By Tate Mikkelsen

The federal government gave its approval Monday to start constructing the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia, but some Virginians are hoping the natural gas pipeline doesn’t cross state lines.  

“This thing is a bad deal [but] it’s not a done deal. It’s not fully approved,” said Lara Mack, an organizer for Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy group. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its limited approval to begin construction in a letter to Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC. The company can start construction in five West Virginia counties. The pipeline will originate in Wetzel County, which is in the northern part of the state.   

“This letter does not authorize any construction activities anywhere else within the project area,” wrote James Martin, chief of the FERC Division of Gas-Environment and Engineering.  

But even partial approval of the 300-mile interstate pipeline concerns many Virginians.  

For some, it’s about preserving Virginia’s natural resources. 

Wild Virginia members at an outreach table. David Sligh is featured on the far right. (Photo credit: Wild Virginia Director Misty Boos.)

“[The pipeline] should not be constructed because it cannot be constructed to protect water quality,” said David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting the state’s natural ecosystems.  

Sligh said he disagreed with the Virginia State Water Control Board’s decision last December to approve the water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  

The certificate of approval said, “There is reasonable assurance that the Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC activities covered by this Certification will be conducted in a manner that will not violate applicable Water Quality Standards.” 

But Sligh said MVP needs to remove trees along the pipeline’s route before beginning construction, which would compromise water quality.  

“Once you go removing sections of forests in a water shed you will affect water quality,” Sligh said. “That’s just a fact.”  

Wild Virginia is one of several groups that took legal action earlier this month against the portion of the pipeline that is planned for Virginia. The other groups are: Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.  

The six environmental groups are challenging a certificate of public convenience and necessity that was issued to the project in October by FERC, according to a Sierra Club press release.  

But FERC officials are standing by their ruling.  

 “There is a reliability that the pipeline will be used, demonstrated by how much gas each shipper is hoping to transport through it,” said Tamara Young-Allen, a spokesperson for FERC. 

The groups also filed a motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stop the initiation of construction.  

“This pipeline would cause irreversible harm to our air, water and communities, so we are evaluating every avenue we have to ensure it never gets built,” Sierra Club Virginia Director Kate Addleson said in a press release.  

Other opponents of the pipeline have brought up MVP’s treatment of those affected by the pipeline’s construction.  

The proposed pipeline would run from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. (Source: Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC.)

“There have been questionable tactics from MVP serving legal papers,” said Katherine Wilkin, coordinator for anti-fossil fuel group POWHR Coalition. “A lot of landowners, in the information they’ve been given by MVP, have had inaccurate representations of their property lines.”  

Wilkin said POWHR has several lawsuits pending against the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Water Control Board regarding MVP’s inadequate consideration of the people affected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline project.  

“This is not just one pipeline that is affecting communities for the first time,” Wilkin said. “This is an ongoing issue that has been affecting families for over a century.”   

And for some, it’s about making sure their bases are covered.  

Roanoke City Council Member Ray Ferris said the DEQ should require MVP to cover any potential water quality damage.  

“The cost of cleanup should not fall on taxpayers, but should fall on pipeline operators,” Ferris said. “They should not be allowed to stick a shovel in the ground until these things have been resolved.”  

MVP officials maintain that the company has done its best to design a route with the least impact to landowners and the environment, said Josie Schultz, a member of the company’s communications team. 

Schultz said MVP would spend a combined $1.2 billion on state-based labor and goods to boost the local economy during the pipeline’s construction.  

She also said MVP has not yet filed for any notices to proceed in Virginia.  

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