Mountain Valley Pipeline gets new lifeline as D.C. eyes permit reforms

Lengths of pipe wait to be laid in the ground along the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston
REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
  • FERC gives developers four more years to finish the job
  • Vociferous legal challenges have plagued the 303-mile pipeline with delays

(Reuters) - Federal regulators have given the developer of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline a four-year construction extension after a series of legal defeats threatened the project’s completion and spurred permitting reform efforts in Washington.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Tuesday extended the window to finish the pipeline until 2026, providing relief less than two months before a looming Oct. 13 deadline to complete the embattled natural gas pipeline. FERC said there has been no indication that the expected environmental effects of the pipeline have changed in a major way since it first looked at the proposal.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is a 303-mile project proposed to run between West Virginia and Virginia. MVP — a joint project owned by energy giants including Equitrans LP, NextEra Energy Inc and others — reports it is nearly 94% complete, but opponents say that figure inflates the picture since remediation work is just over 50% complete.

The project spurred fierce opposition from landowners and environmentalists, who challenged permits issued by state agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others, in federal court. Those cases are currently in the federal appellate courts. They've claimed the pipeline threatens the environment and poses safety threats.

Earlier this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded key approvals from federal agencies needed for crossings through federal forest land and approvals for construction in light of endangered species concerns. That court is also actively considering challenges from conservation groups to state Clean Water Act permits.

Those battles have also spurred negotiations around potential permitting reform in Congress as a part of the deal struck between the White House and U.S. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to pass President Joe Biden's landmark Inflation Reduction Act. Manchin, a key vote for that legislation, is seeking to streamline permitting for projects like MVP in a new bill.

“I think a four-year extension is outrageous,” said Russell Chisholm, a coordinator for Protect Our Water Heritage Rights, an interstate coalition fighting the project. He said the project has received considerable pushback from locals along its path but agencies like FERC have ignored those concerns and granted repeated extensions for construction.

An Equitrans spokesperson said they are pleased with the decision.

Read more:

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