A federal court delivered a setback to the Mountain Valley Pipeline Tuesday that could lead to another delay for the project.
In an order, the court said it’s taking away a key permit involving stream crossings, which was one of the hurdles the company cleared in order to start construction.
Pipeline opponents said Tuesday night that the order amounts to a ruling for MVP to halt construction along its entire route. The court did not state whether it has issued a stop work order.
The specific section of the pipeline’s path in question is in the Huntington area of West Virginia. A spokeswoman for MVP said in a statement to 10 News that it's looking into whether it can continue construction in the section the order covers, but did not state whether it will stop work along the pipeline’s full path.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Friday and issued an order Tuesday, overruling a decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that said MVP’s plans would be in line with a national clean water permit, a decision that meant the company did not have to get an individual permit.
The court sided with pipeline opponents who argued that the Corps incorrectly told MVP to use a certain method for crossing streams in the West Virginia section in question. The order said that the Corps lacked the authority to allow the company to use the method -- which takes four to six weeks to complete -- saying it should instead have ruled for MVP to use a different method, which must be finished in three days under West Virginia law.
In the order, the court stated: “we vacate, in its entirety, the Corps’ verification of the Pipeline’s compliance with NWP 12.” (NWP 12 refers to the national permit).
It continued, “all portions of the project must be evaluated as part of the individual permit process.”
The court said it will explain its decision further in a later opinion. It did not specify when it would release the opinion.
MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in a statement to 10 News:
“Mountain Valley Pipeline is disappointed with the decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the Clean Water Act Section 404 stream and wetland crossing permit (Nationwide 12 permit) issued by the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). This decision affects stream and wetland crossings along approximately 160 miles of the route in West Virginia, and the MVP team is evaluating options to understand its ability to continue with construction activities that do not include stream and wetland crossings along this portion of the route.”
Cox said the company is still expecting to complete the project by late next year.
Pipeline opponents reacted with joy and optimism Tuesday night.
Many have believed for years that the project poses a risk to waterways along and near the pipeline’s path.
“It's been at the heart and soul of our challenge, that a project like this has been unheard of in this Appalachian region,” said Bert Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain. “I'm very encouraged and cautiously optimistic.”
The Sierra Club, one of the groups opposing MVP in court proceedings, said in a statement that the order means that, “MVP must also halt work along its entire route.”
Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement:
“We applaud the Fourth Circuit’s decision to vacate the permit for the fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline. Today’s decision shows polluting corporations trying to run roughshod through Appalachia will be held accountable. In their haste to make a quick buck, MVP rushed essential processes because they knew there was no way their dirty project would ever satisfy commonsense protections for water and health. Now, FERC must require MVP to immediately stop construction on the pipeline.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline planned path runs from West Virginia into North Carolina, crossing through Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties in Virginia. The natural gas pipeline would travel 303 miles and is estimated to cost $4.6 billion.
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 besides two stretches that cross federal land.
The project has been met with opposition from 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 -- where some protesters have positioned themselves in the path of construction workers for more than a month at a time -- to protests where opponents have chained themselves to construction equipment in order to delay work.
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