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Appeals court orders temporary halt to Mountain Valley Pipeline construction
Appeals court orders temporary halt to Mountain Valley Pipeline construction

A federal appeals court on Monday ordered the backers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to halt construction in a national forest while it reviews a request by environmental groups to challenge the Biden administration’s approval of the natural gas pipeline.

A panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which has previously rejected permits for the project, unanimously decided to grant the motion to stop construction. The ruling came after language in the debt ceiling law directed federal agencies to issue permits needed for the controversial pipeline favored by Senate Energy Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Details: The judges agreed with the argument that the Wilderness Society and other environmental groups made last week that construction on the proposed natural gas pipeline through the Jefferson National Forest should stop while the court weighs the request to review the Interior Department’s record of decision allowing pipeline construction in the national forest to begin.

“The court grants the motion and stays construction during the pendency of this petition for review,” the ruling read.

Reaction: A spokesperson for Mountain Valley Pipeline noted the decision was only related to construction in the Jefferson National Forest, a three-mile stretch of a pipeline that is planned to travel more than 300 miles.

“We will have additional comment regarding the decision in the coming days,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Manchin, who provided the crucial vote for President Joe Biden’s climate bill last year and has been one of the pipeline’s big champions, protested the court’s decision.

“The law passed by Congress & signed by POTUS is clear – the 4th Circuit no longer has jurisdiction over MVP’s construction permits,” Manchin said in a tweet Monday night. “This new order halting construction is unlawful, & regardless of your position on MVP, it should alarm every American when a court ignores the law.”

Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.V.) who also supported the pipeline, said Congress “was crystal clear” in its intent when it included language ordering Interior to issue the necessary permits for the pipeline’s construction in the legislation it passed raising the debt ceiling.

“This latest effort by the activist Fourth Circuit Court flies in the face of the law that was passed by a bipartisan Congress and signed by President Biden,” Capito said in a press release.

But the inclusion of the language specific to the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the debt ceiling bill infuriated other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with Democratic and Republican-sponsored amendments introduced to try to strip the provision.

A White House spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment. However, the Biden administration has supported the project, with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urging federal regulators to approve it, arguing the controversial project is needed for U.S. energy security.

Background: The ruling is the latest twist in the legal saga surrounding the proposed 303-mile pipeline, which would transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.

The 4th Circuit has dealt several blows to the project, previously throwing out a permit issued by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality after finding the agency erred in issuing a certificate that found the project would not violate the state’s water quality standards. In January 2022, the court vacated permits the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management gave the project, dealing it another setback by sending it back to the agencies for review.

Last year, MVP requested its lawsuits get assigned to a different three-judge panel than the one that ruled in the Virginia case and in previous cases unfavorable to the pipeline — a motion that was denied.

Mountain Valley said it had scheduled construction to start soon for the short length of pipeline that would travel through the national forest. The company expected to start operating the pipeline later this year.


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