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Virginia’s DEQ Should Reject the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 401 Permit Under the Clean Water Act

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by Cynthia Munley, Mothers Out Front, Roanoke

Upon DEQ’s recommendation, Virginia’s State Water Control Board could soon issue a key permit that will allow Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) to gain a 401 permit under the Clean Water Act (CWA).   Please urgently sign this Mothers Out Front petition which must be submitted to the State Water Control Board by Wednesday.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSefvMe8VnDU1CoN2JT1hbgS9ViBthel_zAlXXTLUEsfrwcDRA/viewform

In 2017, concerned citizens requested that MVP seek an individual water crossing permit under the protective Clean Water Act (CWA). Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) first announced that it would do so, but weeks later reversed course and instead announced it would seek approval of what is known as a “blanket” Army Corps of Engineers’(ACE) 404 permit.

DEQ did not acknowledge overwhelming scientists and experts’ warnings of vast harms to VA water resources from the proposed MVP that the ACE boilerplate permit could allow. The result is a massive project that VADEQ is insufficiently equipped to oversee and that is being carried out in reverse order. The permit should have been appropriate and settled before any construction.

Because DEQ ignored science, citizens’ trust in the regulatory process is broken. Citizens’ hard work participating in years of commenting and being run through endless regulatory hoops documenting and informing the Board and other agencies of harms to our clean Appalachian streams.

The result of DEQ ignoring those warnings is now realized in spades. DEQ claimed there was “reasonable assurance” that water quality would be protected. It has not been. Despite AG Herring’s Consent Decree fining MVP for over 300 violations, MVP continues to pollute streams and uses many ineffective sediment controls.

There is no need for the expensive MVP gas. The only current purchaser of MVP gas is Roanoke Gas Company (RGC): 1% MVP owner seeking to foist MVP gas upon its captive ratepayers. Likewise, Dominion Energy seeks to use MVP’s planned Southgate extension to send MVP gas to North Carolina, but twice North Carolina rejected using that permit. EQT’s CEO has stated (even after equally foolish MVP competitor Atlantic Coast Pipeline project died), that there is “overcapacity” for shipping gas out of the Appalachian Basin. Filling the MVP with high-compression gas now even threatens investors’ own bottom line as much as it does our communities.

State and Federal laws protect us from MVP’s harms to precious water resources. There is no credible underlying need for MVP, therefore, it is not an “important economic or social development.” MVP’s harmful construction violates Virginia’s Anti-degradation policy  (see Section 3) which states that Tier 3 waters (in uplands like Roanoke County’s Bent Mountain) should retain their unimpaired recreational value for citizens unless the project is needed as it clearly is not. Little Stony and Bottom Creeks are specifically mentioned as streams designated for protection under Section 3 c (1) and (2). MVP construction is harming these valuable, irreplaceable streams.

MVP’s vast harms to VA water resources have zero justification or benefit. Furthermore, damage is only temporarily allowed “if, after a minimal period of time, the waters are returned or restored to conditions equal to or better than those existing just prior to the temporary source of pollution.”  Pristine Appalachian stream crossings “restored” with rip-rap and concrete can never “equal” the gifts nature has freely provided for clean streams and unspoiled recreational treasures like Bottom Creek.

MVP failed to meet the boilerplate ACE NW12 permit standards, losing that permit in Federal Court. For unknown reasons, DEQ is allowed to continue harmful construction between streams by the DEQ (contrary to the USFS, who stopped construction across the forest while MVP lacked a full set of permits). While MVP continues to pollute VA waters, MVP incredibly (and as a last resort) is attempting to gain a brand-new water-crossing permit under the 401 section of our national CWA.  This is a different ballgame, especially since MVP did not even meet the lax standards of the boilerplate 404 permit.

The EPA, under the new administration, has now outlined in its letter to the ACE a detailed and stringent list of what it must do to make a credible application for a 401 CWA permit. While MVP has failed to fulfill those detailed high standards, our DEQ is enthusiastically recommending that MVP’s 401 permit be approved in the face of our federal EPA currently recommending “non-approval.”  The CWA–beloved of the American people– unanimously passed Congress. Allowing MVP to use that act to unlawfully and systematically downgrade hundreds of irreplaceable VA waters is an outrage. The CWA is the law of the land. This must not stand.

The permissive oversight of DEQ and the Citizens Water Board over the MVP project that allowed it to progress this far, has already resulted in significant destruction to many VA waters. Permitting MVP with a proven record of water destruction to rush across Appalachian streams under the CWA is intolerable.

In its letter to the ACE, the EPA has supported Virginians’ rights under the CWA. This is a new ballgame but DEQ does not “get it.” Following the EPA’s non-recommendation of a 401 CWA permit to ACE, DEQ responded by announcing that the Citizens Water Board recommends “approval” prior to the Rocky Mount and Radford public hearings on the 401, turning those public hearings into what feels like another rubber stamp charade. Only the SWCB can fix this now by unequivocally denying the 401 permit.

We concerned citizens have held back completion of MVP through four years of an unprotective federal administration and pro-pipeline EPA administrators.  We rightfully demand that our Citizens’ Board (who oversees the responsible and reasonable administration of the DEQ) step up, fulfill their stated mission and act now to follow Virginia and Federal laws, protect Virginia waters, and reject a new MVP 401 permit under the Clean Water Act.

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