After almost 8,000 people called on the U.S. Forest Service this fall to prevent the fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline from cutting through public land in Virginia, the agency today issued a final report supporting changes to its own environmental standards to accommodate the project. The agency’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement confirms its plan to weaken 11 fundamental rules protecting old-growth forests, soil health, wildlife and scenic viewsheds in order to allow the fossil fuel developer to cross mountainous wild lands in the Jefferson National Forest.
Russell Chisholm, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-404-2727
Jessica Sims, Appalachian Voices, email@example.com, 804-356-1228
The decision comes as the Trump administration rushes to push through fossil fuel projects in its last days even as construction of MVP, whose developers have never proved it is needed, continues to inflict environmental damage and harm to communities along its 300-mile route in West Virginia and Virginia.
“As mountain defenders and trail protectors, we won’t soon forget this parting gift to the gas industry,” said Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the Protect Our Water Heritage Rights coalition. “Our federal agencies need leadership ready to confront the climate and water safety reality we face if they do not stop bending to the will of polluters. With this analysis they have failed us again.”
“This is a gross underestimation of the lasting environmental impacts that pipeline construction will have on these wild lands. By changing its own rules and ignoring the thousands who voiced opposition, Trump’s Forest Service continues to prioritize the fossil fuel industry over Virginia and West Virginia communities and waterways,” said Jessica Sims, Virginia Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices.
In its environmental analysis, the agency says that the alleged economic benefit of the pipeline, being developed by a private, for-profit company, justifies environmental damage on public lands. However, Appalachian Voices and numerous other organizations argue that the MVP developers have never definitively shown a domestic need for the fracked-gas and that in fact, demand for gas is flat.
Not only will the Forest Service’s changes directly harm natural and recreational resources on the Jefferson, they would also set a dangerous precedent for allowing more unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure on national forests across America by equating a private company’s stated claims of economic development with public benefit.
The agency’s first environmental study was thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in 2018 in a challenge brought by multiple conservation groups. Today’s action finalizes a draft supplement that was issued in September. In addition to the forest permit, the pipeline developer still lacks several federal water-crossing permits which are currently being contested in court.
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.