You Want a Pipeline? You Know What to Do!

The Wall Street Journal featured an article written by David Harrison titled, “Lost Pipeline a Bitter Pill for Foes.”

The story is about the Mountain Valley Pipeline running through West Virginia and Virginia.  It was successfully challenged for over ten years.  The 303-mile, $6.6 billion pipeline running through the two states was a pet project of Senator Joe Manchin who couldn’t line up enough senate votes for his bill despite repeated attempts.

Landowners and environmental groups have fought the pipeline since it was first proposed in 2014.  Many landowners also refused to allow the pipeline to cross their properties, forcing the company to file hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits.

Local residents say the pipeline could damage their water quality and puts them at risk of a leak or explosion.  They say the pipe’s protective coating has deteriorated over the years, which would cause cracks.

And they worry that the difficult terrain it crosses – steep ridges dotted with sinkholes, caves, streams and wetlands – makes it vulnerable to slips and erosion.  Parts of its path are prone to earthquakes.

When complete, the project will move more natural gas from shale formations in northwestern West Virginia through Virginia before connecting to another pipeline along the East Coast.  It will cross more than 400 streams and the Jefferson National Forest, and skirt hundreds of homes.

So, how did the pipeline get approved?  Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, cast the pivotal vote for the Inflation Reduction Act.  In exchange, Biden and Democratic leaders agreed to support a Manchin proposal to finish the pipeline and overhaul the country’s permitting process.

The pipeline’s completion was a critical piece in passing Biden’s sweeping Inflation Reduction Act last year, which offers tax incentives to expand renewable energy.  But passing the landmark climate victory required greenlighting a fossil-fuel project that had been fiercely opposed by environmentalists, land owners and some lawmakers, shutting down their legal challenges.

It is rare for Congress to get involved in environmental permits, a role usually reserved for government scientists, said Cale Jaffe, a University of Virginia law professor.  It is especially unusual for Congress to take away the right to sue while federal lawsuits are still pending.

“Congress is saying here’s how we would like to resolve that litigation,” he said.

James Coleman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, worries the precedent will lead other companies to ask for similar intervention.

Leaving it to lawmakers “is not how our system should be operated.”

Posted in Congress, Eminent Domain, Mountain Valley Pipeline, Pipelines, Sen. Joe Manchin
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