Workers had begun laying portions of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County near the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - July 26,2018)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has allowed work to resume on nearly the entire length of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, a decision that prompted two sitting FERC commissioners to voice “significant concerns” about allowing construction “while required right-of-way and temporary use permits remain outstanding.”

The natural gas pipeline was being built between Wetzel County, W.Va.,  and Pittsylvania County before a federal court invalidated key approvals for the project and FERC ordered a halt to construction.

The project still does not have those approvals, but FERC has determined that “the protection of the environment along the project’s right-of-way is best served” by allow work to resume. The decision was preceded by an analysis sent last by the Bureau of Land Management to FERC of other pipeline route alternatives “that offer collocation opportunities across federal lands.”

Since the bureau determined “that the route previously approved by all federal agencies provides the greatest level of
collocation for an alternative crossing that is also practical, the specific route of the project no longer seems in question,” FERC wrote.

“Maintaining the status quo across non-federal lands while the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the (Bureau of Land Management) address the court’s instructions regarding federal lands would likely pose threats to plant and wildlife habitat and adjacent waterbodies as long-term employment of temporary erosion control measures would subject significant portions of the route to erosion and soil movement,” wrote Terry Turpin, director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects. “Requiring immediate restoration of the entire right-of-way to pre-construction conditions would require significant additional construction activity, also causing further environmental impacts.”

A Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman told the Roanoke Times that the move “confirms that MVP’s existing route minimizes impacts to sensitive species and environmental, cultural, and historic resources” in the national forest.

Pipeline opponents blasted the decision.

“FERC’s authorization does nothing to protect the environment as directed by the Fourth Circuit in its decision to vacate and remand the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management permits,” said Roberta Bondurant, co-chair of the Protect Our Water Heritage Rights Coalition and a landowner on Bent Mountain on the MVP route.  “It inflicts yet more environmental and economic harms on our communities. It’s a glaring example of the doublespeak that has been substituted for real environmental protection through a factually and legally unsupportable response to the Fourth Circuit ruling.”

A Sierra Club representative said it was akin to “letting a contractor build a house after their foundation has crumbled.”

But perhaps the most striking response to the decision came from the FERC commissioners, Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick. Both have said that neither the MVP nor the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Energy’s larger project planned to carve through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina and also currently halted by FERC, are in the public interest.

“In the future, when a court remands or vacates a required federal authorization following the issuance of a notice to proceed, we believe the decision regarding whether and how to proceed with the pipeline should be made by the commission rather than its staff,” wrote LaFleur and Glick. “Ultimately, it is the commission’s responsibility to ensure the project is in the public interest.”

FERC order on Mountain Valley Pipeline.

 

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Robert Zullo
Robert has been winning and losing awards as a reporter and editor for 13 years at weekly and daily newspapers, beginning at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., where he was a staff writer and managing editor. He spent five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He grew up in Miami, Fla., and central New Jersey. A former waiter, armored car guard and appliance deliveryman, he is a graduate of the College of William and Mary.