Mountain Valley Pipeline agrees to pay Virginia $2.15 million for environmental violations

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project led a tour of the denuded, muddy construction site in June at Four Corners Farm in Franklin County. (Mason Adams/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Virginia and Mountain Valley Pipeline have resolved a lawsuit brought by the state against the company for environmental violations that caused significant erosion in the southwestern part of the commonwealth, with the natural gas pipeline developer agreeing to pay a $2.15 million civil penalty.

The payment was described by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring as “one of the most significant financial penalties ever imposed in Virginia for this kind of case.”

Under the terms of the consent decree, the Henrico Circuit Court, where Virginia’s original suit was filed, assumes supervision of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s compliance with state environmental laws, a move that broadens the range of consequences the company will face in the event of violations.

Among other provisions, the agreement also requires Mountain Valley Pipeline to remediate prior violations and conduct, at the company’s own expense, ongoing monitoring of erosion and impacts to fisheries and wildlife within the construction area. All work must be further reviewed by independent third-party auditors.

Notably, the agreement leaves the door open for the state to impose further fines for future violations and to assess those penalties through “an expedited process.” Penalties outlined in the consent decree range from $500 per day for failures to stabilize earthen structures and denuded areas to $26,000 per release of sediment into surface waters that results in the buildup of “fill material” in more than two acres of wetlands or 1,500 linear feet of stream.

In a news release, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said that the decree “significantly strengthens our ability to ensure MVP is meeting its environmental responsibilities.”

Virginia filed its suit against Mountain Valley Pipeline in December 2018 for “violations of the commonwealth’s environmental laws and regulations at sites in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, and Roanoke Counties.”

In March, the State Water Control Board considered revoking the project’s Section 401 certification — the state’s confirmation that there was a “reasonable assurance” the pipeline work would not degrade state water quality — but ultimately declined to do so. Board chairwoman Heather Wood later defended the decision by stating that the certification “puts additional protections in place that would not be as strong under sole federal oversight.”

The Office of the Attorney General said that if the state’s Section 401 certification had been overturned, as Mountain Valley had sought, “construction would have continued but all the conditions and environmental protections the board placed on the project would have been wiped away.”

“This agreement locks MVP into the terms of the certification issued by the board, and MVP waives any right to contest the previously filed suit,” the Attorney General’s Office stated.

Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in a statement that all of the violations have been addressed and that they “were primarily associated with erosion and sediment control issues, most of which were the result of unprecedented rainfall throughout the spring and summer of 2018.”

“Mountain Valley appreciates the oversight of the VADEQ and SWCB and the MVP team will continue to work closely with project inspectors to maintain its high standards of safety and environmental stewardship,” she wrote.

The more than $2.1 million civil penalty “will support ongoing environmental protection and enforcement activities in Virginia,” Herring’s office said.

Virginia Sierra Club Director Kate Addleson said the payment “shows that MVP’s construction standards were never anywhere close to protecting our land, water and communities.

“We knew we couldn’t trust MVP to have the interests of Virginians in mind when they first proposed this project, and we’re even more sure of it now,” Addleson said.  “Virginians will keep fighting and demanding their communities, air, and water are protected from this dirty and dangerous project.”

This story has been updated to add a statement from Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Virginia Sierra Club.