On September 7, 2017, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told the Mountain Valley Pipeline developers and other state and federal agencies that it “hereby vacates and remands” its water quality certification for the controversial natural gas pipeline. Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management, said in the letter that the move would allow DEP “to reevaluate the complete application to determine whether the state’s certification is in compliance” with the federal Clean Water Act.
Citizen groups had challenged the DEP’s previous approval, saying the agency had not fully reviewed the MVP’s potential to degrade streams, but DEP Secretary Caperton refused their request for a hearing. The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other groups then filed a court challenge against Caperton and the DEP. The state agency was due to file a response by September 14, 2017, to the brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the citizen groups by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates. After the previous certification was vacated, a DEP spokesperson said that during the agency’s review of the legal challenge at the 4th Circuit, DEP officials determined that “the information used to issue” the water quality certification “needs to be further evaluated and possibly enhanced.”
We hope Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality will learn from West Virginia’s experience that a rubber stamp approval of 401 water quality certification would mean they aren’t doing their job properly – and might, like West Virginia, have to go back and do it over.