CHARLESTON — On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments that impact two natural gas pipelines in West Virginia, including Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) that runs through Monroe and Giles counties but is now stalled at the Appalachian Trail crossing on Peters Mountain.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACC), which traverses several counties in the eastern part of the state is also stalled by an Appalachian Trail crossing.
Although pipeline companies initially obtained permits from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to drill under the AT across National Forest land, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond vacated the permit in 2018, saying the AT is part of the National Park System and the USFS had no authority to authorize a rights-of-way under the trail.
That effectively stopped construction and prompted Dominion Energy, which is building the ACC, to petition for the 4th Circuit decision to be reviewed and reversed by the Supreme Court.
The MVP developer, EQT Corp. in Pittsburgh, submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court also in favor of reversal.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has led an 18-state coalition that continues to urge the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s decision.
“The appeals court decision put thousands of men and women out of work,” Morrisey said. “Our broad coalition and state leaders are unified in hoping the Supreme Court will overturn that devastating decision. A sound court ruling will lead to a stronger economy, more residents gainfully employed and more tax revenue for our communities.”
When completed, the 600-mile pipeline will transport natural gas through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties en route to Virginia and North Carolina.
The 42-inch diameter MVP runs about 300 miles to Chatham, Va.
Morrisey said halting of pipeline construction has cost the state at least 1,500 well-paying jobs and lost revenue from income and property taxes. The construction jobs in question, he said, paid laborers between $25 to $40 per hour plus per diem.
Morrisey argues that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling, if left intact, would transform 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail into a near-impenetrable barrier to energy development – all to avoid a one-tenth mile crossing deep beneath the surface on a 600-mile pipeline.
If applied nationwide, he said, the lower 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.”
Both pipelines have met with protests from the beginning.
In Monroe, Summers and Giles counties, several arrests have been made since construction of the MVP started in 2018 as protesters have camped out in tree “houses” in the path of the pipeline, chained themselves to construction equipment and even placed a car on blocks over a pipeline ditch.
Those opposed to natural gas pipelines, including state and national environmental groups, say the dangers include possible explosions, damage to the environment and the karst in mountainous terrain, and a detrimental impact on water sources.
Several lawsuits have been filed by environmental groups related to crossing streams, the legality of permits granted, as well as the damage being done along the ditch line from lack of proper mitigation during construction.
The delays have increased the construction time and cost of both pipelines.
For the MVP, the initial timetable was to be in operation by late 2018 at a cost of about $3.5 million.
Now, the MVP developers post on their website that it should be in operation my late 2020 with an estimated $5.3 billion to $5.5 billion price tag.
If the Supreme Court leaves the lower court ruling intact, the developers would have to reroute the lines to cross the AT where it traverses private property.
Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org.