Workers assembling in on West Virginia site without personal protective gear in August 2020.

COVID-19 Cases Rise as MVP Refuses to Release Safety Plans

MONTGOMERY County, Virginia– Resident concerns over the staging of large numbers of pipeline workers during a pandemic are growing as Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), whose workers appeared to defy state guidelines outlined in Virginia’s pandemic-specific workplace safety standards in photos, requested to resume construction and as recent revelations showed that the Governor’s Office and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) actually worked behind the scenes with MVP to allow the pipeline company to skirt around the requirement for COVID-19 mitigation plans.  

Montgomery County, where some of the photos of MVP workers were taken, has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases over the last month. This drastic increase is part of a rising number of cases as a whole in Southwest Virginia, whose region recently saw the largest average increases in the state, has limited – or in some areas zero – ICU beds, and is where MVP has indicated it still plans to stage thousands of workers during the pandemic if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants the request to resume construction (see the charts below on cases in MVP-impacted localities).  FERC required MVP to halt construction last year due to MVP lacking the necessary permits to legally complete the project. The lack of compliance by MVP workers has increased the concerns of Southwest Virginia’s residents regarding MVP’s stated plan to stage up to 4,000 workers, especially paired with the coming to light of the Northam Administration’s secret collaboration with MVP to allow the pipeline company to circumvent coronavirus-related requirements.

This collaboration of the Governor’s Office and VDH with MVP to allow the staging of pipeline workers occurred despite 22 legislators sending a letter in August to the Governor calling for a halt to work on the pipeline during the COVID crisis and despite Northam’s forward-facing acknowledgement that COVID cases are increasing in Southwest Virginia. General Assembly leadership also defied the collective concerns of residents and legislators by refusing to docket the Special Session bill HB5102 – a worker safety bill introduced in the House of Delegates during the special session that would require employers with a crew of 50 or more temporary workers (like MVP) to receive approval from the Commissioner of Labor and Industry and participate in Virginia’s voluntary protection program. Democrat leadership, like House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, ignored calls to docket the bill.  

Residents and experts alike continue to call for the prevention of MVP’s dangerous plan to stage workers as FERC considers MVP’s request to resume construction, and as the Northam Administration continues its refusal to seriously address the COVID-19 threat to Southwest Virginia, even though COVID-19 has impacted VDH employees and the Governor himself. Barbara Gottlieb, Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Director of Environment & Health said in a comment to FERC:  “COVID-19 is a dangerous disease that causes sickness, pain and death. The people of Southwest Virginia should not be put at risk for COVID by the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Pipeline construction should not be permitted during the pandemic. The principle that doctors work under — ‘First, do no harm’ — should apply to the pipeline, too.”

And hundreds signed a letter to Governor Northam and State Health Commissioner Oliver pointing out that the Northam Administration’s working with MVP to disregard COVID-19 mitigation measures is “appalling” and calling for Doctors Northam and Oliver “to do [their] job and keep [their] Hippocratic Oath to do no harm – protect residents, not MVP, and act immediately to stop the unnecessary and dangerous staging of thousands of workers during this global health crisis.”

Note: At the time of this release, FERC had not issued a decision on MVP’s certificate extension and work resumption requests. Read coverage of those decisions here from the Roanoke Times. A Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding Mountain Valley Pipeline’s permit to cross national forests was recently published by the USFS, initiating a 45 day comment period ending November 9, 2020. 

Check out our collaborative comment guide page and join our virtual event, Next Steps in the Fight Against Mountain Valley Pipeline.