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Pipelines Stop and Go as Court Rules Permits Issued In Haste

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Natural gas pipeline projects through the rugged Appalachian Mountains inevitably run into serious slope erosion problems. (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)
Natural gas pipeline projects through the rugged Appalachian Mountains inevitably run into serious slope erosion problems. (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)
 By Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV, Contact
October 8, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Construction on two huge gas pipelines through West Virginia and Virginia has repeatedly stopped and restarted, as the 4th federal circuit court stalls permits.

Last week, the court vacated a Clean Water Act permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The court had also stopped Atlantic Coast Pipeline work on national forest land.

Agencies and the companies are pressing for the permits to be reissued.

Charlottesville, Va., attorney David Sligh is working with some of the conservation groups that have challenged the permits. He said they are pleased to see the court step in to stop permits that critics say should never have been issued.

"But a lot of damage is going on out there on the ground,” Sligh said. “And the more of that that happens, the more leverage there will be for the companies to say, 'Hey, you can't really stop us. It's too far along now.'"

The pipeline companies argue that the multi-billion-dollar projects to bring natural gas from West Virginia to eastern markets can be built with minimal environmental and landowner impact. Construction has been at times ongoing in West Virginia, but less so in Virginia.

A thicket of separate federal and state agencies have a say on the projects.

According to Sligh, many of the technical experts at the agencies understand that building pipelines through the "extreme" mountain landscapes will cause serious problems. But he said the experts charged with studying those impacts and requiring detailed plans from the company to deal with them are often pushed aside under political pressure.

"In some cases, agencies avoid those kinds of studies because they don't like the answers that will emerge from those studies,” he said. “And those technical folks get overridden."

The companies behind the projects argue the pipelines are needed to open up a bottleneck in the process of moving Marcellus and Utica shale gas to market. Critics charge the energy corporations are overstating the need.

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