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West Virginia environmental regulators on Wednesday lifted their suspension of the permit for building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas down the center of the state.
The pipeline would extend south for 195 miles in north-central West Virginia through 11 counties to the Virginia state line and nearly 110 miles through six counties in that state.
West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection first issued the water quality certification in March, which followed public hearings and review of the projected impact on the state’s waters.
In June, five citizen groups asked a federal appeals court to overturn the state approval. In September, the DEP vacated its approval to re-evaluate the application and determine whether it complied with the federal Clean Water Act.
Secretary Austin Caperton, who heads the department, said Wednesday that as a result of the review and public comments, they have changed their approach. “Our agency developed a revised strategy that will better utilize the state storm water permit to provide significantly stronger safeguards for the waters of West Virginia,” he said.
The state also has decided to waive its individual certification for the pipeline under the federal Clean Water Act. The DEP noted that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently reissued its nationwide permit, with provisions that are specific to West Virginia, saying it will allow for better enforcement capabilities and enhanced protection for West Virginia waters.
Two weeks ago, a divided The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted its approval.
Environmentalists said the state agency is failing to do its duty.
“This action suggests that DEP does not believe in the laws, including the anti-degradation policy, that it is charged with enforcing,” said Derek Teaney, senior attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “It also makes you wonder whether DEP intends to give the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the other ill-conceived pipeline project it is currently reviewing, the same free pass it has just given to MVP.”
Two weeks ago, a divided Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines, which would both start in West Virginia, carrying gas from the Appalachian basin to U.S. markets. The 600-mile (965-kilometer) Atlantic Coast pipeline would extend almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) through five counties in West Virginia, then cross Virginia and bend through eastern North Carolina.
Prominent business and political leaders in all three affected states back the projects, saying they will lower energy costs and boost economic development. But opponents, including environmental groups and landowners, say the projects will infringe on property rights, damage pristine areas and commit the region to fossil fuels for decades.