity of this project and past public controversy, we cannot reasonably issue the VWP permit before December 2021 and we believe it is quite likely that we could not issue this permit until early 2022.”
Nonetheless, the DEQ proceeded with its draft recommendation on an expedited schedule, and seems to have provided little detail on how the hundreds of waterways and wetlands will actually be impacted. Two years ago, MVP was forced to pay $2.1 million to the state for hundreds of violations of its previous water permit, but DEQ does not mention factoring these past violations into its recommendation.
Earlier this summer, the EPA recommended against issuing a key water permit for the project, citing insufficient information and serious threats to waterways. The DEQ’s draft ruling disregards that July recommendation to the Army Corps of Engineers, but fails to provide sufficient reasoning as to why the project might not pose a threat to waterways as the EPA had found.
“This is a sad day for the community and all that is affected by the proposed pipeline,” said 7 Directions of Service Co Founder, Crystal Cavalier-Keck. “It is a travesty that DEQ isn’t listening to the millions of citizens it is affecting. As an indigenous person we never had a concept of owning land, property, or material things. Traditionally, we regarded the land as a communal resource, with ownership vested in the group rather than in any one individual. We also believed that spiritual forces were everywhere, dwelling in heavenly bodies and in sacred places on the Earth. Spirits lived within plants and animals. However, we were assimilated into European mentalities and here we are today fighting against major corporations that do not value people, animals, plants, land, or the earth.”
“MVP has already had hundreds of water quality-related violations in the course of construction of their dangerous fracked gas pipeline,” said Lynn Godfrey, Pipeline Organizer with the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. “Why should we give them the chance to cause further destruction to our waterways? It’s clear that MVP can’t be trusted to safely build or operate their pipeline. The State Water Control Board must heed the mounting concerns about this dangerous project from EPA and the public and reject its permit to pollute Virginia’s waters.”
In tandem with the draft ruling, DEQ has opened a public comment period that runs from August 28th until October 13. The agency will also host public hearings on the project on September 27th and 28th in Rocky Mount and Radford respectively with no official indication of a remote participation option. The ultimate decision on the key MVP permit will fall with the State Water Control Board, who will vote on the VWP Permit after reviewing DEQ’s draft permit and public comments.