Appeals judges rule in favor of anti-Mountain Valley Pipeline activists

MORGANTOWN — Appeals judges ruled two  federal agency approvals don’t provide adequate protection on the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s (MVP) route through the Jefferson National Forest, which includes Monroe County.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are challenging approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management over a 3.6-mile segment of the pipeline’s route through the national forest.

The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in mid-October. It would extend a  42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles  to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.

The path takes the pipeline not only through the national forest but also under the Appalachian Trail at Peters Mountain.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the ruling would affect other aspects of the pipeline’s timetable.

“I am very relieved that MVP cannot destroy the Appalachian Trail and our beloved Peters Mountain,” stated Maury Johnson, a Monroe County resident who is a part of Save Monroe, one of the parties to the federal lawsuit.

“I feel that when other cases are heard by the Courts we will win these as well and hopefully MVP will just be a bad nightmare.”

Jim Gore, another member of Save Monroe, stated, “The 4th Circuit has validated what we have been saying to the Forest Service for almost four years. We are already seeing ongoing degradation of water resources due to erosion and sedimentation caused by MVP construction on our steep slopes and ridges.”

Judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling Friday.

“MVP’s proposed project would be the largest pipeline of its kind to cross the Jefferson National Forest,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the opinion. Thacker was joined in the 44-page opinion by Chief Judge Roger Gregory and Judge William Traxler.

“American citizens understandably place their trust in the Forest Service to protect and preserve this country’s forests, and they deserve more than silent acquiescence to a pipeline company’s justification for upending large swaths of national forest lands.”

The court said it was sending two decisions back to the appropriate agencies for further review.

One was the Forest Service’s amendment of the Jefferson National Forest Land Resource Management Plan to accommodate the pipeline. The other was a right-of-way through the forest granted by the Bureau of Land Management.

Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Cox stated that many parts of the Sierra Club’s challenge were rejected by the court, which “largely upheld BLM’s and the Forest Service’s compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.”

She added, “MVP is working with the agencies to evaluate the effect of the order on construction activities in the National Forest, which amounts to about 1 percent of the overall project route.”

The Sierra Club celebrated the ruling nonetheless, declaring that MVP should halt work immediately within the publicly-owned Jefferson National Forest.

The Sierra Club also contended the ruling could mean further trouble for MVP along its entire proposed route in Virginia.

Environmental groups have  filed a similar challenge about the separate but similar Atlantic Coast Pipeline. That case is scheduled for a hearing Sept. 28.

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