RICHMOND, Va. – Attorney General Mark Herring and the Department of Environmental Quality has filed a lawsuit against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The filing sites repeated environmental violations in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke Counties, specifically after significant rain events.
The lawsuit says the company violated the Commonwealth's environmental laws and the Clean Water Act by failing to control sediment and stormwater runoff. The filing is asking for the maximum allowable civil penalty and for the court to order pipeline workers to comply with environmental laws.
“This suit alleges serious and numerous violations of environmental laws that caused unpermitted impacts to waterways and roads in multiple counties in Southwest Virginia,” said Attorney General Herring. “We’re asking the court for an enforceable order that will help us ensure compliance going forward, and for penalties for MVP’s violations.”
Friday morning before the lawsuit was announced, pipeline fighters were in Elliston protesting the MVP. They tossed rubber ducks in a construction hole that keeps filling up with water, something they say it's not supposed to do.They say they're indifferent to the suit, because to them a stop work order is the only thing that will make them happy.
Meanwhile up on the ridgeline in Montgomery County, work continued on the pipeline. Preserve Montgomery Co-Chair Lynda Majors said the lawsuit is barely enough and may even hurt their cause. She said the public could be lead into believing something is being done, while in their opinion work is still underway and not stopping.
"Lawsuits take a really long time and sometimes justice delayed is justice denied," Majors said. "That can nullify the public or assuage the public into thinking 'oh, well we got money and we got money out of this' but the fact is the damage is real, persistent and forever."
The complaint states that the Department of Environmental Quality found violations of environmental laws each month between May and October.
The lawsuit says MVP violated:
• the State Water Control Law,
• the Virginia Stormwater Management Act,
• the Erosion and Sediment Control Law,
• the Virginia Stormwater Management Program Regulation,
• the Erosion and Sediment Control Regulations,
• the Virginia Water Protection Permit Program Regulations,
• Section 401 Water Quality Certification 17-001 issued to MVP.
• MVP’s Annual Standards and Specifications,
• MVP’s Site Specific Erosion and Sediment Control Plan and
• MVP’s Site Specific Stormwater Management Plans.
The lawsuit also alleges ten counts of illegal actions, including:
• Unpermitted Discharge
• Failure to Maintain and Repair Erosion and Sediment Control Structures
• Failure to Repair Erosion and Sediment Controls within Required Timeframe
• Failure to Apply Temporary or Permanent Stabilization
• Sediment off of Right of Way
• Failure to Install Clean Water Diversions
• Failure to Keep a Daily Log of Activity Documenting Project Activities Related to Environmental Permit Compliance and Corrective Measures Implemented
• Failure to Install Adequate Channel, Flume, or Slope Drain Structure
• Failure to Construct Vehicular Stream Crossing
• Failure to Maintain Access Roads
Citizens have been the ones documenting it, using a special app on their phone to take pictures with geographical data, and they've submitted thousands of them to officials.
"This project should have never been permitted and that's a problem," POWHR Coalition Co-Chair Roberta Bondurant said. "I'd like to think that citizen efforts and activism have played some part and at the same time it is absolutely not the job of residents, citizens and taxpayers to do the job that we already pay taxes for DEQ investigators to do."
Delegate Chris Hurst also chimed in on the topic.
“I have personally witnessed MVP’s failed erosion and sediment controls on landowner property in the 12th district. I am extremely grateful that Attorney General Herring is standing up to the Mountain Valley Pipeline to protect our natural resources and the health and safety of landowners in the path of construction," Hurst said.
With construction continuing on, pipeline fighters aren't holding their breath on the lawsuit, instead waiting yet another day toward their ultimate goal.
"A step in the right direction is a stop work order and this stops, you know they're continuing to construct in the winter, they've got violations everywhere, this to me is just a real insult," Majors said.
The Sierra Club supported the lawsuit at a national level and has backed the fight against the MVP since the beginning. It said in a state that it's reassuring to see the state stepping in to hold people accountable.
We reached out to the Mountain Valley Pipeline but received no response.
The lawsuit was filed in Henrico County Circuit Court. You can see a copy of the complaint here.