CHARLESTON — A move led by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is under way to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to review and overturn a decision in Richmond that halted the construction of a natural gas pipeline.
The decision was made by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the ruling denied Atlantic Coast Pipeline rights-of-way through national forestland beneath the Appalachian Trail (AT).
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a joint venture of several energy companies, including Dominion Energy, is slated to transport natural gas through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties en route to Virginia and North Carolina.
Another ruling by the same court also prevented construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline across Peters Mountain in Monroe County and Giles County, Va.
That natural gas pipeline was slated to cross national forest land and go underneath the AT, which runs along the rim of Peters Mountain. But construction has stopped partially up the mountain.
However, Morrisey is leading the 16-state alliance of attorneys general in an attempt to convince the high court to overturn the decision.
The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether the case will be heard but is expected to make that decision soon, according to various news reports.
The coalition’s brief, filed Monday, argues a federal appeals court was inaccurate in ruling the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to grant the Atlantic Coast Pipeline rights-of-way through forestland beneath the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT).
“The court’s decision was completely wrong,” Morrisey said. “This decision, if it holds, will stand in the way of economic diversification, education and public safety. Continued delays negatively impact the livelihoods of our working class families and the services they receive.”
The attorneys general argue, if left intact, the ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would transform 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail into a near-impenetrable barrier to energy development – all due to a one-tenth of mile crossing on a 600-mile pipeline.
If applied nationwide, the coalition argues the appeals court decision would seal off more than 11,000 miles of federal trails from development and potentially disrupt the national power grid because of the chilling effect it could have on infrastructure investment.
Another blow to the pipeline was dealt last week when the same court vacated permits to Dominion Energy by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The ruling said the federal agency “lost sight of its mandate” to protect the environment.
A halt to pipeline construction will cost West Virginia jobs and lost revenue from income and property taxes, Morrisey said, adding that county officials suggest these monies would make a difference in law enforcement activities and future economic development.
“The tax revenue generated from this project is essential,” said Cindy Whetsell, director of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority, in the announcement released by Morrisey. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s benefits are enormous. Lewis County, the State of West Virginia and the United States need this project for overall stability and prosperity.”
“It is crucial that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline be given permission to move forward with construction,” said Robert Morris Jr., executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority. “Many of our local businesses have been banking on the construction activity bringing new and expanded revenue to them. Many of our citizens were also counting on the jobs that either directly or indirectly were created by the ACP.”
Pipeline supporters note the loss of business for restaurants, hotels and others that benefit from the increased activity brought with pipeline construction, Morrisey said. They also point to families left essentially broken when the head of the household must work out of state to replace jobs lost on the stalled pipeline.
Both natural gas pipelines have seen many protests as well.
More than a dozen people have been arrested during the last two years in both Monroe and Summers County in West Virginia and in Giles County in Virginia trying to block construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, citing environmental concerns as well as the danger of explosions and the permitting process itself.
Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th District) has also questioned the permitting process and why safer technology was not included in the pipeline construction.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) with a large 42-inch diameter pipe will run from fracking operations in central West Virginia to Chatham, Va., cutting across Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties, all in his district.
“I am not against pipelines in general,” he said recently during a stop in Bluefield. “But I am frustrated with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and the process.”
Griffith said EQT, the Pittsburgh-based energy company behind the MVP, “has not done the things they ought to have done to prepare and inform the community.”
For example, he said technology is available to cover pipes with a foam to detect leaks, as well as lay fiber optic cable on top to monitor activities around the pipe, including temperature and any movement.
“The technology is out there,” he said. “Why aren’t they using that?
Griffith is also concerned about the diameter of the pipe, which is larger than usual.
“Explosions don’t happen often, but if I lived near a pipeline I would want that technology,” he said. “I don’t know why FERC has not insisted on it.”
Another issue, he said, is disturbing land.
“I have some concern about karst,” he said, referring to underground sinkholes and caves, common to many areas in the region.
Griffith said more appropriate geological studies should have been done to determine any potential detrimental impact.
“I don’t feel comfortable that has necessarily happened,” he said, adding that he also concerned about the MVP’s impact on the unique wetland area of Bent Mountain near Roanoke. “I am very nervous about that.”
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com