The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on construction of portions of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) on Thursday following a suit by environmental groups and questions on construction timeline feasibility.
In question are waterways in West Virginia, specifically the Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier and Meadow rivers and whether pipeline construction can take place quickly enough for requirements in place in the pipeline permits.
Under a blanket permit called a nationwide permit 12, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who oversees construction activities on major inland waterways, the pipeline was given 72 hours to complete river crossings.
That timeframe was called into question when environmental groups discovered correspondence between MVP and the Corps that called into question whether they could complete the task in the given time.
The stay, which will block construction in 591 streams and wetlands in the Mountain State is being cheered by environmental groups.
“It brings a sense of relief to see this pause button hit," said Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers coalition in a release. "What we’re seeing is that short-cuts and easy-outs just won’t work for this massive project. Already with MVP, we’re seeing its early construction causing problems for our waters. It’s encouraging that the court agrees a more intensive review of this permit is required before risking any further damage.”
That opinion is also shared by regional environmental groups.
“Putting the brakes on in-stream construction activity for the Mountain Valley Pipeline while the court performs its full review not only makes sense, it is also the only just outcome for communities directly impacted by this destructive project," said Peter Anderson, the Virginia program manager for Appalachian Voices.
"MVP’s inability to cross rivers in compliance with the conditions of the permit is the most obvious — but certainly not the only — reason why blanket permits should not be used for projects of this size. An individual permit considering the full impact of constructing a 42-inch diameter pipeline through steep terrain and sensitive water bodies should be required.”
In court filings, attorneys representing MVP argued that a stay would cost the company $600 million and would delay the project by at least eight months.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice also weighed in on the matter.
“As governor of this state and in conjunction with WVDEP, I can say without a shred of doubt that we will always do what is in the best interest of protecting the waters of this state and the health of its people," Justice said in a statement. "While the WVDEP is not a party to this lawsuit, we can say that this project is extremely important to West Virginia. This project represents thousands of jobs and millions of dollars being spent to benefit this state, not to mention the long term stability and boost the energy economy of this country will see as a result of this project’s completion."
While WVDEP was not directly involved in the lawsuit leading to the stay, its findings are what directly led to the stay.
While it is the Corps of Engineers that issues the nationwide permit 12, many of the details including the time period for river crossings are hammered out at the state level.
It was the WVDEP that settled the river crossing construction to 72 continuous hours.
WVDEP has also cited the pipeline four times due to various environmental infractions because of construction.
"I have been in contact with WVDEP leadership and they report that the builders of each segment of this pipeline work hard to protect the waters of this state, and they are doing a good job. While there have been violations that have resulted from the WVDEP’s inspection of this pipeline, these violations have been corrected quickly," Justice continued. "We will continue to monitor these proceedings closely to determine what role the state may play in expediting the construction of this pipeline. This project is vital to the energy future of the United States and we will do everything we can to ensure it is constructed in an environmentally sound manner.”
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