Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Federal agency gives green light to Mountain Valley Pipeline completion

The protracted legal and permitting fight over the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline may be nearing its end.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an exhaustive opinion that construction of the natural gas pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia is “not likely to jeopardize” federally protected species of fish, bats and one plant.

The 303-mile pipeline is more than 90% finished except for about 20 miles near the West Virginia-Virginia border. The work has been consistently delayed by opponents who claim environmental damage from the construction and contend the pipeline will expand the use of  fossil fuels, contributing to climate change.

They have repeatedly used permitting and court challenges to try to stop or delay the project in hopes the developers will give up. That was the same strategy that killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

But now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a critical opinion that negates the allegations by opponents. It determined that the pipeline does not threaten the five species in question: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, the candy darter fish and the Virginia spiraea flowering plant.

The operative finding from the Fish and Wildlife Service is that, in each instance, construction and operation of the pipeline “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of the species. This is the third time the agency has reached that conclusion, but each of the two previous times the courts have invalidated the findings.

No doubt there will be another court challenge, but enough is enough.

This determination should speed up the remaining permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. They will now have a comprehensive biological study that supports issuance of the permits, which could come in just a few months.

Sen. Joe Manchin tried to cut a side deal on the Inflation Reduction Act to accelerate the permitting for MVP, but that fell through. Now Manchin is praising the federal agency’s opinion.

“Completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline would do more to quickly shore up American energy security and bring down energy costs for American families than any other project currently pending,” Manchin said. “The latest findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are a step in the right direction and I will continue doing everything in my power to ensure MVP is finally completed.”

The pipeline will be a valuable addition to the country’s energy supply infrastructure and a boost to the natural gas industry in West Virginia. We are sitting on top of some of the largest gas supplies in the world, but a shortage of pipeline capacity is preventing us from taking full advantage of the resource.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has done its due diligence … for the third time, no less. Maybe, just maybe, after years of costly delays, the Mountain Valley Pipeline can finally be completed.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.