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Groups challenge federal wildlife authorization for Mountain Valley pipeline

Environmental groups leveled a legal challenge against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over documents that let Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC proceed with a 2-Bcf/d natural gas transportation project despite what the groups described as serious threats to endangered species along the pipeline route in Virginia.

The groups filed the suit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., asking the court to force the federal agency to reevaluate the pipeline project's impact on the environment and vacate the authorization. The suit was filed by the Sierra Club on behalf of Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Preserve Bent Mountain, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

"This pipeline is a major threat to the Roanoke River system and the people and imperiled species that rely on it," Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Jared Margolis said in an Aug. 12 statement. "Regulators can't keep shrugging off the environmental harms of pipeline projects. We need to stop destroying habitats and waterways for fossil fuels that are driving the climate catastrophe."

Research firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC said in an Aug. 13 note that the lawsuit could pose a risk to the Mountain Valley construction schedule. ClearView said the environmental groups were trying to repeat success that they have had in the 4th Circuit against another pipeline, the nearby 1.5-Bcf/d, Dominion Energy Inc.-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC project.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has begun building the 300-mile line that would carry gas from West Virginia to Virginia and to markets in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, is a joint venture of EQM Midstream Partners LP, NextEra Energy Inc., Consolidated Edison Inc., AltaGas Ltd. and RGC Resources Inc. The developers said they are aware of the lawsuit.

"As previously stated, the Mountain Valley Pipeline project team has been engaged and has been actively working with the agencies on matters related to the biological opinion and will continue this process regardless of the litigation," Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Cox said in an Aug. 13 statement. "At this time, we have no further comment on the litigation itself."

The environmental groups and others also wrote an Aug. 12 letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to stay its biological opinion and incidental take statement for the pipeline project. The groups said tree clearing, grading, trenching, right of way preparation and other activities have harmed wildlife habitat through environmental impacts that include increased sediment loads in streams and rivers and water flow disruption. Species affected include the Indiana bat, the Northern long-eared bat and the Roanoke logperch, the groups said.

In a related issue, on Aug. 2, Virginia regulators ordered Mountain Valley Pipeline to halt construction on a section of the project. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality warned of "imminent and substantial adverse impact" on water quality in the area if work continues. The agency found that Mountain Valley failed to provide and ensure the proper function of erosion and sediment controls according to site-specific plans on a roughly two-mile section of the project in Montgomery County, Va.