Court deals major blow to controversial Appalachian pipeline, construction momentarily halted

Green groups cheer the latest ruling against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Ongoing MVP efforts. CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Ongoing MVP efforts. CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

All construction must temporarily cease on a controversial pipeline cutting through parts of the South and Appalachia after a federal appeals court vacated a key permit for the project this week.

In a three-page unanimous order, the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals vacated on Tuesday a key Clean Water Act permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), handing a victory to the green groups that brought a case against the ongoing effort.

The pipeline is slated to run some 303 miles through West Virginia into Virginia, threatening around 1,000 waterways in Virginia alone. Pipeline opponents have argued that the Army Corps overstepped in its decision to allow the MVP to use a certain stream-crossing construction method in West Virginia specifically. That method takes approximately four to six weeks to complete.

The short decision from the court clarified that the ruling will “be more fully explained in a forthcoming opinion” but sided with opponents and asserted that the Army Corps “lacked authority to substitute” one type of river crossings construction requirement for West Virginia’s current 72-hour existing standard. Because all necessary permits are required to be in place for the MVP to proceed, work on the entire project must temporarily halt, according to green groups.


The case against the MVP was argued by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the Indian Creek Watershed Association, Appalachian Voices, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“We have been saying for years that the impacts of this MVP project on the waters of our state need to be assessed on an individual stream crossing analysis. The steep slopes and karst topography of [West Virginia] watersheds deserve independent evaluation,” said Howdy Henritz, president of the Indian Creek Watershed Association, in a statement.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune pointed to the permit vacation as justification for the the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to cease all construction on the MVP.

“In their haste to make a quick buck, MVP rushed essential processes because they knew there was no way their dirty project would ever satisfy commonsense protections for water and health,” said Brune in a statement.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, the project’s developer, indicated that the corporation would be looking into continuing construction away from streams and wetlands and plans to apply for a new Army Corps permit, which MVP LLC plans to obtain by early 2019. Some 160 miles of the pipeline’s route are currently impacted by the vacated permit.

The MVP has been a leading source of controversy for environmental advocates as well as for residents near the area slated for the pipeline’s construction. Ongoing legal battles surrounding the pipeline have dragged on throughout the year, as protesters have taken matters into their own hands. A number of pipeline opponents staged tree sit-ins last winter and spring, with at least one mother-daughter duo protesting the MVP’s construction on land that has been in their family for generations.


Another pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), has also drawn outcry. That longer pipeline, which is set to run 600 miles from West Virginia through Virginia and down into North Carolina, would transport around 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas on a daily basis through the region. Proponents have said both the ACP and MVP would bring jobs and increased energy opportunities to the region, but critics have argued that the projects needlessly endanger people and the environment with no evident outsized benefits.

While a number of judges have sided with anti-pipeline groups, construction on both the ACP and MVP has continued doggedly throughout the year. The MVP momentarily paused construction two weeks ago as Hurricane Florence took aim at the Carolinas and Virginia, exposing the pipeline to potential erosion and sediment control issues amid the storm’s unprecedented rainfall.