by Jon Sokolow
Mountain Valley Pipeline has had a very bad few months.
Since December, the project has suffered a series of disastrous legal and regulatory losses. These are just the latest blows to the partially built 303-mile pipeline, first proposed in 2014 but already years behind schedule and billions over budget, that would transport fracked natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.
In December, Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board voted 6-1 to deny a permit to build a compressor station for MVP Southgate – a 75 mile extension that would extend MVP from Virginia to North Carolina. Southgate already had failed – twice – to obtain required permits from North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality for the pipeline itself.
In January and February, unanimous panels of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals yanked permits needed to cross land within the Jefferson National Forest, as well as a key biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is required under the Endangered Species Act. In each case, this was the second time the Fourth Circuit had revoked these permits. The full Fourth Circuit later refused to even consider MVP’s requests to reconsider those panel decisions.
In early April, as discussed at length here, MVP had a very bad day before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, when questions posed by a three judge panel during oral argument on the certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission led many to believe that MVP may lose that certificate when the court issues its decision. The FERC certificate is the foundational permit required for the project.
As we recently noted, things have gone from bad to worse for Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Now MVP has suffered yet another blow.
On Earth Day, seventeen Virginia legislators, joined by two dozen grassroots organizations, wrote letters to Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine, calling the Mountain Valley Pipeline an “environmental catastrophe with no certainty of completion.”
The letters were signed by seven members of the Virginia Senate, including President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas and Senators Jennifer Boysko, John Edwards, Barbara Favola, Ghazala Hashmi, Jennifer McClellan and Chap Petersen, as well as ten members of the House of Delegates – Dawn Adams, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Kelly Fowler, Wendy Gooditis, Kay Kory, Delores McQuinn, Sam Rasoul, Irene Shin, Kathy Tran and Rodney Willett. The letters were co-signed by twenty-four grassroots organizations, including several large coalitions like Virginia Conservation Network, Protect our Water Heritage Rights, Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance, and Green New Deal Virginia Coalition.
The letters pointed to recent efforts by Senator Joe Manchin to convince the Biden Administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to complete what the legislators refer to as “this flawed project.” They noted that Senator Manchin relied on “developers’ false claims that MVP is 90%-95% complete.” In fact, the letters pointed out, MVP’s own figures show that the project is only 55% complete and MVP “has yet to install pipeline through hundreds of water crossings, a project phase considered to be the most difficult, time consuming, and most likely to lead to detrimental environmental impact.”
The letters further noted that Senator Manchin is “sidestepping the regulatory requirements MVP has shown it’s incapable of complying with, through its own track record of irresponsible and destructive development.”
They pointed to the fact that Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality “alleged over 350 environmental violations” by MVP, which led to more than $2 million in fines, and that the recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions found that federal agencies “inadequately considered actual sedimentation and erosion impacts” and its impact on endangered species. The letters noted that the pipeline’s prospects, already uncertain because of these adverse court decisions, “grew even dimmer” when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would not issue a Clean Water Act permit until MVP first obtained a new and valid biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The letters noted the widely reported fact that all of these developments have led MVP’s backers “scrambling to reevaluate their investments.”
Importantly, the legislators and organizations told Senators Warner and Kaine that “MVP has already exploited communities along its route, many of whom are low- to middle income residents, people of color, and the elderly” and that “MVP has taken advantage of their land and will continue imparting environmental harms and significant risks.”
They also noted the serious threat to climate change represented by MVP:
“MVP would likely leak more than 6 million cubic feet of methane and toxins per day. Once in operation, MVP would have emissions of over 20 U.S. coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles per year. The local environmental harms and global climate harms of this line cannot be overstated at a time when experts such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are urging rapid and immediate decreases in greenhouse gas emissions.”
And they concluded:
“We must not mistake MVP as a ready source of energy or done deal as Senator Manchin insists.
MVP is a non-viable solution for current energy concerns, and should be recognized as an environmental catastrophe with no certainty of completion.”
For all of these reasons, the letters urged the Senators “to reject any efforts to push this project through using the Defense Protection Act or other legislative means that sidestep the regulatory process or undermine recent court rulings as it pertains to this project’s clear impact to water quality and sensitive endangered species.”
The movement to stop Mountain Valley Pipeline is strong and growing.
The legislators are right.
It is time to end this irresponsible and destructive environmental catastrophe.