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WV Groups Sue Pipeline Companies for "Abuse" of Permitting Process

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The steep hillsides of Appalachia present serious challenges for building big gas pipelines. (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)
The steep hillsides of Appalachia present serious challenges for building big gas pipelines. (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)
 By Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV, Contact
July 23, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Clean water groups say getting a single, general permit to cover work at hundreds of separate sites by gas pipeline companies is an abuse of the permitting process.

A coalition of six citizen and conservation groups is asking federal courts to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from using one, nationwide permit for its work at all water crossings.

The issue has already stalled some work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Cindy Rank, a longtime advocate with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, says this type of general permit is intended for small projects, like building a single road over a single creek.

"However, with the giant pipelines, we're crossing hundreds and hundreds of these small headwater streams with a nationwide permit, without looking at the overall impact on watersheds," she points out.

The pipeline companies argue it would be too much red tape to get separate permits for each water crossing.

Rank says mountaintop removal mines did the same thing until stopped by the courts. She says the mines claimed a single permit allowed for disposal of excess rock in hundreds of valley fills.

Rank says demanding these companies adhere to the process of getting individual permits is vitally important, because it's difficult – maybe even impossible – to build 42-inch natural gas pipelines through the raw Appalachian Mountains without causing massive damage.

"These pipelines are major construction projects that are impacting hundreds of people,” she stresses. “The whole hillside washes down, and across the road and into the streams – some of which are trout streams, which will be permanently impacted."

The Mountain Valley Pipeline had argued that the national permit allowed it to cross under the Greenbrier, Elk and Gauley rivers.

But the state Department of Environmental Protection said to use the permit, the water crossing work had to be finished in 72 hours, which Rank calls a "ludicrous expectation."

Late last month, a federal court decided the general permit does not cover the river crossings.

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