The Biden administration issued a key approval Thursday evening for a 303½-mile West Virginia-to-Virginia natural gas pipeline project that environmental groups argued would have disastrous impacts.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a record of decision approving a 30-year right-of-way permit and a temporary use permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, allowing the project to proceed on a 3½-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest along the West Virginia-Virginia border. In a separate decision earlier this week, the US Forest Service said the pipeline could be constructed in the federal forest.
“The Bureau of Land Management issued a record of decision for the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” BLM spokesperson Kristen Peters said in a statement. “The BLM is moving forward with the next step, processing the revised right-of-way application for the project.”
Mitchell Leverette, director of BLM’s Eastern States region, and Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau both signed the record of decision Thursday.
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The determination clears the way to finish the billion-dollar project that is 94% complete but has been watched in a lengthy permitting process for years. Overall, the pipeline would transport about 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from West Virginia to consumers in the Mid- and South Atlantic.
Before construction can be completed, the project must receive authorization from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which manages a 60-foot stretch of a West Virginia trail the pipeline would need to cross. And a federal court struck down a permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in April, requiring the agency to issue a revised permit.
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In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent permitting decision in favor of the pipeline is being challenged in federal court. Environmental groups are also poised to challenge the BLM and Forest Service permits, potentially delaying construction further.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline will tear a hole in Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water and sacrifice communities across Appalachia in its wake,” said Jill Gottesman, the southern Appalachian landscape director for The Wilderness Society. “We have no choice but to take this battle back to the court.”
“We maintain that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built through the Jefferson National Forest without lasting damage to sensitive forests, habitats and waters,” added Jessica Sims, a field coordinator for environmental group Appalachian Voices.
The project, though, has received backing from Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and lawyers including Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. The West Virginia senator has argued it would create 2,500 construction jobs, $40 million in new tax revenue for his home state, $10 million in new tax revenue for Virginia and up to $250 million in royalties for West Virginia landowners.
“Yesterday’s approval by the Bureau of Land Management of MVP’s right-of-way is the next step in the process to finally complete this vital piece of energy infrastructure that will strengthen our energy and national security, boost the economy in West Virginia and benefit the “Entire nation by bringing more than 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas online daily that will help power homes and businesses,” Manchin said Friday.
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“The process to finally finish MVP has been long, and it isn’t over yet — but yesterday’s announcement and the Forest Service’s approval earlier this week is a sign that the administration is finally realizing that the completion of MVP is vital for our nation. “
Mountain Valley Pipeline operator Equitrans announced last year it expected the pipeline to go into service during the second half of 2023. Federal regulators gave the company until 2026 to complete the project.