WV DEP takes tougher stand on Mountain Valley Pipeline - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

WV DEP takes tougher stand on Mountain Valley Pipeline

(WVVA) -

RICHMOND, Virginia -- The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed a consent motion Wednesday with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to voluntarily vacate its original approval of a certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. That certification was issued in March with apparently little review by newly-appointed DEP Secretary Austin Caperton. Until his appointment by newly-elected governor Jim Justice, Caperton had been a longtime coal executive. 

At issue is a critical component of any pipeline proposed to cross state lines anywhere in the United States. It is Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. The language of the law is clear: individual states must certify that interstate gas pipelines will not significantly impact water quality over their transit points before construction can begin.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is slated to involve 631 stream crossings.

EQT, the company overseeing construction, already has begun amassing a stockpile of pipes and other construction materials at a staging area in Raleigh County. So the DEP's decision to declare a moratorium on certification might have come as a surprise to EQT's development partners, although a statement from EQT spokeswoman Natalie Cox to WVVA News suggests otherwise.

The statement from Cox reads as follows: 

The MVP project team shares the WVDEP’s interest in protecting the environment along this important project’s proposed route, and we look forward to continuing to work with the department and other stakeholders to ensure the state’s Section 401 Water Quality Certification complies with federal requirements.  As far as timing, we continue to target a late Q4 2018 full in-service date.

Environmentalists, though, see the DEP's actions differently.

West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser said, "We're glad DEP is acting on what we said all along--consideration of MVP requires much more thorough information and review."

And Judy Azulay, president of Indian Creek Watershed Association (ICWA), hinted that, with more time, DEP might finally realize that the pipeline project is wrong for West Virginia.

"We hope," she said, "that DEP will finally agree that no best management practices can make the pipeline safe for West Virginia waters."

The department took action just a day before it would have been required to defend the March certification in federal court. Attorneys with the public interest law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates initially filed a challenge on behalf of a coalition that includes the Sierra Club and the ICWA. The legal brief filed with the 4th Circuit appears to have spurred the turnaround. As DEP now has agreed it needs to reconsider the potential impact of a pipeline carrying natural gas under high pressure along a 300-mile route that crosses countless streams, as well as a vital watershed.

In its consent motion, DEP said its review of filings by the plaintiffs found that the information used to issue the 401 certification "needs to be further evaluated and possibly enhanced." The department, though, didn't offer a timeline for that evaluation.

Derek Teaney, senior attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, hailed DEP's decision.

"We're pleased that DEP recognized its 401 certification was defective," he said. "But it's a shame that it took a lawsuit to get DEP to do its job."

And as someone who has invested years in examining the many facets of the MVP, Teaney was almost empathetic regarding the DEP.

"They have a lot of work ahead," he said.

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