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Climate activists and Indigenous leaders rally during a protest calling on President Joe Biden to cancel the Mountain Valley pipeline and other fossil fuel projects on October 15, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

FERC: It's Time to End the Mountain Valley Pipeline

Even if the pipeline somehow found the money to finish construction, the environmental costs still make its continuation unlawful.

The permit that greenlit the Mountain Valley Pipeline is about to expire. This means Mountain  Valley is again seeking an extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This wouldn't even be the first time that Mountain Valley needed an extension, as FERC already granted a two-year extension in 2020 (FERC recently faced sharp questioning in federal court  for its handling of that review). On April 9, FERC approved the pipeline to bore under hundreds  of streams, but not before it obtains other necessary permits. FERC should not give Mountain  Valley any more bites at the apple. Prolonging this boondoggle would be unlawful because the  Mountain Valley Pipeline is not needed and its construction would lead to significant  environmental impacts that have been repeatedly ignored by FERC. 

Now is the time to get it right—to stop the behind schedule, billions-over-budget, and boondoggle of a project that is known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Ever since Mountain Valley was announced in 2014, numerous studies have shown that the  project is unneeded. Even since FERC authorized Mountain Valley in 2017, projected gas  demand in the region has declined. The project's poor commercial prospects have made it  unattractive to potential shippers, so much so that NextEra, one of the project's biggest backers, announced in February that it is reevaluating its investment in the pipeline after a federal court rejected two necessary approvals earlier this year. They also admitted to its investors there is a  "a very low probability of pipeline completion." 

FERC has stated it can deny a permit extension when the project is no longer commercially  viable. To the extent there ever was a potential public benefit to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, none exists today, and it's wholly inconsistent with the public interest to allow a financially unstable project to continue to seize private property and cause irreparable environmental damage. 

Even if the pipeline somehow found the money to finish construction, the environmental costs still make its continuation unlawful. Mountain Valley Pipeline would exacerbate climate change significantly. In just one year, the project's estimated lifecycle emissions would be more than 25 coal-fired power plants. And because those are annual emissions, Mountain Valley could continue to emit at those levels for 40-50 years. Allowing the project to continue would also directly conflict with the Biden Administration's professed climate goals. 

The project would also cause a litany of other serious environmental effects. For example, Mountain Valley proposes building a compressor station that would connect the project's mainline to its proposed Southgate extension in North Carolina. Compressor stations are used  to push gas along a pipeline. They are widely known for leaking methane and other toxic chemicals which can cause detrimental health problems. It is estimated the proposed Lambert Compressor Station would, by itself, increase particulate matter pollution in the area by almost  30%. Given four environmental justice communities live within 5 miles of the site, the Lambert  Compressor Station would have a tremendous impact on public health.

A peer-reviewed study published in September 2021 found that among a sample of 46 long distance gas pipelines in the U.S., the Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross the most "high landslide risk areas"—225 miles in total. Project construction has already had a serious and  perhaps irreparable effect on water quality and endangered species. Furthermore there are  more than six hundred stream crossings that remain, and some of the most difficult terrain. 

When FERC was first tasked with reviewing the pipeline's environmental effects in 2017, it utterly failed to properly identify these risks, and it ignored the project's contribution to climate  change altogether. FERC should approve an extension only when its original environmental  review can still reasonably be assumed to assess a project's environmental impacts. It now has four years of evidence to show the project's environmental effects are far more severe than  originally predicted. 

FERC must not fail to meet this moment. The Commission has a real opportunity here to make  a decision that follows the law and advances common-sense climate objectives.  

Now is the time to get it right—to stop the behind schedule, billions-over-budget, and boondoggle of a project that is known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Caroline

Caroline Hansley

Caroline Hansley is a Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club and is based in North Carolina.

Gillian

Gillian Giannetti

Gillian Giannetti is a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and is based in Washington, DC.

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