Mountain Valley Pipeline Can Never Be Completed

By Tammy Belinsky under a Creative Commons license

The Mountain Valley Pipeline Can Never Be Completed—Time For Everyone to Admit It

The federal and state agencies must realize that the sooner this project is canceled, the sooner repair can begin.

Tammy Belinsky

The first tree should never have been cut, the soil never disturbed. That’s the take away from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ February 3 ruling on Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC. Each and every act of resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) over the last seven years is validated by this ruling.

The 303-mile fracked gas transmission line through West Virginia and Virginia is only about 55% complete, according MVP’s most recent construction status filing. Muddy runoff in our rivers from construction through forests, farms, and fields far exceeds what MVP claimed it would be, and the steepest slopes and most sensitive water crossings of the route have yet to be attempted.

No agency or person should allow MVP to tear up more land and pollute more water while pretending that the pipeline will one day become operational.

No agency or person should allow MVP to tear up more land and pollute more water while pretending that the pipeline will one day become operational.

Mountain Valley Pipeline is on life support. If MVP, LLC, refuses to admit its own doom and cancel the project, then federal agencies must make good on the Biden administration’s commitments to sound science, environmental justice, and climate action. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the ultimate duty to deny any additional extensions of MVP’s certificate of public convenience and necessity.

After the Fourth Circuit’s decision, MVP tried to reassure investors that “the concerns associated with MVP’s Biological Opinion can be addressed.” But MVP cannot satisfactorily address the Court’s concerns. That’s because the Court found that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) failed to adequately evaluate the status of endangered species in the area of pipeline disruption. Now that the trees are cut and the streams degraded, it is nearly impossible for FWS to retroactively assess the environmental baseline. The Court also ruled that the endangered species analysis must account for climate change. The FERC certificate and every federal decision relies on the FWS Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement that the Fourth Circuit just rejected for the second time in three years.

But that’s not MVP’s only challenge. MVP also is blocked by the same court’s January 24 rejection of permits to cross Jefferson National Forest. The Forest Service tried to surgically amend its Forest Plan to allow MVP to harm this treasured public landscape. But the Forest Service’s own Planning Rule requires that any amendment must maintain or restore–not degrade–the forest.

Even if MVP magically found a way to reroute around the national forest, there would be no reasonable completion date in sight. The corporation’s own management has acknowledged that the “specter of timing” continues to loom. Meanwhile, climate chaos is escalating and the people-powered movement to end the era of fossil fuels is growing.

Our Appalachian communities have suffered enough. MVP construction began in 2018 and our hunting, foraging and fishing grounds, farms, orchards, springs and wells, ancient burial grounds and lives have been churned up for four years. Now in 2022, the absence of valid federal permits means that gouging trenches for a pipe bomb alongside our schools, churches, nursing homes, community centers, and swimming holes never should have happened.

MVP was not, and is not, needed. Its only purpose: to enrich the pipeline builders who contracted with themselves to purchase gas. But even that has failed due to lack of market interest. Nearly seven years after it filed its original application with FERC, MVP is still struggling to find customers for its capacity.

Although we cannot undo the initial ransacking of our land and water, it is not too late to stop further damage. Here’s what’s needed: The Corps must reject the pending water permit application. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must suspend MVP’s permission to construct. Most importantly, FERC must deny an extension of MVP’s certificate, which expires in October.

MVP is eligible for a FERC certificate extension only if the project’s original environmental review still accurately captures the current environmental impacts. But it does not. FERC’s 2017 review is outdated. FERC has four years of evidence to show that the project’s effects on water quality, endangered species, and forests are far more severe than originally projected. And the court just rejected analyses of MVP’s impacts on two endangered fish.

Moreover, in 2017, FERC did not fully assess the project’s climate impacts. President Biden’s Executive Orders now require a government-wide approach to addressing the climate crisis, which the construction and operation of MVP would exacerbate.

For over seven years, decisionmakers have been manipulating the law to accommodate the pipeline. The Fourth Circuit Court has pinned down the laws that MVP evaded. MVP previously evaded those laws because MVP cannot comply with them–no matter how many more years they’re allowed to try. It’s time to take the pipeline off life support. And it’s up to FERC to pull the plug.

MVP gambled on its bullying capacity, seizing private property, clearcutting forests, and trenching land even in the absence of multiple regulatory permits. Regulators must stop pandering to this reckless and incompetent limited liability company and require MVP to rigorously and properly restore the pipeline corridor.

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