RICHMOND, Va. – The controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline cleared a hurdle Friday.
The State Water Control Board decided it will not consider revoking a key permit, after saying in December that it would consider doing so.
Dozens of pipeline opponents were at the public meeting in Richmond. Board members went into closed session, away from public view, for more than 3 1/2 hours, and then returned saying they do not have the authority to revoke the water quality certification.
Some opponents shouted at them, calling them “cowards” and chanting “shame.” Virginia State Police escorted many of them out of the room.
Many pipeline opponents believe the Clean Water Act gives the board the authority to intervene and were hopeful the board would take action Friday.
Kate Addleson, the director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club -- one of the groups bringing legal action against the pipeline companies -- says the decision is unfortunate.
“The water control board itself clearly is not using its full authority to make sure that Virginians’ water is protected,” she said.
Many opponents told 10 News they’re disappointed.
“Our State Water Control Board seems to have forgotten that the C is for control and not complicity,” Addleson said. “(We’re) very disappointed in the decision out of today’s meeting because there is no right way to build this dirty, dangerous, fracked gas pipeline.”
She believes Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration deserves blame for not stepping in.
But for now, the project moves forward. Hundreds of miles of pipe are in place and the companies involved have spent billions.
The Sierra Club believes people will continue to document erosion and water quality concerns -- like the ones 10 News has covered in Franklin County -- and build the case for governmental agencies to take away permits.
Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Cox said the project is 70 percent complete and service should still begin by the end of the year.
She sent 10 News the following statement:
“The Board acknowledged the legal concerns associated with revocation and recognized the importance of the additional protections incorporated in its approval. Mountain Valley is pleased with the Board’s decision and we appreciate and respect the comprehensive permitting process established by the SWCB and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ). The MVP project team reaffirms its commitment to work with the SWCB and VA DEQ to ensure environmental compliance throughout the remainder of the project and will maintain a steadfast focus on complying with all state and federal regulations.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline planned path runs from West Virginia into North Carolina, crossing through Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties in the commonwealth. The natural gas pipeline would travel 303 miles and is estimated to cost $4.6 billion.
Opponents have documented hundreds of alleged examples of environmental harm the project has caused, including water quality effects from storm runoff and erosion.
The project has been met with opposition since the planning stage. Opponents have voiced concerns in local meetings and federal court proceedings, and staged sit-in style protests that have ranged from so-called tree-sits -- in which some protesters have positioned themselves in the path of construction workers for more than a month at a time -- to protests in which opponents have chained themselves to construction equipment in order to delay work.
A federal agency issued a stop-work order in August for the project, citing environmental concerns. The order was lifted later that month for all sections except two stretches that cross federal land.
In October, a federal court pulled a federal stream-crossing permit, which was a major setback for the project.
The company behind the MVP said it received a letter in January from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia stating that it and the EPA are investigating potential criminal and civil violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal statutes related to the pipeline's construction.