Letter: Natalie Pien, Leesburg

Editor: The Mountain Valley Pipeline, MVP, is a huge 42-inch natural gas pipeline under construction in southwest Virginia. It will transport hydraulically fractured (fracked) gas from West Virginia to the Transcontinental (Transco) Pipeline running north-south in central Virginia.

Construction requires clear cutting a 125-foot swath through the Appalachian mountains and crossing numerous headwater streams of the Roanoke, James, and Potomac rivers. These rivers all serve as drinking water supplies of large, metropolitan areas. The steep slopes (greater than 70 percent is not uncommon) thin soils, clear-cutting, unusual rainfall events, and inadequate sediment/erosion control practices has resulted in violations of Virginia’s Water Quality Standards. Citing 300 violations, Attorney General Mark Herring filed suit against the MVP builders in December. Currently, MVP builders are under criminal investigation into possible violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal laws.

Virginians are calling on state officials to issue a stop work order for construction of the MVP while Herring’s suit is pending. Communities in southwest Virginia are vehemently opposed to the MVP, which is damaging lives, livelihoods, property rights, and the environment. After over 226 days, tree sitters are still blocking the path of the MVP. New pipelines are not needed in Virginia. The Transco Pipeline, currently operating at only 57 percent capacity, can be used instead.

In December, the State Water Control Board did begin proceedings to revoke  the Section 401 water permit (a state issued permit required by the Clean Water Act, CWA, for interstate pipelines) it issued for the MVP. However, on March 1, in closed-door deliberations, the SWCB determined, as erroneously advised by the deputy attorney general, it did not have the authority to revoke Section 401 Permits. Yet, other states like New Mexico have. In 2016, New Mexico revoked a Section 401 Permit that it previously issued. Moreover, states like Vermont, Nebraska, Colorado, and Maine include language that permits can be modified, amended, or revoked if water quality standards are violated. In fact, Virginia Code paragraph 62.1-44.15 states that the SWCB “…shall have the authority ….. to issue, revoke, or amend certificates.”

Federal pipeline permits issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, are contingent upon obtaining a CWA Section 401 permit from states. In New York state, several pipelines projects have been blocked because New York did not grant the 401 permit. Without a Section 401 Permit issued by states, pipelines cannot be built even if FERC issued a federal permit.

In the absence of concrete action by any Virginia official to stop construction of the polluting and damaging MVP, Virginia 12th District Delegate Chris Hurst sent a letter in March to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality requesting an immediate stop-work order on the entire pipeline. There is no question that Virginia’s natural resources and Virginians’ best interests are being violated. The only questions that remain are: why hasn’t Section 401 Permit been revoked; and why hasn’t a stop work order been issued? I urge Attorney General Mark Herring to fulfill his office’s stated duty: “to fight for greater justice, …. defending the interests of Virginians and Virginia government.” It has done so for immigration, same sex marriage, cash bail reform, gun violence, reproductive rights. It is time to add “fracked gas pipelines” to this honorable list. Herring should not align himself with President Trump who supports fracked gas infrastructure. Please stand with Appalachia. No Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Natalie Pien, Leesburg

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