The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond has upheld Virginia’s much-criticized water quality review for Mountain Valley Pipeline, one of two large natural gas pipeline projects proceeding in the state.
The panel of judges rejected arguments from the Sierra Club and other organizations that the State Water Control Board incorrectly found there was a “reasonable assurance” that state water quality standards would be upheld when it issued a certification under the federal Clean Water Act for the project, The Roanoke Times reports.
States are given the authority to certify that federally permitted projects such as pipelines will meet state water quality standards.
The water control board issued the approval for the MVP, lead by EQT Midstream Partners of Pittsburgh, in December, though the board later opened up a comment period that ended in June over whether the federal permit the Virginia DEQ relied upon for the hundreds of places where the MVP and the separate Atlantic Coast Pipeline will actually cross state waterways is adequate.
Critics charged that DEQ had broken the water approval process into pieces to avoid having to take a serious look at whether the projects could meet Virginia standards, which do not permit degradation of existing uses.
“We are disappointed in today’s ruling,” the conservation group Wild Virginia said in a statement. “The court relied in large part on the state’s assurances that the requirements in the certification and the enforcement of those requirements would uphold our water quality standards. The facts on the ground in the MVP construction areas in Virginia show all too clearly that those assurances were untrue and unsupportable.”
The board is meeting this month to potentially take action on those comments, with pipeline opponents calling on the board to revoke the certifications in the wake of violations by MVP related to erosion and sediment controls that fouled waterways with mud during construction in southwest Virginia. The Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline has yet to receive an effective certification from Virginia because erosion and sediment control plans have not yet been approved by DEQ.
The 4th Circuit has been a major legal battleground over the pipelines, with the court vacating some federal approvals for each project.