As of this evening, the people who have been occupying several tree-sits in the path of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Montgomery County, Va., over the past 2-1/2 years remain on site. A county judge had issued an order last week that they come down, and on Thursday had found them in contempt of court and subject to fines. These individuals have occupied the tree-sits now for 808 continuous days in a testament to their commitment to protecting the planet from the dangers of fossil fuel. While the outcome of their herculean efforts is yet unknown, the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline continues unabated by thousands of people across West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and beyond. (Appalachian Voices does not fund, sponsor or engage in activities such as tree-sits and pipeline blockades.)
The six-year fight — and counting — against the ruinous Mountain Valley Pipeline has been for the sake of communities’ health, the safety of water resources, and the movement to stop climate change. Pipeline opponents have made many sacrifices to protect their communities, their neighbors, their region, and in full, Virginia and West Virginia.
- Nov. 9 – The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of two Corps of Engineers permits for the project while it considers the merits of a legal challenge of the permits. This halts construction in waterways along almost the entire 303-mile route.
- Nov. 9 – The U.S. Forest Service ended a public comment period on its plan to change 11 environmental standards in the Jefferson National Forest Plan in Virginia to accommodate the MVP. The agency received almost 8,000 comments from opponents of the plan. At this time, MVP is without the Forest Service permit and Bureau of Land Management authorization.
- Nov. 12 – Oil Change International released an analysis finding that eight of the top U.S. banks have, combined, more than tripled their funding of the risky Mountain Valley Pipeline, even as the fracked-gas project has sunk deeper into legal quagmire.
- Nov. 18 – The 4th Circuit denied a motion filed by opponents to stay a revised “biological opinion” issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while a legal challenge is pending. The case brought by Sierra Club on behalf of Appalachian Voices and others has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the court.
Their fight is in the pursuit of the truth behind the intent and lack of need of the project; in pursuit of fairness in addressing how communities and landowners in the path of the MVP are treated; and in pursuit of transparency from the regulatory agencies seemingly tasked with protecting the state.
Some community members and allies have put themselves in harm’s way to cast a spotlight on the reality of the project, and more broadly, the fossil fuel industry. When MVP was announced in 2014, those along the suggested route swiftly organized, educating themselves on potential impacts and working incredibly hard to share information with each other, allies, the media and regulatory officials. They set up meetings and formed community-led groups, which eventually coalesced into the Protect Our Water Heritage Rights Coalition.
This critical work stood in contrast to the regulatory agencies, including the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who assisted the project applicants yet disregarded the dire warnings of thousands of community members, geologists, karst specialists, engineers, health professionals, hydrologists and allies who all said there was no way to build MVP without harmful impacts.
In approving the project, the DEQ neglected its own mission ”to protect and improve the environment for the well-being of all Virginians.” The past three years have clearly shown the error in approving MVP — hundreds of water quality violations, mud slides, rolling equipment, slipped pipe, sediment-laden waterways, unpaid property taxes from the developer, and now, recent lawsuits from contractors in West Virginia who have not received payment for their construction work.
The project has been wrong at every stage: from planning to construction, to erosion and sediment control attempts, to proper assessment and enforcement of fines. The community, on the other hand, has been right at every stage: raising the alarm, engaging elected officials, sharing knowledge and expertise about the region, alerting regulatory agencies, monitoring construction, supporting each other and bringing the fight against dirty fossil fuel energy to a broader audience.
We are profoundly thankful for those who have pushed back against this project for their time and dedication which continues every day. We respect the sacrifices people have made to protect each other and all of us from a pipeline that is still only half-built but that has already harmed dozens of waterways in Virginia and West Virginia, disrupted the lives and livelihoods of countless landowners, and contributed to worsening climate change.This collaborative effort to protect was beautifully stated by Russell Chisholm, Co-Chair of the POWHR Coalition, after the 5th Annual “Hands Across the Appalachian Trail 2020” event, as shared in the press release: “…so many come together creatively and collectively to protect sacred spaces and the planet we share. We can and will take action from wherever we are to defend what we love.”
In strong contrast to the brave people fighting Mountain Valley Pipeline is a company that has consistently tried to change the rules and cut corners at each step. From project plans that did not adequately address the steep terrain of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, to an erosion and sediment control process that endangers drinking water sources, and in some instances, construction practices that jeopardize the safety of their own workers such as not enforcing current Covid-19 safety protocols. MVP’s haste and greed has brought continued harm. Most recently, construction work on Bent Mountain has resulted in more water pollution, and an unattended burn pit that presented a hazard, necessitating a call to the local fire marshal.
Through submissions to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, MVP attempts to create an arbitrary deadline of its choosing. It is pressuring FERC to reduce an area near the Jefferson National Forest currently prohibited for any construction, and setting timeline demands for FERC to respond. The developers have submitted more than hundred variance requests to circumvent what they originally promised and was approved.
MVP has proven itself repeatedly to be a bad neighbor. Further, the project could be a hindrance to moving Virginia and West Virginia to a just transition to clean, renewable energy. Appalachian Voices will continue to stand with the thousands of pipeline opponents who are working to protect Appalachian communities, water and air.