Court Allows West Virginia DEP to Start Over on MVP Review

A joint press release on October 17, 2017, from Sierra Club, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Appalachian Voices, and Appalachian Mountain Advocates:

Court Allows West Virginia DEP to Start Over on Necessary Review of Disputed Pipeline: DEP Must Conduct Comprehensive Review of Fracked Gas Pipeline After Previous Assessment was Incomplete

CHARLESTON, WV — The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today granted an unusual request from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – to throw out DEP’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and let them start anew. Under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, states must certify that proposed pipelines will not violate state water quality standards before construction can begin. DEP has the responsibility to determine whether or not to issue that certification for West Virginia. Although the MVP received FERC approval last week, pipeline construction cannot proceed until DEP issues a new decision.

DEP previously certified the MVP, but filed a motion to invalidate it after environmental groups challenged it in court. Attorneys with the public interest law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed that challenge on behalf of a coalition that included the Sierra Club, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Appalachian Voices, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

In response, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter Gas Committee Chair Justin Raines issued this statement:

“We are pleased to see the court is giving West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection the chance to fulfill its responsibility and conduct a comprehensive and adequate review of the threats posed to our water quality by the Mountain Valley Pipeline. West Virginians, like all Americans, deserve access to clean, healthy water and DEP would fail at its most basic duty if it doesn’t protect us from fracked gas pipelines. This dirty, dangerous pipeline needlessly endangers West Virginia’s waterways, wilderness, and communities, and it should be rejected.”

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

“With [today’s] action, the court has given the DEP a second shot at truly protecting hundreds of West Virginia streams and rivers from the impacts of the massive Mountain Valley Pipeline. We expect that DEP will take its responsibility seriously and do everything within its extensive power under section 401 of the Clean Water Act to ensure West Virginians have safe, clean water. Anything less would be an abdication of its duty.”

Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition said:

“It’s assuring that DEP is taking its obligations under the Clean Water Act seriously, especially on a project that is likely the largest the agency has ever reviewed under Section 401. The agency could have simply thrown up its hands and waived its authority, but it didn’t. It is up to this task. When FERC issued its certification of MVP last Friday, it expressly said that DEP still has the opportunity through this process to protect water quality. After investing considerable taxpayer resources in this process, if DEP were to waive its authority now and forego that opportunity, it would be an inexcusable breach of the public trust. Citizens of this state must rely on thorough efforts of DEP to make sure the over 600 streams impacted by this pipeline are not adversely affected.”

Judy Azulay, President of Indian Creek Watershed Association, said:

“MVP has charted a brutally challenging and destructive route across 200 miles of West Virginia mountains, forests and farmlands. It is clear in its order that FERC is relying on DEP to fill the holes that the FERC certificate does not address. We look to DEP to now make a close and careful analysis of the effects of pipeline construction on every stream crossed, as well as the critically important impacts of upland disturbances and “ridgetop removal”. If DEP abdicates its responsibility and rubber stamps MVP’s faulty application, how can our landowners and communities trust them to enforce any permit conditions to protect our water and the health of our citizens?”

Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager for Appalachian Voices said:

“The federal government has recently indicated it will not protect communities from the harsh environmental and public health impacts of a gas pipeline-building bonanza. Fortunately, states still have the power and the obligation under the Clean Water Act to ensure that projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline will not violate water quality standards. We are confident that the West Virginia DEP will take its duty seriously and use this opportunity to thoroughly evaluate all of the impacts this project will have on its citizens.”