A coalition of environmental groups are challenging a U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit issued to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
It’s one of several lawsuits filed in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals over permits issued to natural gas pipelines.
In this case filed Monday, the groups challenged the 300-mile-long pipeline’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement — permits that address the effects a project, like a natural gas pipeline, can have on endangered and threatened species.
“The Trump administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fast-tracked this project and failed to properly evaluate its impact on imperiled species,” said Jason Rylander, senior endangered species counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit.
In November 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said construction could potentially affect five different threatened and endangered species. In West Virginia, the small whorled pogonia and Virginia spiraea, both threatened plants; Indiana Bat, endangered; and Northern long-eared bat, threatened, could all be affected.
The lawsuit, filed in the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, asks for review of those permits. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, is the respondent. Mountain Valley Pipeline isn’t a party in the case. Neither the Department of Interior nor Mountain Valley Pipeline responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
Also Monday, the groups wrote to the Department of the Interior asking that the department halt that Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement, arguing that construction is already hurting those endangered species and their habitats.
“The fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline puts several endangered species in harm’s way, while serving only to line the pockets of polluting corporations. MVP has proven it can’t build this unnecessary pipeline without devastating streams and rivers, as well as the forest habitats of Appalachia,” Elly Benson, staff attorney for the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
When it’s built, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, into Pittsylvania County, Virginia, running fracked gas underground in a 42-inch pipeline.
Since the project was approved, its estimated cost has climbed from $3.7 billion to $4.6 billion, and developers have moved project completion date from the end of 2018 to the end of 2019, but admit that might not happen.
Mountain Valley Pipeline has also faced lawsuits over its Clean Water Act, and is facing a federal investigation over “potential criminal and/or civil violations of the Clean Water Act” by the Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a stop work order, citing issues with erosion and sedimentation along a stretch of construction.
At the end of July, the same federal appeals court threw out the Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement issued to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, another natural gas pipeline.
Last year, a joint examination by the Gazette-Mail and the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica revealed how state and federal regulators changed their rules to speed pipeline approval and construction when legal issues were raised about the projects.