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Pipeline Developers Weigh All Legal Options

The developers of a nearly completed natural gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia are exploring all legal options after an appellate court temporarily stopped work on the project this week, according to Reuters (subscription).

What’s going on: On Monday—two days before construction on the pipeline was set to restart following a pause of nearly a year—a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, “halted construction of the West Virginia-Virginia Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in the Jefferson National Forest … as the court reviews federal approvals that allowed work to begin.”

  • The injunction came less than two weeks after the MVP—the only natural gas project underway in Appalachia—received all remaining permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to restart work after a previous pause of more than a year.
  • It also closely follows June’s debt-limit deal, which removed the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction over the case and contained provisions requiring that the pipeline receive all remaining permits.

All legal routes open: “We are evaluating all legal options, which include filing an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court,” MVP developer Equitrans Midstream said in a statement cited by Reuters. “Unless this decision is promptly reversed, it would jeopardize Mountain Valley’s ability to complete construction by year-end 2023.”

Why it’s important: “Even though the 4th Circuit decision is ‘only applicable to the three miles (4.8 km) of the Jefferson Forest,’ analysts at Height Capital Markets, an investment banking and research firm, said the decision could jeopardize a 2023 in-service date.”

  • The MVP—construction of which began in 2018—would provide clean, affordable energy to homes and businesses throughout the eastern U.S.

The final say: “The NAM has been at the forefront of amending our nation’s antiquated permitting system—and this latest action shows that we are not done yet,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Economic Policy Brandon Farris.
“Judicial reforms to the permitting system are needed as protracted legal battles make it more difficult for manufacturers to deliver on many of our shared national goals.” 

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