WASHINGTON— The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit today invalidated the biological opinion and incidental take statement issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The court found that the agency failed to adequately analyze the project's environmental context when assessing the detrimental impacts to the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, a species on the brink of extinction. The court's decision means that construction should not move forward along the 304-mile pipeline route.
The decision is the latest setback for the Mountain Valley Pipeline after another recent decision from the 4th Circuit invalidated approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for construction through Jefferson National Forest. The project continues to face several legal battles and is more than three years behind schedule, barely half complete and billions over budget.
The pipeline has been required to pay millions of dollars in fines for more than 350 water quality-related violations in Virginia and West Virginia and has disturbed and destroyed important habitat, adversely affecting local wildlife. Today’s decision should stop the pipeline’s onslaught against one of the largest remaining wild landscapes in the eastern United States.
“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, Sierra Club senior director of energy campaigns. “The previous administration’s rushed, shoddy permitting put the entire project in question. Now the Biden administration must fulfill the commitments it has made on climate and environmental justice by taking a meaningful, thorough review of this project and its permitting. When they do, they will see the science is clear: MVP is not compatible with a healthy planet and livable communities. MVP must not move forward.”
“Sacred life prevailed today with the court’s acknowledgement of the harmful impact MVP has on everything in its path, specifically endangered and threatened species,” said Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) Coalition. “Holding MVP accountable to the law is key to the ultimate cancellation of this noxious fracked gas pipeline. This decision not only protects the candy darter and other endangered species, it sets us on course to stop MVP, decisively transition away from deadly fossil fuels, and reroute towards a renewable economy on a livable planet.”
“MVP’s dangerous pipeline project has already destroyed and degraded the habitat of endangered species along its route, in addition to the threat it poses to clean air, water, and our communities,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Elly Benson. “We have seen its harmful effects on the region’s forests and streams as MVP has put profits before people and wildlife. Today’s decision underscores that the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t minimize MVP’s impacts on vulnerable species like the Roanoke logperch and candy darter that are already facing numerous other serious threats, including climate change.”
“At a time when we need to urgently move away from fracked-gas pipelines and all the harms they bring — from impacts to endangered species to damage to water quality to climate change — the law and science prevailed in this case,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“Today’s is a sweetly welcome decision in our fight to stop the ravage of MVP,” said Roberta Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain, a local member group of the POWHR Coalition. “The Bent Mountain community together with our allies, have fought relentlessly, and at unspeakable costs, to protect forest, meadow and waters of our venerable Appalachians. This is a banner day for Planet Earth — the Swomee Swan soars, the Humming Fish jumps, and the Truffula Tree breathes a grateful sigh of relief.”
“Once again, the courts have found that federal regulators weren’t following the laws passed by Congress to protect the public and our environment,” said Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director for Appalachian Voices. “Communities in this region rely on its rich biodiversity to support many recreational and economic opportunities. We take seriously our laws protecting habitat and ecological function, even if Mountain Valley Pipeline does not.”
“Again, the agencies that should be guardians of our most precious resources and the public interest failed us,” said David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia. “But today is a victory for sensitive and valuable species, which have already been harmed by MVP’s pollution. This decision again reinforces the truth that this destructive project must not be allowed to continue. The company needs to face that fact now and should be forced to help heal the wounds it has inflicted.”
“This is an incredible victory," said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a fossil fuel nightmare that threatens the essential habitat of imperiled wildlife. These projects lock us into an unsustainable spiral of climate change that inflict incredible damage to vulnerable species. That cycle must end.”
"Enough is enough,” said Cindy Rank of WV Highlands Conservancy. “This is just one more example of how wrong this pipeline is, how much it harms the earth and the critters that make our world a treasure to be protected from unwise developments like MVP.”
Today’s announcement is a result of a case argued by the Sierra Club on behalf of a coalition of conservation organizations, including Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Defenders of Wildlife, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Preserve Giles County, Preserve Bent Mountain, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Indian Creek Watershed Association and the Center for Biological Diversity. Appalachian Mountain Advocates also represented the petitioners.