Groundhog Day Came Early This Year…

The Status of the MVP in 2023

This guest blog was written by Crystal Mello. Crystal is a Community Organizer with POWHR and a fellow with the Equation Campaign. She lives in Shawsville, Virginia.

To listen to a video recording of the blog post, click here:

For those of us who have been in the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline for a while, the US Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers comment periods might feel a bit like the movie Groundhog Day.

In 1993, Bill Murray starred in a fantasy comedy movie with the same name as the US holiday Groundhog Day. In the movie, Murray becomes trapped in a time loop and has to relive February 2nd over and over. 

The story of a human being getting caught in a time loop and freaking out because of it is a common one… because it’s a really terrifying thing to imagine. 

And, my friends, we here in the #StopMVP movement know it’s even worse to live. We’ve poured our hearts and souls into stopping this destructive project only to see the process of sending comments to the same agencies repeat again and again. We also saw Manchin’s zombie Dirty Deal rise from the dead again and again.

I know it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. 

One thing that helps me when I’m exhausted is being in community with you all. That’s why I’m so excited for the “Renewal of Resistance: An Evening with #StopMVP ARTivists”, a virtual event to revive our movement for another year of getting big wins and beating the Mountain Valley Pipeline & MVP Southgate. I’m also looking forward to the Forest Service comment party and Army Corps comment party so that we can tell these agencies to stop MVP from further destroying the Jefferson National Forest and polluting our waters. 

As we begin the year, here’s an update on the status of the fight.

The cases regarding MVP crossing the Jefferson National Forest: In January 2022, the Fourth Circuit Court threw out MVP’s permits from US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to cross the Jefferson National Forest, saying the agencies did not consider data on actual (versus anticipated) sedimentation and erosion. USFS reissued an Environmental Impact Statement in December 2022 and has said that new permits could be issued by late summer/early fall 2023. People are invited to submit comments by Feb 6

The Endangered Species case: In February 2022, the Fourth Circuit Court threw out the Biological Opinion (BiOp) that allowed MVP to be in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Without a BiOp, MVP has not been able to do any construction anywhere. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)’s “consultation” period ends February 10, 2023, after which they are likely to issue a new Biological Opinion. When the BiOp is issued, and if FERC issues a notice to proceed, construction in upland areas and via boring under waterways could resume (as early as spring 2023).

The Water Quality Certification cases: When the Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide blanket permit process came under scrutiny, MVP decided to ask West Virginia and Virginia for permission to cross waterways and wetlands instead of relying on the federal permit. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued those permits, and were promptly sued.  The West Virginia case has been heard but no decision has been announced. The Virginia case will be heard on Jan 24, 2023. If the 401 permits withstand court challenges, MVP still needs a 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to complete water crossings. The Corps has said they will not issue a 404 until MVP has received all other permits (both 401’s in WV and VA and a valid BiOp). 

The Certificate Extension case: The DC Circuit Court has not yet issued a ruling about whether or not it was legal for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue the first certificate extension to MVP. Since that case was heard, FERC issued a second certificate extension to MVP, granting them another four years to build. If the judges rule against FERC’s first extension, it’s unclear what that might mean for the second extension.

MVP’s Completion status: According to the December report that MVP filed with FERC, the pipeline is 55.8% complete to final restoration (this does not count any additional compressor stations that they may seek approval to install) and they have installed pipe along 84% of the route. Pipe is not installed across the steepest parts of the route, including Jefferson National Forest, or across about 400 waterways (which can take weeks to bore under).