In a split decision, FERC has given the green light for Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (MVP) to resume construction along most of the project route, modifying a cessation order issued last October amid court challenges of federal permitting.
The latest order, issued late Friday, clears a major obstacle in MVP’s push to complete a project that has faced repeated regulatory and legal setbacks since receiving a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017.
FERC cleared MVP to resume work along all portions of the 2 million Dth/d, 303-mile project except for a 25-mile “exclusion zone” near the natural gas pipeline’s planned crossing of the Jefferson National Forest. Commissioner Richard Glick dissented.
Separately, FERC approved a recent request for a two-year extension of MVP’s deadline to complete construction on the project, with Glick dissenting in part on that order.
Friday’s FERC orders follow recent updates to the project’s environmental permitting, a series of new or revised approvals required following successful legal challenges mounted by opposition groups.
MVP is still awaiting a supplemental environmental impact statement from the U.S. Forest Service following a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacating the agency’s previous authorization. This proved a sticking point for Glick, a Democrat, who broke from fellow Commissioner James Danly and FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee to vote against the order to authorize construction to resume.
Glick, who has recently dissented on a number of other FERC orders advancing natural gas infrastructure, argued that a condition in the original 2017 certificate order requires MVP to have all necessary permits before starting construction.
“MVP does not currently have an authorization to cross the Jefferson National Forest and, therefore, it should not be allowed to again begin construction. Plain and simple,” Glick said.
However, the majority ultimately found that the issue of how best to mitigate environmental impacts under the current circumstances is not quite so straightforward.
“When certain federal authorizations for a project are invalidated or suspended after construction has commenced, Commission staff evaluates the circumstances along the pipeline’s right-of-way as they exist at the time…If significant construction has been completed or is currently underway, it may be most protective of the environment for additional construction to proceed,” FERC Deputy Secretary Nathaniel J. Davis wrote in Friday’s order.
“…Commission staff’s experience monitoring pipeline construction for thousands of projects spanning tens of thousands of miles across the United States makes staff qualified to assess environmental impacts associated with construction and restoration of rights-of-way. Based on staff’s review” of MVP, “we agree that completion of construction and final restoration…where permitted, is best for the environment and affected landowners.”
Meanwhile, MVP is not out of the regulatory woods yet, as the pipeline’s new and updated permits have brought new legal challenges.
Natalie Cox, spokesperson for MVP sponsor EQM Midstream Partners LP, alluded to a renewed legal review of MVP’s Nationwide Permit 12 approvals currently underway in the Fourth Circuit.
“While we look forward to safely resuming construction on this important infrastructure project,” MVP has “agreed to temporarily delay stream and waterbody crossings out of respect for that process,” Cox said. “As the litigation process progresses and as we receive additional information from the FERC regarding potentially releasing the remainder of the route for construction, MVP will continue to evaluate its current construction plans, budget and schedule.”
EQM would operate the 42-inch diameter MVP as part of a joint venture with NextEra Capital Holdings Inc., Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC. The project is designed to transport Marcellus and Utica shale gas from West Virginia to an interconnect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line in southwestern Virginia.
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