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West Virginia will soon have to decide how much it really values clean water. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is asking the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to continue turning a blind eye to the damage the MVP is doing to our state’s waterways. This comes even as Virginia and North Carolina officials have been increasingly skeptical of the pipeline.

In 2017, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said it didn’t need to exercise its broad authority to supervise the project through what is called a 401 Water Quality Certification. Although the decision to simply waive that key environmental responsibility was questionable at the time, then-DEP Secretary Austin Caperton said, “We feel very comfortable that this pipeline can be installed in an environmentally sound manner and that the environmental impacts ultimately will be zero.”

Since then, the reality has been far different. The construction of this enormous 300-mile pipeline through the rugged Appalachian Mountains — terrain prone to landslides and full of vulnerable, valuable wetlands and waterways — has proven to be a disaster for our crystal-clear creeks and trout streams.

Between West Virginia and Virginia, the project has racked up more than $2.7 million in fines for hundreds of violations of state water laws. The DEP found that the project created “conditions not allowable” in state waters on 46 occasions. That number would be far higher were it not for a shortage of inspectors to cover MVP’s massive construction area in West Virginia. Monroe County landowners have sent the DEP more than 300 complaints with photos of erosion and sedimentation failures.

Since construction started, other pipelines have filled the decreasing demand for methane gas while the need to reduce the health and climate effects of methane emissions has grown.

Caperton was mistaken when he predicted zero impact. The important question now is what happens next. MVP has once more asked the DEP to examine its project. How will Gov. Jim Justice’s agency handle this important decision in 2021?

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it needs more time to review MVP’s most recent application — in fact, they’re asking for a full year to do what our DEP once said it didn’t need to do at all. North Carolina twice rejected MVP’s permit application to extend the pipeline south into that state. Hopefully, our DEP will agree with North Carolina that MVP is “an unnecessary project that poses unnecessary risks to our environment.”

These risks are real. MVP has completed only about half of the thousand-plus waterbody crossings along its route. One of those remaining is the huge crossing of the Greenbrier River.

Experts and concerned citizens have continually pointed to the need for detailed, site-specific crossing plans based on the actual geology and flow characteristics of the Greenbrier River and each of the other waterways to be crossed. These requests are continually spurned. Without that information, how can the DEP certify that MVP can successfully cross any West Virginia streams and rivers?

Our wild, wonderful West Virginia mountains and streams weren’t created by desktop design, and the DEP shouldn’t allow MVP’s desktop planning to destroy them.

What matters to West Virginians is protecting our water. The DEP did not have authority to choose MVP’s route, but it does have authority to decide that this project poses insurmountable risks to our rivers, streams and wetlands.

MVP has run up $2.7 million in fines, so far. How many more violations are West Virginia officials willing to tolerate by ignoring their duty to protect our water? The value of clean water and healthy watersheds is priceless — no amount of corporate fines or fees can compensate for their destruction.

Howdy Henritz is president of the Indian Creek Watershed Association, in Monroe County.

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