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Mountain Valley Pipeline: Let Us Count the Problems…

Last year, community members and our partners in West Virginia and Virginia alerted our office to a concerning pipeline proposal that was progressing quickly through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) permitting process. There are several natural gas pipelines being proposed in the mid-Atlantic region that would transport fracked natural gas from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York to the east coast and the southeast, despite insufficient demand in the region for this level of investment. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is arguably the worst of these proposed pipelines.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline cuts 303 miles through West Virginia and Virginia, crossing the Appalachians in a very scenic and sensitive portion of the Jefferson National Forest. How problematic is this pipeline as it is currently proposed? Let us count the ways.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would:

Brush Mountain East Wilderness (Photo by Chris Adcock)

1. be adjacent to Peters Mountain Wilderness and Brush Mountain Wilderness, threatening the wilderness characteristics of those places.

2. tunnel beneath the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) while ruining several viewpoints along the trail (yet claiming that the pipeline would not have any impact on this treasure).

3. include a permanent, 500-foot utility right-of-way through the Brush Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, inviting other pipelines to co-locate along the same route in the future.

4. go through very sensitive “karst topography” with underground streams, caves, and sinkholes, putting the drinking water of nearby communities at risk of contamination.

5. cross pristine streams in the Jefferson National Forest, causing erosion of sediment into the water during construction and impacting threatened, endangered and rare species for whom these streams provide habitat.

6. be the largest-size diameter gas pipeline (42 inches) to be constructed on such steep mountain terrain.

7. traverses steep, rocky and unstable terrain in which even much smaller pipelines in the area have caused landslides.

8. cross two seismic zones, making construction of the pipeline dangerous, with serious long-term public safety concerns if the pipeline were to rupture.

9. require the U. S. Forest Service to amend its management plan for the Jefferson National Forest to lower standards for water quality, visual impacts, and protections for old growth forest.

To add insult to injury, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that those proposing to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline submitted to FERC denies that any of these problems exist. And even though FERC has delayed the release of the Final Environmental Impact Assessment, the agencies involved seem determined to push this project ahead despite its obvious risks to local communities and the environment.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline as it is proposed would pass through the Jefferson National Forest, so the Forest Service has a stake in this issue. Even if the pipeline had no environmental consequences, the fact that it would require amendments to the management plan for the Jefferson National Forest (2004) is enough cause for concern.

This forest management plan was vetted by the public and went through a rigorous process of approval. A reckless project such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline would set a terrible precedent for forest management plans across the country.

Public lands belong to all of us. That is why the rules for revising management plans require that the USFS engage with the public during the process. What does it mean if a plan with buy-in from stakeholders can be changed despite the concerns of local communities, stakeholders, and Americans across the country?

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