New Permits Granted for Mountain Valley Pipeline
Two water permits were approved last month for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, raising concerns over its impacts on the environment and sparking lawsuits.
In December, the Virginia State Water Control Board granted a permit for the pipeline to cross about 150 streams and wetlands in Southwest Virginia. Later that month, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection approved a water quality permit.
Opponents of the MVP have filed legal action against the Virginia permit and the WVDEP, citing previous violations and arguing that the permit approvals violate the Clean Water Act.
Mountain Valley Pipeline History
The pipeline is owned and being constructed by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC—a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC. Once complete, the pipeline is slated to be operated by EQT Midstream Partners.
THE SIERRA CLUB has filed a lawsuit challenging a key permit approval given to the Mountain Valley Pipeline by the West Virginia DEP. Read more here: https://t.co/hArqxvOGTc— WV News (@WVNews247) January 3, 2022
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is expected to run from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, cutting through the Jefferson National Forest. The project is the smaller of two currently underway in the state of Virginia; the other is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is twice as long and passes through the center of the state but does not cut through Jefferson National Forest.
On July 27, 2018, an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit turned over prior decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service authorizing construction of the 303-mile pipeline. In early August of that year, the U.S. Federal Regulatory Commission ordered work on the pipeline to cease, alleging that two U.S. agencies had not fully examined the projects.
A few months later, in October, the project was blocked yet again, but this time by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, suspending a permit that would allow the pipeline to cross more than 500 streams and wetlands in southwest Virginia. The following month, MVP filed an application with FERC for a 73-mile Southgate permit pipeline extension.
In mid-July 2019, FERC released a request for “toxicological, environmental and health information” from the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s corporate attorney regarding the coatings used on the project’s 42-inch diameter steel pipe. In August, project developers told federal regulators that the coating in question, specifically on stretches in Virginia and West Virginia, does not pose a threat of harm. Also, in August, the developers voluntarily suspended construction on stretches of the pipeline in light of a recent lawsuit that sought to address concerns about the project’s impact on local endangered species.
By October, work on the project ceased once again as the pipeline developer was ordered to pay $2.15 million to resolve a lawsuit brought on by Virginia regulators. In the lawsuit, the accusing party cited repeated violations of environmental standards. The agreement also required that the company submit court-ordered compliance to curb erosion and sedimentation.
A lawsuit cited the project developer for the violation of stormwater control measures more than 300 times. Those flaws have reportedly been corrected and the company has agreed to certain conditions including independent inspections, but those carrying out the investigations must be monitors approved by the DEQ.
In light of the loss of so many permits, Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, called for the stop-work order from FERC. Mountain Valley’s assistant general counsel, Matthew Eggerding, noted in a letter to FERC that pipeline installation had been completed in nearly all accessible areas, though this does not include the areas at issue. Otherwise, the company was still on schedule to complete stabilization and restoration work.
At the beginning of 2020, FERC released an environmental impact statement concluding that while an 75-mile-long extension into North Carolina—also known as the MVP Southgate Project—could cause some environmental damage, they were favorable of the project moving forward.
The Commission also noted that the potential environmental damages could be reduced to less-than-significant levels through avoidance, minimization and mitigation proposed by the developer and staff.
At the time of the announcement, MVP Southgate spokesperson Shawn Day reported that the $468 million project was expected to break ground sometime this year with completion slated for 2021.
Project officials also added that since the expansion was announced, the MVP team had made more than 1,200 adjustments to its route, mostly based on landowner requests, engineering considerations and efforts to avoid sensitive resources. The team says it remains committed to collaborating with a variety of stakeholders, including landowners, federal and state agencies, local governments, tribes, community groups and non-governmental organizations.
In September 2020, on behalf of Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, representing attorney Matthew Eggerding filed a letter with FERC in requesting that a stop-work order be lifted.
In the letter, Eggerding requested that FERC grant permission to resume all construction activities permitted by law of the over $5 billion pipeline by Sept. 25. The letter followed a reissued permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this month, stating that construction would not likely jeopardize protected species in the area.
However, according to The Roanoke Times, the joint venture still needed two key permits that were set aside after a federal appeals court sided with conservation groups. Following Eggerding’s request, the Sierra Club also issued a letter to FERC, writing that construction couldn’t commence until all federal authorizations were obtained. The letter—which included a notice of intent to sue the Army Corps—was written by senior attorney Elly Benson and was co-signed by other environmental groups.
Approved Permits, Lawsuits
The Roanoke Times reports that the State Water Control Board granted the permit in a 3-2 vote.
Prior to having the Nationwide Permit 12 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invalidated, more than half of the almost 1,000 stream and wetland crossings in the two states were completed. MVP sought an individual permit from the Army Corps, which could only be provided after state approval.
Currently, the MVP has 236 remaining stream crossings. The stream and river crossings approved by the board will be temporarily dammed and a trench will be dug for the buried 42-inch pipeline along the bottom, referred to as the open-cut method.
“The remaining waterbody crossings can be completed successfully and without adverse impacts to sensitive resources,” wrote spokeswoman Natalie Cox in an email. She also reported that the pipeline is 94% finished.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, however, reportedly cited five energy companies involved with pipeline construction with nearly 400 violations of erosion and sediment control regulations. Runoff from construction sites was not controlled, leading to sediment in the water bodies.
“We conducted a crossing-by-crossing review. We looked at all of them,” Dave Davis, DEQ’s Director of Wetlands and Stream Protection, told the board.
The Board listened to more than two hours of DEQ presentations, and raised questions about the long-term impacts of groundwater, corrosion and chemicals in wells or public water supply. Melanie Davenport, DEQ Director, Water Permitting Division, said a study conducted by FERC found no evidence to support those concerns.
Following the approval, opposition groups, including the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing that the pipeline should not be permitted to continue based on past violations. Mountain Valley officials responded saying the problems were largely caused by heavy rain in 2018 and have been corrected.
A few days later, the WVDEP approved the water quality permit for the pipeline. This permit was the final one needed before the Army Corps could move forward with dredge-and-fill permits in the states.
A similar lawsuit to the Virginia petition was filed at the beginning of the month over the West Virginia permit. The environmental and community groups argued that WVDEP violated the Clean Water Act by granting the permit.
The suit was filed by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Indian Creek Watershed Association.
“MVP has repeatedly violated environmental safeguards, clean water protections, and plain common sense in their construction of this fracked gas pipeline,” said Sierra Club Senior Organizer Caroline Hansley in a release. “Thanks to the work of pipeline monitors on the ground, we know that MVP has proven it can’t build this unnecessary pipeline without devastating streams and rivers. This is just another fight in our books that we are ready to take on for the sake of environmental justice and a livable future for all.”