Congress, Energy, Environment

Green groups challenge Mountain Valley Pipeline extension into North Carolina

MORGANTOWN – As Mountain Valley Pipeline proponents and opponents await a U.S. Supreme Court decision on two stays blocking its completion, environmental groups are working to block a proposed extension into North Carolina.

The project is MVP Southgate (MVPS), extending 40 miles from MVP’s Virginia endpoint to the North Carolina border and another 34 miles into North Carolina. MVP announced the project in May 2018 and applied for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval that November. FERC issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in June 2020.

FERC’s certificate required completion of the project by June 18 this year, and MVP has requested an extension to June 18, 2026.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices announced on Tuesday their opposition to the extension.

“Conditions for the project have changed significantly since the original certificate was granted,” IEEFA said. It has submitted comments to FERC raising issues about the extension.

“The information on which FERC relied in granting the certificate for the project has grown stale and should be reevaluated,” said Suzanne Mattei, IEEFA energy policy analyst and author of the comments. “The MVP Southgate Extension Project relies on the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and that project’s fate is still uncertain. The extension request should be given closer scrutiny.”

The comments highlight three issues. One is the staleness – six years from FERC’s initial OK.

The second is greenhouse gas emissions, which some evaluations suggest approximate those of coal.

“Estimates of methane gas leakage from pipeline systems may significantly understate the risk.”

And third, “FERC should examine the extent to which higher domestic natural gas prices, passed along to the consumer, would affect the evaluation of the MVP Southgate Extension’s impact on the public interest, given the alternative of increasingly cheaper renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club highlights opposition from various sources, including the NAACP Virginia State conference, 50 North Carolina legislators and 22 Virginia legislators, and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

North Carolina’s House has 120 members: 72 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

The 50 signatories say, “We have increasingly heard from neighbors, residents and constituents about the real and significant concerns the MVPS poses to our communities.” They note that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has twice denied a water quality certification.

The Virginia General Assembly has 100 delegates in the House and 40 senators. The 22 members told FERC, “For years, we have heard from Virginians about the real and significant harms the Mountain Valley Pipeline mainline has inflicted on their local streams and rivers, property, drinking water, and quality of life. Additionally, Mountain Valley has shown it cannot maintain or comply with existing permit conditions and has been fined over $2 million in penalties in Virginia for violating environmental protection requirements.”

North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Cooper told FERC about a 2021 law he signed requiring a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions from electrical generating facilities in North Carolina. While MVPS supporters say it is needed to fuel new generating capacity, any new gas-fired units will be forced to retire before the end of their useful lives, costing ratepayers money.

Appalachian Voices North Carolina Program Manager Ridge Graham commented in Sierra Club’s announcement, “This is a clear opportunity for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to do its due diligence and protect the public interest and the environments of Virginia and North Carolina by sending MVP back to the drawing board.”

MVP projects that MVPS will cost $467 million; support 570 jobs in Virginia and 1,130 in North Carolina; generate construction phase taxes of $4.1 million in Virginia and $6.3 million in North Carolina; and after it opens generate annual taxes of $1.2 million in Virginia and $3.4 million in North Carolina.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin have supported completion of the main branch of MVP, and led passage of legislation included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act to ensure its completion (legislation now being challenged in federal Fourth Circuit Court stays appealed to the Supreme Court).

A Senate staffer explained to The Dominion Post that the FRA language covering permitting of the MVP does not apply to the MVPS because there were no permits to ratify for the Southgate extension like there are for the main MVP section.

The staffer pointed out, though, that the FRA requires any challenges to MVPS to go to the D.C. Circuit Court, not the Fourth Circuit, which Capito and Manchin both have said has operated with a political agenda.

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