Environmentalists rejoiced as the Federal Appeals Court struck down two important decisions that had allowed the Mountain Valley Pipeline natural gas line to cut through the Jefferson National Forest this past Friday.
The decision, which comes after years of cases and appeals against the federal agencies approving the construction of the pipeline, came from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who ultimately took the side of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization which has fought construction in the area for months.
The appeals submitted by the Sierra Club challenged the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for a 3.6-mile segment of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Although this is a small segment of the planned 303-mile route, environmental groups hope this will lead to stopping the project entirely.
“MVP’s proposed project would be the largest pipeline of its kind to cross the Jefferson National Forest,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the 44-page federal appeal opinion. “American citizens understandably place their trust in the Forest Service to protect and preserve this country’s forests, and they deserve more than silent acquiescence to a pipeline company’s justification for upending large swaths of national forest lands.”
A three-judge panel in May raised questions as to whether the Forest Service was acting responsibly in accepting the parent company’s claims that they could effectively prevent erosion and sediment runoff from the 42-inch pipeline, which will affect areas in Giles and Montgomery counties. The construction would also affect a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Peters Mountain, on which several landowners and protesters built tree-sits to protest the construction threat this past spring.
Chief Judge Roger Gregory and Judge William Traxler joined Thacker in the opinion; the same group will consider another appeal against the Virginia State Water Control Board, whose project approval is another necessity for the project.
“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,” Nathan Matthews, a Sierra Club attorney who argued the case, said in a statement. “We aren’t buying the gas industry’s claims about their water protection methods and now, the courts aren’t either.”
Since MVP has now lost valid permits from two federal agencies, some environmental lawyers are questioning the validity of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the project last fall, as the commission requires all federal authorization to be in place for construction to occur, according to Appalachian Mountain Voices lawyer Ben Luckett.
Potentially, this could unravel the entire project. Environmentalists and landowners alike are hoping it will.
“The 4th Circuit has validated what we have been saying to the Forest Service for almost four years,” said Jim Gore, member of the board for Save Monroe in a statement. “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.”