In a win for the pipeline industry, the Supreme Court of Virginia has declined to hear an appeal challenging the constitutionality of a controversial 2004 state law allowing natural gas companies to survey on private property without the landowner’s permission.
Representing landowners in Giles County, VA, environmental law group Appalachian Mountain Advocates had sought the opinion of the state’s high court after a lower court upheld the constitutionality of the 2004 law -- 56-49.01 in the Code of Virginia. The case challenged Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s (MVP) right to survey on private property for its proposed route.
On Monday, the state’s high court determined there was “no reversible error in the judgment complained of,” a setback in efforts to stop both MVP and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC (ACP) -- another major interstate natural gas pipeline planning to cross through Virginia -- from moving forward.
MVP and ACP filed applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last fall and are awaiting environmental impact statements (see Daily GPI, Oct. 23, 2015; Sept. 18, 2015). Both pipelines plan to transport gas produced in the Appalachian Basin into Virginia and other markets in the Southeast.
“In light of the Virginia Supreme Court’s statement that the Giles County court ruling was not in error, Mountain Valley Pipeline has the right to continue its surveying activities as previously planned,” MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said.
ACP spokesman Aaron Ruby said the court “made the right decision. It reflects the clear consensus of the circuit courts in Virginia. Without exception, every court in Virginia that has looked at this issue has ruled that the statute is constitutional. We hope this settles the issue so we can complete the important work of surveying the route and collecting all the information federal agencies need to make an informed decision about the project.”
Amid opposition to MVP and ACP from environmentalists and some landowners along their proposed routes, the 2004 Virginia pipeline survey law has drawn scrutiny. State lawmakers have introduced bills to repeal the law in the past two sessions of the Virginia General Assembly (see Daily GPI, Feb. 10). ACP has had to work through the courts in dozens of cases in Virginia where landowners have refused access for pipeline surveyors (see Daily GPI, Feb. 4).
Isak Howell, an attorney with the Appalachian Mountain Advocates, told NGI Wednesday that the group is “disappointed” but it respects the court’s decision. He said the group would continue working on a variety of efforts to represent landowners opposed to the ACP and MVP. He pointed to a recent legal victory for MVP opponents in Monroe County, WV, in which the judge upheld the landowner’s right to refuse access to survey for the project (see Daily GPI, March 2).
“We are also very active supporting community groups, environmental groups and landowners,” Howell said. “We are active intervenors at FERC and we are active in matters before the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies that pertain to the proposed MVP. We intend to be deeply involved in the comment process on the environmental impact statements now being drafted.”