Last February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a detailed opinion that the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia is “not likely to jeopardize” federally protected species of fish, bats and one plant.
I wrote at the time that the protracted legal and permitting fight over the natural gas pipeline “may be nearing its end.” After all, that opinion marked the third time the agency had signed off on the project.
I was overly optimistic.
Environmental groups and anti-carbon activists are challenging the findings yet again, claiming they have new data on the potential impact of the pipeline on various species and habitats. This could lead to more delays if the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sides with the petitioners and stays or vacates the new biological opinion.
Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit dealt a blow to the project last week when it sided with pipeline opponents and vacated the water quality authorization issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Projection. The court said the DEP failed to adequately consider previous water quality violations associated with pipeline construction when issuing a permit.
It is reasonable to believe the DEP can address those issues, but that will take time. Notably, the Fourth Circuit’s decision came just five days after the court upheld the water quality certification issued by Virginia for the pipeline.
The West Virginia DEP approval is essential to the project. Without it, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot grant its federal water crossing permit, which the agency was expected to do this month. So, more delays before the final 20 miles of the 303-mile pipeline can be completed.
And there is yet another regulatory hurdle ahead.
The U.S. Forest Service is expected to release its supplemental environmental impact statement by this weekend. That is a precursor to the federal Bureau of Land Management’s issuance of a right-of-way for a 3.5-mile stretch of the pipeline through the Jefferson National Forest.
No doubt the Forest Service’s findings will trigger yet another court challenge.
Details about permitting and court filings do not make for very interesting reading. However, it is worth noting the bureaucratic hurdles that remain even after the first application for the pipeline was filed in 2015. It is a wonder any infrastructure ever gets built in this country.
Of course individuals impacted by the pipeline and organizations concerned about environmental effects have a right to challenge the project and regulating agencies have a responsibility to enforce the law. But there is a difference between making sure the laws are followed and deliberately trying to kill the project, which is the stated goal of climate activists.
West Virginia is sitting on top of vast amounts of natural gas, an energy source that will be needed in this country and globally for decades to come, even with the increased use of alternative fuels. The relentless opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline threatens the nation’s energy security and damages West Virginia’s economic prosperity.