Federal regulators grant Mountain Valley Pipeline four-year extension

By: - August 25, 2022 12:03 am

Construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline in May 2021, submitted in a construction report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The federal government granted Mountain Valley Pipeline a four-year extension to complete work Tuesday, with regulators labeling the approval an administrative decision and environmental groups expressing their dissatisfaction.

“Granting a request for an extension of time to complete an approved action does not constitute the substantial changes to the proposed action envisioned in the NEPA regulations nor does it constitute a new approval of the specific project in question,” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wrote in its 15-page ruling, referring to rules laid out by the National Environmental Policy Act.

In a concurring opinion, Commissioner James Danly said consideration of the extension was “not an opportunity to revisit” FERC’s prior decision to approve the pipeline.

Mountain Valley Pipeline was initially set to be completed in 2018 and is intended to carry natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields of West Virginia into Southwest Virginia. 

But environmental groups and some owners of property that it would cross have fiercely pushed back against it. Several lawsuits have held up the project’s completion and have led to the overturning of permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. 

In June, the company requested the extension to complete its work beyond the previous October 2022 deadline, which itself had been extended from an earlier October 2020 deadline. 

FERC’s decision Tuesday sets October 13, 2026, as the new deadline. The commission said that should Mountain Valley receive required permits, it is “likely” the permits will undergo judicial review and take time to resolve.

David Sligh, conservation director for Wild Virginia, a nonprofit that has staunchly fought the pipeline project, said the decision was another example of a government body favoring a profit-making corporation over the public interest.

“Most appalling is FERC’s refusal to acknowledge the changes to the environment already caused by MVP or to base this decision on any rational assessment as to whether damage and destruction to our waters and peoples’ lands will continue if MVP work is allowed to proceed,” Sligh said in a statement.

The commission acknowledged in its decision concerns cited by individuals and groups, including nonprofit Appalachian Voices, about the project’s impacts on water bodies due to sedimentation as well as its greenhouse gas emissions. 

But the commissioners found there had been no showing that environmental effects of the project have changed materially since it was first approved. The project’s greenhouse gas emissions were addressed in the initial approval, the commission wrote.

Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Cox stated in an email that “MVP is being recognized as a critical infrastructure project that is essential for our nation’s energy security, energy reliability, and ability to effectively transition to a lower-carbon future.”

“Mountain Valley remains committed to working diligently with federal and state regulators to secure the necessary permits to safely and responsibly finish construction, and we remain committed to bringing it into service in the second half of 2023,” she wrote.

Mountain Valley Pipeline has grabbed headlines recently after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III and Democratic leadership struck a deal over the Inflation Reduction Act that could potentially force the project’s completion.

Russell Chisholm of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, a group composed of Virginia and West Virginia-based pipeline opposers, said on Tuesday that various opposition groups plan to take “our growing movement to DC to demand decisionmakers stop MVP and all pro-fossil fuel legislation.”

Over 650 organizations sent a letter Wednesday to congressional leadership to oppose any “handouts” to the fossil fuel industry granted through Manchin’s support for the IRA. 

Cox noted permitting reform legislation could cut down on delays while ensuring energy reliability and affordability, which she said “is just as important for renewable energy infrastructure projects as it is for oil and gas.”

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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.