Category Archives: Court cases

Challenge to FERC Certificate Scheduled for October 16 Oral Argument

From ABRA Update 241, August 16, 2019

The challenge to the Federal Energy Commission’s (FERC) approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline been scheduled for oral argument on October 16 before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs are 14 conservation groups, including several ABRA members, that are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The petitioners argue that FERC’s Environmental Justice Impact Statement is fatally flawed. Members of the 3-judge panel hearing the case will be announced in mid-September.

Read more about the case in our earlier post, FERC and ACP File Response Briefs in Challenge to ACP Certificate.

New Lawsuit Launched Against MVP

The following press release from the Sierra Club announces the lawsuit against the Mountain Valley Pipeline filed on August 12, 2019.

Monday, August 12, 2019
Contact: Doug Jackson, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3045 or doug.jackson@sierraclub.org
Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 310-4054, jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org

RICHMOND, Va. — Conservation groups today launched a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The petition for review of the project was filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, issued an opinion that allowed the pipeline to move forward — despite its serious threats to endangered species. The agency failed to accurately measure the pipeline’s impacts on endangered wildlife like the iconic Roanoke logperch and failed to set limits for how many threatened and endangered bats can be harmed or killed.

The lawsuit seeks to vacate the Service’s decision and force the agency to re-evaluate the project’s impact. The groups argue that construction on the already-foundering pipeline should stop until that process is complete.

Today, the groups also sent a letter to the agency requesting that it stay the biological opinion and incidental take statement pending court review. The species at issue include the Roanoke logperch, Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat. The suit was filed by the Sierra Club on behalf of Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Additionally, MVP does not have Clean Water Act authorization to cross streams and wetlands from the Army Corps, and does not have necessary U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management authorizations.

In response, Sierra Club Staff Attorney Elly Benson released the following statement:

“The fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline puts several endangered species in harm’s way, while serving only to line the pockets of polluting corporations. MVP has proven it can’t build this unnecessary pipeline without devastating streams and rivers, as well as the forest habitats of Appalachia. The public should be able to trust that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making protection of endangered species its highest priority, but it fell short of that obligation here.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director for Wild Virginia stated:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, like numerous other government agencies tasked with protecting the public and our resources, failed to do its job. Citizens cannot and will not accept actions that endanger the future of some of our rarest and most precious wildlife species. This destructive pipeline has already caused great damage to the environment and the public and it must be stopped before that damage gets worse.”

Roberta Bondurant, Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL, said:

“Our mountain communities continue to witness MVP ravage the forest, field, stream and wetland sanctuaries of species that have supposedly been protected by federal law. We ask USFWS and the courts to do no more—and no less—than uphold that law through a critical review of the Biological Opinion. At best, the writers of that document ignored evidence of MVP construction as a threat to species survival—survival which will ultimately implicate our own.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proven its carelessness in forcing through a permit for the similarly destructive Atlantic Coast Pipeline. We have seen this same carelessness in the Service’s permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This pipeline has already wreaked havoc on the landscape; it must not be allowed to continue to jeopardize the existence of our invaluable endangered species.”

Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney, said:

“This pipeline is a major threat to the Roanoke River system and the people and imperiled species that rely on it. Regulators can’t keep shrugging off the environmental harms of pipeline projects. We need to stop destroying habitats and waterways for fossil fuels that are driving the climate catastrophe.”

Jason Rylander, Senior Endangered Species Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, said:

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline poses an enormous threat to the fish, wildlife, forests, and people in its path. The Trump administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fast-tracked this project and failed to properly evaluate its impact on imperiled species. The Service needs to reconsider its biological opinion and further construction of this environmentally destructive project should cease before iconic species and landscapes are lost forever.”

DEQ Issues Stop Work on 2-Mile Section of MVP

Following is a statement issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on August 2, 2019.

Contact: Ann Regn, 804-698-4442, Ann.Regn@DEQ.Virginia.gov

DEQ ISSUES STOP WORK ON APPROXIMATELY TWO-MILE SECTION OF MOUNTAIN VALLEY PIPELINE

All ongoing clearing, grading and trenching must stop in this designated area

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued a stop work instruction to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP). The instruction is based on issues identified during DEQ inspections that cite insufficient erosion and sediment controls on approximately a two-mile section of the project in Spread H in Montgomery County.

Based on a DEQ inspection conducted on Thursday, Aug. 1, the agency has determined that an imminent and substantial adverse impact to water quality is likely to occur as a result of land-disturbing activities. Specifically, MVP has failed to construct and maintain erosion and sediment control or pollution prevention measures in accordance with approved site-specific plans and/or the erosion and sediment control measures that have been installed are not functioning effectively and MVP has not proposed any corrective action.

Work in this section will be suspended until these corrective actions are installed and approved by DEQ through field inspection and verification. MVP must stop all land disturbing activities in this area including clearing, grading and trenching activities in the designated area. The only activity currently authorized in this area is work necessary to install and maintain erosion control devices as required by the approved site-specific erosion and sediment control plans, and the annual standards and specifications.

“We are appalled that construction priorities and deadline pressures would ever rise above the proper and appropriate use of erosion control measures,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “DEQ will continue to monitor and inspect all ongoing work to ensure continued compliance and protection of Virginia’s natural resources.”

For more information and the full stop work instruction, visit www.DEQ.Virginia.gov/MVP

Press coverage in the Roanoke Times is here. The Roanoke Times article says, “Environmental advocate Russell Chisholm said in a release that he was ‘appalled’ that the company’s skimping on control measures to advance the project surprised the DEQ. Citizens have repeatedly reported similar lapses in permit compliance for at least a year.”    His statement noted that “In response to citizen reports, ‘those in positions of power chose to ignore our calls for real, meaningful enforcement through a stop work order and instead allowed MVP to work despite several missing federal permits, a pending lawsuit for violations, and at least 35 Notices of Violation in West Virginia.'”


An additional blow to MVP on August 2, 2019, came from federal district court Judge Elizabeth Dillon, who denied the pipeline company’s request for an order removing tree sitters on the route.  See Jonathan Sokolow’s report.

16 State AGs Urge Supreme Court to Take Forest Service Case

The article below is from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update 239, August 1, 2019. [We note that the effort was led by the West Virginia Attorney General, but only one of the other AGs that signed on is from a state with the AT running through it (Georgia), most of the signers are from fossil fuel energy producing states, and the AGs for states other than West Virginia that are on the proposed ACP route, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, did not sign.]

Sixteen Republican State Attorneys General, led by West Virginia AG Patrick Morrisey, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to accept the appeal made by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) to overturn the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to vacate the U.S. Forest Service permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. The ACP, LLC filed its appeal with the Supreme Court on June 25. It was joined in that request by the U.S. Solicitor General. The AGs’ brief, filed July 29, stated as reasons for its support of the ACP appeal:

  • The Fourth Circuit decision was wrong, as it misread the Mineral leasing Act (MLA) and because it undermined the MLA’s goal to balance conservation with energy development;
  • Shuttering construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline harms states on both ends of its route;
  • The decision could severely constrain energy development nationwide; and
  • The decision undermines important interests beyond pipeline development. (On this final point, the brief claims that the decision “could thus disable any federal agency from being able to authorize power lines and telecommunications infrastructure across the Appalachian Trail, as well as other trails that cross forest land.”)

Joining WV Attorney General Morrisey (who is the principal author of the brief) in signing on to the brief were the AGs of Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

SELC Asks FERC to Halt ACP Construction

On July 31, 2019, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) asked FERC to stop ACP construction because of the July 26 ruling from the 4th Circuit Court that voided the US Fish and Wildlife Service permit.

SELC said, “Allowing continued construction violates the Endangered Species Act’s (‘ESA’s’) prohibition on engaging in actions likely to jeopardize a species. It places the Commission at risk of an unauthorized take of endangered species. It risks substantial environmental harm by constructing facilities that might have to be relocated or abandoned if the pipeline route is modified. And it violates the condition of the Commission’s certificate of public convenience and necessity that Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (‘Atlantic’) obtain all applicable authorizations required under federal law before commencing construction.”

In their letter, SELC explained the five reasons why FERC cannot rely on the ACP’s temporary work stoppage to address the four issues in the paragraph above.

  • The Commission may not authorize any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered species.
  • In permitting construction, the Commission risks taking species in violation of the ESA. Section 9 of the ESA similarly prohibits the “take” of endangered and threatened species.
  • Allowing construction of pipeline facilities that might have to be relocated or abandoned risks unnecessary environmental harm.
  • The Commission cannot permit construction where Atlantic lacks federal authorizations that are mandatory conditions of its certificate.
  • Atlantic’s voluntary work stoppage does not satisfy the Commission’s obligation to halt construction in light of these significant issues.

Read SELC’s letter here.

Fish and Wildlife Permit Vacated by 4th Circuit


An Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance email distributed early on July 27, 2019, comments on the Fourth Circuit Court’s opinion vacating the Fish and Wildlife Service permit:

The Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals Friday struck down the latest permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had issued for the the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The issue arose from a requirement in the Endangered Species Act that (quoting from the decision) “the proposed pipeline will not jeopardize the continued existence of several endangered and threatened species that are likely to be impacted by pipeline construction. As relevant here, the Biological Opinion concluded that the pipeline will not jeopardize four species: the rusty patched bumble bee, clubshell, Indiana bat, or Madison Cave isopod.” The FWS issued an opinion in 2017 stating that the ACP did not endanger any endangered species. The permit was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wildlife Committee (the latter two organizations being ABRA members).

In response to that legal challenge the Fourth Circuit in May 2018 vacated the FWS permit, which it explained in its opinion (not issued until August 6) that the “FWS’s vague and unenforceable take limits are arbitrary and capricious.” The agency reissued a new permit in September 2018, which was again challenged by the same plaintiffs. The Fourth Circuit stayed the new permit and, in response to that, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC suspended all construction of the project in late 2018.. The case decided Friday was argued on May 9, 2019 (see ABRA Update #229, May 10, 2019).

In today’s decision, the Fourth Circuit stated:

Specifically, Petitioners assert that FWS improperly determined that pipeline construction will not jeopardize the rusty patched bumble bee or the clubshell, and they challenge the validity of the take limits imposed for the Indiana bat and the Madison Cave isopod. Because we find that FWS arbitrarily reached its no-jeopardy conclusions and failed to correct the deficiencies in the take limits that we identified in the previous appeal, we grant the petition and vacate the 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, SELC stated:

“In its rush to help this pipeline company, the agency failed to protect species on the brink of extinction – its most important duty. This pipeline would blast through some of the last populations of these rare animals,” said Patrick Hunter, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There is no evidence that this pipeline is needed for anything other than Dominion and Duke Energy profits. For the sake of these rare species and its customers’ wallets, it’s time for these utilities to walk away from this badly planned boondoggle.”

Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been stopped since December 2018 when multiple permits were called into question or overturned including permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those permits are all still outstanding. Among the problems for this pipeline is a Federal Court decision that the Forest Service erred in allowing the pipeline to carve through national forests and was not authorized to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail. There is no clear path forward to construct the pipeline on its current route. The project is several years behind schedule and more than $2 billion dollars over budget. If constructed, ratepayers will be expected to pay for the pipeline while the energy companies collect a 15% profit.

Quoted in Charlottesville’s July 27, 2019, Daily Progress article, Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said, “Based on the clear direction provided by the court in today’s opinion, we expect FERC and the Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to immediately begin working to correct the issues identified by the court. Once the new Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement are issued, we will seek the necessary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to resume construction. We’re confident we remain on track to complete the project by late 2021.”

The Daily Progress article says, “If the Fish and Wildlife Service were to issue a new permit, Dominion has said it would begin building the pipeline from Buckingham County to the southeastern Virginia coast, connecting it to Hampton Roads and extending it through eastern North Carolina. The company plans to build a natural gas compressor station at Union Hill in Buckingham under a state air pollution permit that environmental groups also have appealed to the 4th Circuit. Separately, Dominion and its partners have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review another opinion by the same federal appeals panel last December that threw out a U.S. Forest Service permit to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail between Augusta and Nelson counties.”