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Court denies FERC's request for hold on challenge to Mountain Valley gas pipe

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Court denies FERC's request for hold on challenge to Mountain Valley gas pipe

An appeals court prevented the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from pushing the pause button on a lawsuit by environmental groups against FERC approval of the EQT Midstream Partners LP-led, 2-Bcf/d Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline.

In a short May 16 order, the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit denied FERC's motion to hold in abeyance a challenge by the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and other groups. The court asked the clerk to prepare a briefing schedule. (U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit docket 17-1271)

FERC had argued that the court should freeze the case while it responded to rehearing requests filed in November 2017. The Natural Gas Act requires that FERC act on rehearing requests within 30 days, but the commission often uses tolling orders, in which FERC says it is still considering the requests, to extend the time it needs to respond.

Environmental groups, which have held that FERC regularly delays its own process for handling challenges while gas infrastructure projects move ahead, were pleased with the ruling. "FERC should not be allowed to use tolling orders and other delay tactics to block court challenges even as it allows companies like Mountain Valley to move forward with pipeline construction," Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson said in an emailed statement. "The people and communities that would be affected by this fracked gas project deserve a comprehensive review process that fully examines the threats posed to them and the environment."

Environmental groups have converged in efforts to stop the 2-Bcf/d pipeline project, a joint venture of EQT Midstream, NextEra Energy Inc., Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream Inc. and RGC Midstream LLC. FERC approved the 301-mile project in October 2017 and approved tree felling earlier in 2018. The pipeline would run from West Virginia to Virginia to connect Appalachian gas production with downstream markets. (FERC docket CP16-10)