The Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) water permit of Equitrans Midstream Corp.’s 303-mile, 42-in. OD Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline (MVP), finding multiple defects in its review of the project. The court’s ruling comes just days after it had upheld the sufficiency of Virginia’s environmental review (OGJ Online, Mar. 30, 2023).
The three-judge panel cited 139 state stormwater permit violations and at least 46 “narrative water quality standards violations” that it felt hadn’t been sufficiently addressed before DEP approved the project. “In the face of such a history, it is arbitrary and capricious for an agency to predict compliance without a rational explanation,” Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote in the court’s opinion. “[DEP] failed to provide a reasoned explanation as to why it believes MVP’s past permit violations will not continue to occur going forward.”
Construction in West Virginia cannot resume until the DEP reconsiders the permit required under Clean Water Act Section 401 to allow crossing of streams and wetlands. The 2-bcfd pipeline is 94% complete, according to Equitrans.
“It is infuriating to see the same 4th Circuit Court panel deal yet another setback for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project and once again side with activists who seem hell-bent on killing any fossil energy that will make our country energy independent and secure,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) “This pipeline is more than 90% constructed with 283 miles already laid, and once through the red tape can bring an additional 2 bcfd of natural gas onto the market within months. This project has been through three rounds of water quality permitting but activist groups continue to litigate the last 20 miles.”