Green Judges vs. American Gas

Lengths of pipe wait to be laid in the ground along the Mountain Valley Pipeline under construction near Elliston, Va. September 29, 2019.


charles mostoller/Reuters

Here is a harsh political reality behind high energy prices: it has become almost impossible to build a gas pipeline in the United States. Consider West Virginia’s Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has been relentlessly besieged by green groups and activists in court robes. Although over 90% complete, the pipeline is at risk of being cancelled.

The 304-mile interstate pipeline aims to transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits in Appalachia to the mid and south Atlantic regions. A shortage of pipelines has reduced the incentive for drillers to produce more natural gas. Yet mid and south Atlantic states desperately need more gas as their populations grow.

Federal regulators have approved most of Mountain Valley’s environmental permits, but the greens have filed lawsuits at every turn. Curiously, their repeated challenges continue to land in front of the same three-judge Fourth Circuit panel of Roger Gregory, James Wynn and Stephanie Thacker, even though the cases are supposed to be assigned to random judges.

Those same three justices also blocked a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was only overturned by a 7-2 Supreme Court majority in 2020. Weeks later, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy canceled the pipeline, blaming skyrocketing costs, delays and uncertainty. future litigation. They probably saw what was happening in Mountain Valley.

The three judges continue to grind on the environmental analyzes of Mountain Valley. Each time the company rolls the boulder up the mountain, the judges roll it back down. Protections for endangered species are never good enough. For example, although the panel found only a minor flaw in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s study of perch and sugar darter in streams, judges in February struck down the entire of the agency’s biological opinion. Yet they declined to address complaints from several other liberal groups, inviting them to raise the points in a later challenge to a new biological opinion.

The Mountain Valley pipeline is nearly 95% complete, and most of the remaining work involves stream and wetland crossings, national forest lands, and final environmental restoration that require federal and state permits. That final 5% could take years since environmental groups have now also asked the Fourth Circuit to block permits issued by West Virginia and Virginia.

If the pipeline isn’t complete by October 2022, and on the current course it won’t be, its developers will have to apply to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to extend its certificate of public convenience and necessity. Environmental groups will surely contest the extension.

Mountain Valley was supposed to start operating in 2018, but it may never do. Its costs soared to $6.6 billion from $3.8 billion as a result of the litigation. After the latest Fourth Circuit ruling, MVP investor NextEra announced an $800 million impairment charge — which followed a $1.5 billion writedown in 2020 — and that it was reassessing its investment.

“As a result of [our] assessment, it has been determined that the ongoing legal and regulatory challenges have resulted in a very low likelihood of pipeline completion,” NextEra said. His political opponents are delighted. “The MVP is not inevitable,” rejoices the Sierra Club.

Mountain Valley’s Sisyphus struggle will surely discourage new investment in pipelines, which are needed to increase US exports of liquefied natural gas and provide reliable energy. Why do progressives and judges support Vladimir Putin’s influence in the global natural gas market?

Bottom line and outlook: The administration’s new Disinformation Governance Council is likely to foster greater public distrust. Images: AFP/Express/Getty Images/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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