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'Major threat' to Roanoke River system, attorney says

Environmental groups leveled a legal challenge against the US Fish and Wildlife Service over documents that let Mountain Valley Pipeline 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 US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, asking the court to force the federal agency to re-evaluate 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 a Monday 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."

In a Tuesday note, Research firm ClearView Energy Partners said the lawsuit could pose a risk to the Mountain Valley construction schedule. The firm said the environmental groups were trying to repeat success that they have had in the Fourth Circuit against another pipeline, the nearby 1.5-Bcf/d Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline 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, NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison, AltaGas and RGC Resources. 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 spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in a Tuesday statement. "At this time, we have no further comment on the litigation itself."

The environmental groups and others also wrote a Monday letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service, asking it to stay its biological opinion and incidental take statement for the 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.

-- Brianna Jackson, S&P Global Market Intelligence, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Gail Roberts, newsdesk@spglobal.com