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Legal battles leave natural gas pipeline short

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(The Center Square) — With the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act in June, it looked like the Mountain Valley Pipeline would finally be completed in Virginia, but environmental groups are fighting back in a legal battle that could end up at the Supreme Court.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline routed to run 303 miles from Wetzel County in northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County in southern Virginia. Mountain Valley, LLC, began construction in 2018 and, by November 2021, had completed 270 miles of the pipeline. At that time, the company planned to finish the project by the summer of 2022.

But legal conflict, according to the company, has caused prolonged setbacks. And now, with only 20 linear miles to go, construction has been halted.

Last summer, landmark climate legislation was in congressional gridlock. In a quid pro quo, Biden promised West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin backing for the pipeline’s completion, and Manchin gave tiebreaking support needed to pass the bill.

Just over a month ago, it seemed Republicans had won the tug-of-war over the pipeline when they wedged a provision into the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the latest law to raise the debt ceiling, ensuring its completion.

The act was signed into law, and the provision along with it, secured the remaining permits for Mountain Valley but also moved the jurisdiction of the pipeline out of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, a court that has opposed the MVP several times.

At least 13 environmental groups have risen to challenge MVP, with the Southern Environmental Law Center filing a motion challenging the provision, saying it violates environmental law and unconstitutionally puts powers that belong to the judicial branch in Congress’ hands.

“Congress’s unprecedented end run around the courts attempted to forgo proper checks and balances and declare the sinking ship that is the MVP a winner,” said Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The Fourth Circuit has granted a temporary construction stay in response to the motion.

But others, like Manchin, argue that the appeals court is acting unlawfully.

“The law passed by Congress and signed by the President is clear – the Fourth Circuit no longer has jurisdiction over Mountain Valley Pipeline’s construction permits,” Manchin said in a statement. “It should alarm every American when a court ignores the law.”

Mountain Valley created a website for the project, attempting to answer questions and plentiful reassurances about the pipeline’s safety, utility and even environmental synergy.

The underground pipeline is no more than 42 inches wide, requiring 50 feet of permanent easement. The company repeatedly cites a statistic it attributes to the National Transportation Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation that “natural gas pipelines have the best safety record of any energy delivery system in the United States,” in which there are over 300,000 miles of natural gas pipeline operating today.

The company also says that, early in the project’s development, it considered “thousands of miles of alternative routes” in response to feedback during public comment periods.

Mountain Valley plans to achieve carbon neutrality, at least for its first 10 years of operations.

“The project is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world and will cut statewide underground coal mining emissions by about 25 percent,” according to its website.

“None of these existing [300,000 miles of] pipelines have undergone the extensive level of environmental research, analysis and review that has been performed on the MVP project.”

The company has said it would consider an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court in the face of continued opposition.

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