The Biden administration issued key approval late Thursday for a 303-and-a-half-mile gas pipeline project between West Virginia and Virginia that environmental groups say would have disastrous effects.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a Record of Decision approving a 30-year right-of-way permit and temporary use permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, allowing the project to proceed along a 3½-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest along the West Virginia-Virginia border. In a separate decision earlier this week, the US Forest Service said the pipeline could be built in the federal forest.
“The Bureau of Land Management has released a Record of Decision for the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” BLM spokeswoman Kristen Peters said in a statement. “The BLM is moving to the next stage, processing the revised right-of-way application for the project.”
Mitchell Leverette, BLM’s Eastern States Region Director, and Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau both signed the decision record on Thursday.
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The determination paves the way for completion of the billion-dollar project which is 94% complete but has been mired in a lengthy permitting process for years. Overall, the pipeline would transport approximately 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from West Virginia to consumers in the Mid and South Atlantic.
Before construction can be completed, the project must receive approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which manages a 60-foot stretch of a West Virginia trail that the pipeline would have to cross. And a federal court overturned a permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in April, forcing the agency to issue a revised permit.
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In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent permitting decision in favor of the pipeline is being challenged in federal court. Environmental groups are also poised to challenge BLM and Forest Service permits, which could further delay construction.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline will burn a hole in the Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water, and sacrifice Appalachian communities in its wake,” said Jill Gottesman, Landscape Director of Southern Appalachia for The Wilderness Society. “We have no choice but to bring this battle back to court.”
“We argue that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built through the Jefferson National Forest without lasting damage to sensitive forests, habitats and waters,” added Jessica Sims, field coordinator for the environmental group Appalachian Voices.
The project, however, received support from Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers, including Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. The West Virginia senator argued that it would create 2,500 construction jobs, $40 million in new tax revenue for his home state, $10 million in new tax revenue for Virginia and up to 250 million in royalties for landowners in West Virginia.
“Yesterday’s Bureau of Land Management approval of the MVP right-of-way is the next step in the process to finally complete this vital energy infrastructure that will strengthen our energy and national security, boost the economy in West Virginia and will benefit the entire nation by bringing more than 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas online daily that will help power homes and businesses,” Manchin said Friday.
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“The process to finally complete MVP has been a long one, and it’s not over yet – but yesterday’s announcement and Forest Service endorsement earlier this week is a sign that the administration is finally realizing that completing MVP is vital to our nation.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline operator Equitrans announced last year that it expects the pipeline to enter service in the second half of 2023. Federal regulators have given the company until 2026 to complete the project.
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