- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday extended a permit for the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline project by four years in a win for the long-delayed project being built by a joint venture of Equitrans Midstream, NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison, AltaGas and RGC Resources.
- FERC unanimously ruled that the basis for its findings when it approved the pipeline in October 2017 remain unchanged, including its environmental analysis.
- The federal agency gave the pipeline developers a “blank check,” according to Gillian Giannetti, an attorney with the Sustainable FERC Project, an advocacy group housed at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “At this point, what’s to stop a pipeline that runs out its construction clock due to inherent issues with the project from asking for 5, 10, 15 more years?” Giannetti asked on Twitter.
The Mountain Valley pipeline, set to run about 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, is designed to deliver 2 billion cubic feet a day of gas to the Southeast. Equitrans expects to complete the project in the second half next year, company officials said in an Aug. 2 investor presentation. The project is about 94% built, according to its developers.
The project’s progress has been slowed by multiple court decisions rejecting federal permits for the pipeline.
In its decision approving the Mountain Valley pipeline project, FERC said it had to be operating by October 2020. However, in August 2020, the commission agreed to extend the deadline to Oct. 13, 2022. The latest deadline is mid-October 2026.
In its Tuesday decision, FERC dismissed arguments the deadline shouldn’t be extended made by groups such as Appalachian Voices, Sierra Club and NRDC.
FERC has previously granted extensions of time so pipeline developers can get needed permits for their projects, the commission said.
Also, the project developers have been making a good faith effort to get the needed permits in time to meet its deadline, according to FERC.
“We consider it likely that, should Mountain Valley receive the required permits, those permits will undergo judicial review, which will take time to resolve,” FERC said. “It is therefore reasonable that Mountain Valley requests a four-year extension.”
FERC rejected calls to conduct a supplemental environmental analysis of the project, saying its initial analysis remains valid. The agency, for example, said it wouldn’t “relitigate” its initial findings concerning the pipeline’s greenhouse gas emissions.
However, FERC said: “We recognize that the environment is subject to change, and that the validity of our conclusions and environmental conditions cannot be sustained indefinitely.”
Commissioner James Danly objected to that claim in a concurrence.
“Our inquiry when reviewing a request for extension of time is narrow – it is not an opportunity to revisit the determinations made in certificate proceedings after orders have become final and unappealable,” Danly said.
The fact that FERC is giving Mountain Valley nine years to be finished reflects the challenges the project faces, according to Appalachian Voices.
“Granting MVP more time to harm Appalachian communities and water resources is appalling, but FERC’s decision will only strengthen the growing national opposition against this unnecessary fracked-gas pipeline,” Jessica Sims, Appalachian Voices Virginia field coordinator, said Wednesday in a statement.
A challenge to FERC’s previous decision to give Mountain Valley more time is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Appalachian Voices noted.