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FERC orders Mountain Valley Pipeline to cease work after court order

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to halt construction activities along the 303-mile route of its 2-Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project after a court required federal agencies to again review project impacts under the Endangered Species Act.

In the Oct. 15 notice, FERC told the pipeline company that restoration and stabilization of the right of way and work areas are the only allowed activities that may continue. All other project activities must stop as the commission evaluates project impacts on the environment and federally protected wildlife species, including fish and bats.

The move came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit granted a stay Oct. 11 in a case involving U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizations for the EQM Midstream Partners LP-led Mountain Valley project. A coalition of environmental groups had asked the court to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to reevaluate the pipeline project's impact on the environment and wildlife. The coalition includes the Sierra Club, Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Preserve Bent Mountain, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Under the 4th Circuit ruling, the case will be held until Jan. 11, 2020, pending more consultation between the Fish and Wildlife Service and FERC on the biological opinion and incidental take statement.

In August, Mountain Valley voluntarily suspended tree clearing and other construction work on the pipeline project after the environmental groups sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over the authorizations. The developers said the voluntary suspension would cover all remaining project activities that could "take," meaning harm or kill, animals on federal lists of threatened and endangered species. In the Oct. 15 notice, FERC said its hold on construction included activities in locations outside the areas covered by the August suspension.

The Mountain Valley pipeline, which would move gas from Appalachia to East Coast markets and pipeline connections, is a joint venture of EQM Midstream, NextEra Energy Inc., Consolidated Edison Inc., AltaGas Ltd. and RGC Resources Inc. (FERC docket CP16-10)