Court deals another blow to fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dealt another blow to the floundering Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), handing down a decision that rescinds permission for all pipeline-related activities in the Jefferson National Forest. In response to a challenge from a coalition of clean air and water advocates, the court vacated the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s decisions to allow the MVP to cross the publicly owned Jefferson National Forest.

As a result of today’s decision, MVP should halt work within the publicly owned Jefferson National Forest immediately.

The court sided with the coalition groups on their claims that:

  • The Forest Service had improperly concluded that sedimentation and erosion impacts of the pipeline could be mitigated. The Court chastised the Forest Service for capitulating to MVP’s optimistic assertions of mitigation effectiveness, instead pointing to the Forest Service’s own statements about how mitigation often fails in practice.
  • The Forest Service violated its own 2012 Forest Planning Rule, by arbitrarily concluding that amendments to forest plan standards protecting soil, water, and riparian resources to accommodate the pipeline construction were not “directly related” to the requirement to protect those same resources.
  • The Bureau of Land Management violated the Mineral Leasing Act by approving a new right-of-way across the National Forest without having demonstrated that co-locating with existing disturbance would be impractical.

Today’s decision has implications beyond the imminent halt of construction along the 3.5 mile section of MVP’s route through the Jefferson National Forest. Since the same panel of judges is also reviewing the coalition’s same arguments against Virginia’s certification of MVP pursuant to section 401 of the Clean Water Act, it could mean trouble for the MVP’s route in the entirety of Virginia. Furthermore, Sierra Club and Wild Virginia, together with other organizations, have filed a similar challenge regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; that case is scheduled for a hearing September 28.

Today’s decision was the result of cases brought by Sierra Club, Wild Virginia, and Appalachian Voices, represented by Sierra Club attorneys Nathan Matthews and Elly Benson, together with The Wilderness Society, Preserve Craig, and Save Monroe, represented by attorney Tammy Belinksy.

Nathan Matthews, Sierra Club Staff Attorney:

“Today’s decision is great news for Virginians and everyone who cares about clean water and pristine forests. We have said all along that we can’t trust Mountain Valley Pipeline to protect Virginia’s water, so it’s refreshing to see the court refuse to take them at their word. We aren’t buying the gas industry’s claims about their water protection methods and now, the courts aren’t either. MVP should immediately halt all work in the publicly-owned Jefferson National Forest.

“These polluting corporations are threatening Virginia’s water, climate, and communities so they can make a profit off a pipeline that isn’t even needed. There is no right way to build these pipelines and we don’t want our water polluted just to line the pockets of gas industry CEOs.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia:

“Today’s decision from the federal appeals court upholds the principle that agencies responsible for protecting the public’s lands and resources must conduct thorough and honest reviews and reject proposals that would harm our interests. Senior officials in the Trump administration betrayed our trust and ignored the good work of Forest Service experts, placing corporate profits above the rights of citizens who use and value these precious natural treasures.”

Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager of Appalachian Voices:

“This is a major victory for Virginia families and for all Americans. The national forests are held in public trust, and citizens have long argued that this massive pipeline would devastate the Jefferson National Forest and pollute water resources along the route on public and private land. The court is compelling the Forest Service to adhere to water and other environmental protections on federal land. For its part, the Northam administration must fulfill its duty to protect water resources by requiring a stream-by-stream analysis along the entire route.”

Hugh Irwin, Conservation Planner for The Wilderness Society:

“Our effort to prevent this pipeline construction underscores why our national Too Wild to Drill Campaign includes this pipeline across the Southern Appalachians. The Mountain Valley Pipeline would harm public lands in Virginia and West Virginia including a roadless area, old growth forest, the Appalachian Trail, rare wild species and local drinking water.”

Jim Gore, Member of the Board, Save Monroe, Inc.:

“The 4th Circuit has validated what we have been saying to the Forest Service for almost four years. We are already seeing ongoing degradation of water resources due to erosion and sedimentation caused by MVP construction on our steep slopes and ridges. Save Monroe is gratified that the Court sees it as we do and has acted to protect the forest and its irreplaceable water.”

Bill Wolf, Co-Chair of Preserve Craig, Inc.:

“The quality of life in our community has already been seriously harmed by MVP and the Forest Service and BLM decisions. If MVP were a responsible company, it would respect this decision and halt all construction activity today.”

Doug Jackson, Sierra Club, 202-495-3045,
Cat McCue, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373,