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Mountain Valley Pipeline Project Gets Key Approvals, But Challenges Remain

The Mountain Valley Pipeline received a pair of key approvals for its route through a national forest in Virginia, but environmental groups are already contesting it.

The 303-mile long transmission pipeline is being built from West Virginia into Virginia to feed 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica basins in Appalachia to the southern Atlantic states. The Mountain Valley pipeline is owned by a conglomeration of energy companies, including Equitrans, which this year acquired the remainder of former part-owner EQM Midstream Partners.

The controversial pipeline has been met with a number of delays as environmental groups that oppose its construction through federal land and across the Appalachian Trail have challenged a number of federal permits. The approvals received in the last few weeks are among the last federal hurdles for the project, but the Sierra Club, Wild Virginia and other groups have filed another court challenge.

Delays have caused Equitrans to push back the completion date for the MVP to the second half of 2021. It previously had targeted early 2021 to put the line into service. The cost has also risen to between $5.8 and $6 billion as the delays continue to add up. When construction began in 2018, the cost was estimated at $3.7 billion.

The record of decision issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, will amend a forest plan for the Jefferson National Forest to allow construction. The Forest Service released a final supplemental environmental impact statement on the project's forest route last month.

Several days later, the Bureau of Land Management issued a record of decision to allow the pipeline to pass through a 3.5-mile section of the national forest.

The pipeline is still awaiting a decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on another few acres of land in and near the forest, as well as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands crossing permit. The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals put a hold on a streamlined water permit while it examines whether adequate consideration was given to the environment.

The most recent legal challenge filed in response to the Forest Service approval with the 4th Circuit asks for a review of the decision. Opponents noted that the approvals occurred in last days of Trump administration, which was supportive of the natural gas industry. In addition, another coalition of environmental groups this week asked the same court to review a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order allowing construction to resume on parts of the project.

The incoming Biden administration has made combating climate change a priority and could take a different view of pipeline projects. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden blocked a key permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline between Alberta, Canada, and the Gulf Coast, which was met with opposition by industry groups.

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