The Biden administration on Thursday night granted a key permit for a 303½-mile West Virginia-to-Virginia natural gas pipeline project that environmental groups argued would have catastrophic effects.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a decision record approving a 30-year right-of-way permit and temporary use permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, allowing the project to proceed on a 3½-mile section of the Jefferson National Forest along the West Virginia border and Virginia. In a separate decision earlier this week, the US Forest Service said the pipeline could be built in the federal forest.
“The Bureau of Land Management has issued a Decision Record for the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” BLM spokeswoman Kristen Peters said in a statement. “BLM is proceeding to the next step and processing the revised right-of-way request for the project.”
Mitchell Leverette, director of the BLM’s Eastern States region, and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau both signed the decision memorandum Thursday.
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The decision paves the way for completion of the multi-billion dollar project, which is 94% complete but has been in a lengthy permitting process for years. In all, the pipeline would transport about 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from West Virginia to consumers in the mid and south Atlantic.
Before construction can be completed, the project must receive approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which manages a 60-foot section of West Virginia trail that the pipeline would need to cross. And a federal court in April rejected a permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, ordering 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 BLM and Forest Service permits, potentially delaying construction even further.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline will create a hole in the Jefferson National Forest that will compromise the integrity of the forest, jeopardize our water supply and sacrifice communities across Appalachia,” said Jill Gottesman, Southern Appalachian landscape director for the Wilderness Society. “We have no choice but to bring this fight back to court.”
“We believe the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built through the Jefferson National Forest without causing lasting damage to vulnerable forests, habitats and water bodies,” added Jessica Sims, field coordinator for environmental group Appalachian Voices.
However, the project received support from Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers including Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The West Virginia senator has argued that this 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 landowner royalties in West Virginia would be created.
“Yesterday’s approval of MVP’s right of way by the Bureau of Land Management is the next step in the process to finalize this important piece of energy infrastructure that will strengthen our energy and national security, boost West Virginia’s economy and benefit the United States “We aim to empower the entire nation by bringing more than 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas online every day, which will help power homes and businesses,” Manchin said Friday.
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“The process of finally completing MVP has been long and ongoing – but yesterday’s announcement and the Forest Service’s approval earlier this week are a sign that the government is finally realizing that the completion of MVP is critical to our country meaning is. ”
Mountain Valley pipeline operator Equitrans announced last year that it expects the pipeline to be operational in the second half of 2023. Federal regulators gave the company until 2026 to complete the project.
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