The long-stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which has faced numerous legal and permitting challenges, will be completed after language was included in recent federal legislation to raise the debt ceiling. The legislation includes a provision that would compel the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue all permits needed to finish construction of the pipeline by June 24 and prohibits the court from reviewing it. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has been hearing regulatory challenges to the pipeline over the past several years, sometimes requiring additional environmental studies for various permits and stopping construction of the last section of the 303-mile pipeline. The Mountain Valley Pipeline will run across West Virginia and Virginia, carrying natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica plays in the Appalachian region to the south. The project was originally expected to be completed in 2018 at an estimated cost of $3 billion but that date was repeatedly pushed back as legal challenges from environmental groups delayed work and costs escalated. “Equitrans Midstream, operator of the MVP, intends to work with its project partners to complete construction of the MVP by year-end 2023, at an estimated total project cost of approximately $6.6 billion,” a release from the company announcing the legislation’s approval indicates. The project is a joint project of Canonsburg-based Equitrans and several other partners. “The MVP project has gone through more environmental review and scrutiny than any natural gas pipeline project in U.S. history, having been issued the same state and federal authorizations two and three times, only to have those authorizations be routinely challenged and vacated in court,” Equitrans Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Karam said in a statement. “Congressional involvement to legislate the approval of this project only magnifies the critical need for more robust and comprehensive permitting reform that goes beyond the important initial steps in this legislation.”
Environmental groups, including the National Resources Defense Council, were critical of the legislation, with President and CEO Manish Bapna, saying parts of it “make a mockery of the process of responsible public oversight.” “The Mountain Valley Pipeline threatens the rural communities that soundly rejected it in the first place. This agreement cuts local voices out of the process and short-circuits laws put in place to protect the public,” Bapna said in a statement. “It locks future generations into dependence on fossil fuels. We will use every available avenue of opposition to fight this dangerous project.” The broader issue of infrastructure permitting reform remains under discussion at the federal level. Some of the initiatives included in recent funding for clean energy projects, such as regional hydrogen hubs, will also require the swift build-out of pipelines and other infrastructure in order to meet the legislation’s time frame.