Stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline
Mountain Valley Pipeline Crossing in Newport, Virginia - Courtesy of the artist Robert Tuckwiller
To the Biden administration and Council on Environmental Quality:
The attached petition reflects the deep concerns of citizens who care about our environment and environmental justice. We appeal to the Biden administration for immediate action to halt construction of a massive 42-inch fracked-gas pipeline that is devastating over 300 miles of land across West Virginia, Virginia and threatens the same in North Carolina. The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) has already been fined millions of dollars for damage to pristine waterways, private and public lands. If completed, it will, in addition to this environmental devastation, transport extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, threatening the climate of the earth.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline would be the single largest source of greenhouse gases in Virginia, producing annual emissions of over 89 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. The oil and gas industry contributes between one-fifth and one-third of anthropogenic methane - caused by deliberate flaring and leaks from drilling, pipelines and compressor stations. Methane is 86 times more potent than CO2 in producing climate warming during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Scientists say these emissions need to be zeroed out in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Building more pipelines with a service life of 20-30 years is not in the public interest.
We request that the Administration immediately intervene to halt construction, reevaluate permits and reassess the public need for this disastrous project. With immediate intervention, our national forest, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Ridge-and-Valley Appalachian region streams, endangered species, and the karst from which so many of us draw our drinking water can still be protected. We believe this request is well within and aligned with the Biden Administration’s executive orders and memoranda calling for environmental justice and checking climate change.
Bill of Particulars and Specific Requests
The Trump administration advanced fossil fuel projects at the expense of long-standing environmental standards and protections, often fast tracking environmental reviews and pushing federal agencies to do rushed and incomplete analyses to justify legally and empirically deficient certifications of projects like the MVP. Prompt attention to restoring these standards will both avoid devastating environmental impacts and restore scientific integrity in the federal government by ordering expedient reviews of certain agency analyses and certifications.
1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement
On November 18, 2020, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by a coalition of environmental groups for a stay while the court considers the groups’ objections to the latest analysis in FWS’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement. The agency has not properly studied risks of the project to endangered species like the Indiana bat, Roanoke logperch and candy darter (USCA4 Appeal: 20- 2159 Doc: 23-1 Filed 11/02/20). “The record shows that the Fish and Wildlife Service has again cut corners, ignored or weakened technical standards, and excluded pertinent facts without justification in approving of damages to endangered fish species and bats."
Request: the new Secretary of the Interior order a review of the recent Fish and Wildlife BiOp by a group of independent scientists and, during the interim, the construction of the MVP be halted.
2. U.S. Forest Service analysis of a Jefferson National Forest crossing
On January 11, 2021, after its earlier plans were thrown out by the 4th Circuit for their “silent acquiescence” and “arbitrary” acceptance of FERC and MVP construction plans, UFS approved the latest request to route the MVP through a segment of JNF. The Roanoke Times reports that the revised protocol would not normally be allowed under the resource management plan for the forest, so the new environmental impact statement recommends 11 amendments - changing standards for assessing impacts on soils, old-growth forests and scenic integrity - to make its analysis conform to MVP’s blueprint (Dec. 11 2020). Although the supplemental report is based on additional research, its final conclusions are essentially the same as in 2017. In response to a FOIA request, the newspaper received a telling email by a UFS regional planning director, Peter Gaulke, who laments “the Forest Service “was not in the driver’s seat” when it came to making the final decision. Indicating his discomfort with the outcome, he explains “One of the key issues was whether building the 303-mile interstate pipeline — the largest such project ever proposed in the Jefferson National Forest — would produce more erosion and sedimentation than the public woodlands could bear” (Nov. 1 2020).
Request: The Secretary of Agriculture order a review the UFS environmental impact statement by an independent group of scientists and, during the interim, construction of the MVP be halted.
3. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide opinion on Water Body Crossings
The 4th Circuit Court has twice set aside a blanket Nationwide 12 (NWP12) permit for the MVP. Critics have said that MVP’s insistence on a NWP12 failed to adequately assess the varied environmental impacts of a massive pipeline fording pristine mountain streams. Nationwide permits allow waterways and wetlands to be dredged and filled where there will be minimal impacts to the environment. That is blatantly not the case for this pipeline, leading the Corps to delay finding a way to reinstate the NWP12, environmentalists say, to avoid legal scrutiny of a “fatally flawed” certification necessary for the pipeline to cross nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands, and approval to passthrough JNF. Now MVP has opted for individual stream permits in a last ditch effort (Roanoke Times, January 7 2021). However, not even the best engineering practices can ensure environmentally safe crossings of so many streams in the Ridge and Valley Province (Mountain Valley Watch Comments to State Water Control Board, August 10, 2018, revised August 13). In op-eds in the Roanoke Times, (July 12 and July 17, 2020), environmental hydrologist, Dr Jacob Hileman, strongly warned against any effort to build the nation’s largest gas pipeline across the ridge and valley system extending from Peters Mountain in Giles County through Bent Mountain in Roanoke Virginia. Hileman’s assessment is consistent with independent reports from four other distinguished hydrologists (“The Scientific Consensus on Geo-Hazards to Virginia Waters Posed by Large Gas Pipelines,” FERC elibrary accession 20170808-5015). The collective finding of all five is that the construction, operation and maintenance of this pipeline through an area replete with extensive, complex and compounded geological hazards (including extensive karst and the Giles County seismic zone) would inflict serious environmental damage.
Request: The Biden administration critically reevaluate Trump administration analyses and MVP’s latest plans for individual water way crossings in the Ridge and Valley Province, the review include an independent group of scientists, and construction of the pipeline cease during the interim.
4. Environmental Justice
President Biden promises to make tackling America’s persistent racial and economic disparities a central part of his plan to combat climate change by prioritizing environmental justice. The full MVP Southgate extension runs from Chatham in Pittsylvania County, Virginia to Eden in Rockingham County, North Carolina, southeast through Alamance County, ending in the Burlington MSA. The North Carolina segment was halted, at least temporarily, in August 2020, by the denial of a state water quality permit. As planned, the extension would threaten multiple EJ communities, clearly in Pittsylvania County, already heavily overburdened by cumulative impacts of extraction industries (Land & Heritage Consulting, LLC, Sept. 2020), and very likely in other localities. Historically EJ communities have been sacrifice zones targeted for water, air and soil pollutants that privileged white communities avoid. The extension plans for a compressor Station in Pittsylvania County, near Chatham (26% minority) - with two gas-fueled combustion turbines, five microturbines and ancillary equipment - would produce health threatening air and noise pollution. Communities where air quality is poor suffer from higher
levels of asthma and respiratory and heart diseases, leading to significantly higher death rates associated with coronavirus for African-, Latinx- and Native-Americans (Washington Post, 1/27/2021). Further south the pipeline is routed between Danville Virginia (53% minority) and Eden North Carolina (33% minority), through Reidsville (44% minority) to the Burlington (50% minority) where it threatens the Stony Creek Reservoir, the main drinking water supply. Chatham and the three of these North Carolina communities are reported to have high incidences of EJ characteristics associated with populations of color (EJ Piedmont Triad Regional Data Scan, Piedmont Triad Regional Council, 2016; Land & Heritage Consulting, LLC, Sept. 20 20).
Request: The Biden administration prioritize environmental justice in certifications for all interstate pipeline infrastructure.
5. An antiquated, unchecked Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The House oversight and reform committee and the subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties are scrutinizing FERC for running interference for the gas and oil industry while ignoring the concerns of environmental justice communities and landowners in the permitting process. FERC approves 99% of gas pipeline applications, regularly fast tracks them before final federal agency approval and extends the time frame for projects behind schedule. On Dec. 17 2020 FERC ruled in a 2-1 vote among its three commissioners that construction along a segment through Giles and Craig counties in Virginia could resume, claiming that it would not contribute sediment to any part of the forest or its waterbodies - contrary to skepticism from independent scientists and the original Obama administration Forest Service analysis (Forest Service Comments on Final Resource Reports for October 2015 Mountain Valley Pipeline Project - Docket No. CP16-10). “In a scathing dissent, FERC Commissioner and new chair, Richard Glick, called the commission’s order “a serious mistake,” noting that federal courts have repeatedly invalidated various federal permits that Mountain Valley Pipeline needs to finish construction” (wvgazettemail.com Dec. 23 2020).
Request: The Biden administration work with the Congress to rewrite the Natural Gas Act and later legislation and orders that provide FERC with excessive powers that have been used to bolster the fossil fuel energy industry. FERC is controlled by the very gas and oil companies it regulates. A product of a fossil-fuel-dependent industrial age, any new gas infrastructure poses an obstruction to Biden’s goal of ending greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a boondoggle. It has been fined millions of dollars for damage to pristine waterways, private and public lands. It is billions of dollars over budget and invests in the wrong future.
President Biden’s Executive Order 13990 directs federal agencies to review and consider suspending policies adopted during the Trump administration that are inconsistent with protecting public health, environmental justice and restoring science to tackle the Climate Crisis.
We, the undersigned, request that representatives of the Office of Domestic Climate Policy immediately intervene to halt construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, reevaluate permits and reassess the public need for this misguided venture.
Submitted by the New River Valley Group of the Virginia Sierra Club on behalf of these conservation groups in fenceline communities and their allies:
- Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA regional coalition)
- Appalachian Youth Climate Coalition
- Citizens Climate Lobby, New River Valley, VA
- Environmental Coalition at Virginia Tech
- Great Falls Group of the VA Sierra Club
- Greenbrier River Watershed Association, WV
- Indian Creek Water Association, WV
- Mountain Valley Watch
- Newport - Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, VA
- New River Valley Group of the VA Sierra Club
- New River Climate Collaboration, VA (NRCC regional coalition)
- Piedmont Group of the VA Sierra Club
- Preserve Bent Mountain VA
- Preserve Craig County VA
- Preserve Giles County VA
- Preserve Monroe WV
- Preserve Montgomery County VA
- Preserve Salem VA
- Preserve Summers County WV
- Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR regional coalition)
- Roanoke Valley Group of the VA Sierra Club
- Roanoke Quakers, VA
- Save Monroe, WV
- Summer County Residents Against the Pipeline, WV
- Sustain Floyd, VA
- Sustainable Blacksburg, VA
- Virginia Interfaith Power & Light
- Virginia Organizing, New River Valley Chapter
- Virginia Tech for Climate Justice