West Virginia Public Broadcasting -- By Brittany Patterson -- October 16, 2020
A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline from doing construction across streams and wetlands in southern West Virginia and Virginia.
The emergency administrative stay was issued Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Environmental groups led by the Sierra Club appealed to the court to stop river and stream crossings after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 25 reissued the project’s permit that allows the 303-mile natural gas pipeline to cross nearly 1,000 waterways in the two states. The original approvals were tossed by a federal appeals court in 2018.
Environmental groups asked the Corps to reconsider. When the agency upheld its permits, advocates filed a lawsuit with the Fourth Circuit asking the court to review. The emergency order will remain in place until the court considers the full motion to stay.
Environmental groups, in briefs, cited an Aug. 4 earnings call during which pipeline developer Equitrans told its shareholders it would rush to complete stream crossings before the court could stop it.
In its response, Mountain Valley Pipeline opposed the stay. Developers said it ultimately expected cases from the environmental groups to fail and said it reached out to the Sierra Club in an effort to discuss the river crossings of most concern.
Mountain Valley Pipeline had previously agreed not to undertake any waterbody construction through Oct. 17.
The Friday ruling by the court puts stream construction projects on hold. However, an Oct. 9 order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission partially lifted a stop-work order for the multi-billion dollar project on all but 25 miles of national forest land. The agency also extended the project’s for two years. Despite the court order, construction along the route may resume in other areas.