Judge Questions New Water Permit for 303-Mile Mountain Valley Pipeline

(Reuters) — A federal circuit court judge last week said West Virginia regulators haven't adequately explained how approvals for construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline have been changed to avoid future water pollution, setting up another potential setback for the beleaguered natural gas pipeline.

A permit for the 303-mile proposed pipeline was challenged by environmental groups after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) found 100 water-quality and sediment violations.

During oral arguments at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday, a panel of judges asked attorneys for WVDEP to explain how new construction guidelines address the Sierra Club and other environmental groups' pollution concerns.

"There's no question you have new conditions, what you don't have is an explanation as to why those conditions are specifically tailored to address past problems," Judge James Wynn said.

The judge asked if would be an "easy fix" to remand the case back to the environmental agency for a do-over, which could likely add to mounting delays.

WVDEP attorney Lindsay See said a remand would be unnecessary. It's easy to connect the dots based on the record before the court, See said.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a joint project between Equitrans Midstream Corp, NextEra Energy Inc and others that has spurred fierce opposition from landowners and environmentalists.

In other legal challenges, the 4th Circuit has previously vacated and remanded key approvals from federal agencies needed for the pipeline to cross a national forest as well as approvals for construction that were challenged due to endangered species concerns.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, earlier this year made a deal with President Joe Biden that would have transferred the pipeline's courtroom challenges to the D.C. Circuit. That deal was dropped from a funding bill after it failed to garner enough support.

The case is Sierra Club v. West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-1008.


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