No preliminary relief for environmental groups fighting Mountain Valley Pipeline

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against a coalition of environmental groups that were seeking immediate suspension of federal authorization for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club, may still have their day in appeals court. But they won’t get an immediate stop to the 303-mile pipeline project.

The groups had argued that an immediate halt is necessary because of the potential environmental effects that could occur during the pipeline’s scheduled construction.

“Because discharges under that authorization and the attendant stream-trenching that will occur are likely to cause irreparable harm to Sierra Club and its members before a ruling on the merits, Sierra Club respectfully requests that this court suspend the authorization pending judicial review,” lawyers wrote in a Feb. 23 motion.

Judges from the Fourth Circuit responded this past Friday with one sentence:

“Upon consideration of submissions relative to petitioners’ motion for preliminary relief, the court denies the motion.”

In a separate order, the court agreed to schedule oral arguments during the September term.

Mountain Valley Pipeline’s developers hope to stick to a timeline that would put the project into service next November or December.

In this case and others in the court system, MVP has said it needs to remain on target to comply with contracts to supply natural gas.

The environmental groups dispute that.

“In any case, temporary delays in construction, and any associated economic loss, cannot outweigh the permanent environmental damage that will occur absent preliminary relief because irreparable environmental injury outweighs economic harm in the balance of equities,” wrote lawyers for the groups.

The groups contend the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improperly issued a crucial permit. The environmental groups are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond to review the permit.

Under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps is charged with issuing a permit for the pipelines’ stream crossings that allows the project’s builders to trench through the bottom of those streams, including the Greenbrier, Elk, and Gauley Rivers, and fill the crossings with dirt during construction of the pipeline.

Before the Army Corps can issue the permit, the state in which construction will occur must certify the pipeline’s construction will not degrade the state’s water quality.

The permit issued to the Mountain Valley Pipeline by the Army Corps is commonly known as a “nationwide” permit.

The environmental groups contend West Virginia’s Division of Environmental Protection did not complete necessary water quality analysis to allow the nationwide permit to be used.

“Since West Virginia waived its right to do that analysis, the Army Corps can not legally issue the section 404 permit for construction of the pipeline in West Virginia,” the environmental groups stated in a release in February.

The lawsuit was filed by Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of a coalition made up of the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Indian Creek Watershed Association, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Last month, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied a stay request by environmental groups. The groups contended the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission never should have granted a certificate of public use for the project.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in mid-October.

The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline would extend 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles  to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.





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