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Contentious pipeline can resume construction, regulators decide

Contentious pipeline can resume construction, regulators decide
© Greg Nash

Energy regulators are allowing resumed construction of an interstate gas pipeline project, which had previously been halted. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted 2-1 to allow the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project’s construction to proceed in light of a new assessment of its impacts on certain species. 

The approximately 300-mile project is expected to cross Virginia and West Virginia. It’s been opposed by environmentalists who argue that it’ll harm the environment but supported by industry which says it will be important in distributing energy. 

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In 2019, a federal court halted a government assessment of the project’s potential impacts on animal species, criticizing that assessment’s discussion of the possible effects on certain bat species. 

In light of the court stay, FERC then ordered construction on the pipeline to pause. Since that time, the federal government has issued a new assessment. 

Late Friday, FERC’s two Republican commissioners, Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Environmentalists sound alarm over Barrett's climate change comments |  Energy regulators signal support for carbon pricing in electricity markets| Methane emissions up in 2020 amid turbulent year for oil and gas Energy regulators signal support for carbon pricing in electricity markets OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Climate change a factor in most of the 7,000 natural disasters over last 20 years: UN report | Contentious pipeline can resume construction, regulators decide | California investigators seize PG&E equipment MORE and James Danly, allowed pipeline construction to continue. 

“Based on staff’s review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project, we agree that completion of construction and final restoration ... where permitted, is best for the environment and affected landowners,” they wrote. 

However, Democratic Commissioner Richard Glick disagreed, arguing some construction is still awaiting federal permits and that it’s not worth doing so until it’ll be guaranteed that the project can fully proceed. 

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“Especially given the troubled history of MVP’s various federal authorizations, I do not believe that we should be restarting construction when the Project lacks the permits necessary to cross vital portions of the planned route,” Glick wrote. “MVP may eventually receive permission to cross the Jefferson National Forest. But, by allowing it to recommence construction before doing so, the Commission has put the cart before the horse.”

Mountain Valley celebrated the decision. 

“We agree with the FERC’s assessment that completion of construction and final restoration is best for the environment and the affected landowners; and we are pleased with the FERC’s authorization for forward construction to resume along the majority of the MVP route,” said a statement sent to by spokesperson Natalie Cox. 

“While we look forward to safely resuming construction on this important infrastructure project, we acknowledge the legal challenge that is currently before Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and have agreed to temporarily delay stream and waterbody activities out of respect for that process,” Cox added, referring to a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the project. 

Those challenging the project in court, meanwhile, slammed the decision, particularly noting the company has settled alleged environmental violations. 

“MVP has violated commonsense water protections hundreds of times and allowing them to resume construction just means putting more communities at risk for an unnecessary pipeline that may never even be built. FERC is supposed to regulate these fracked gas projects, not roll over for them,” said a statement from Joan Walker, a senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.