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Mountain Valley Pipeline faces new legal challenge, this one over endangered species

Mountain Valley Pipeline faces new legal challenge, this one over endangered species

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Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline filed a petition on Monday over the pipeline’s impact on local endangered species, including plants, fish and bats.

Foes of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have filed another legal attack, this one over the pipeline’s impact on endangered species such as the Roanoke logperch.

The petition, filed Monday, asks a federal appeals court in Richmond to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine its earlier opinion that burrowing a 42-inch diameter pipe across rugged mountain slopes and through unspoiled streams will not significantly harm the threatened fish, bats and plants that live there.

At the same time, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups sent a letter to the service requesting it immediately stay its permits pending legal review — a move that could bring work on the beleaguered project to a standstill.

Already, construction of the natural gas pipeline across streams and wetlands and through the Jefferson National Forest has been stalled by earlier legal challenges.

“MVP has proven it can’t build this unnecessary pipeline without devastating streams and rivers, as well as the forest habitats of Appalachia,” Sierra Club staff attorney Elly Benson said in an announcement that the petition had been filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service had not received notice of the legal action late Monday and declined to comment.

In a November 2017 biological opinion, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the pipeline would not cause major harm to five threatened or endangered species in its path: the Roanoke logperch; the Indiana and northern long-eared bats; the small whorled pogonia, an orchid that grows mostly in stands of hardwoods; and the Virginia spiraea, a perennial shrub with pale yellow or white flowers.

The candy darter, a colorful fish found in Giles County’s Stony Creek, has since been designated an endangered species.

Joined by Appalachian Voices and Wild Virginia, the Sierra Club wrote in a May 1 letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service that “ample” new information has come to light since its 2017 opinion — including large amounts of sediment washed by rainfall from construction sites since work began a year ago.

“Grave doubts regarding the efficacy of [erosion and sediment] control measures, and MVP’s compliance with them, have proven to be well founded,” the letter stated, referring to a lawsuit filed by environmental regulators in Virginia that accuses the company of violating regulations more than 300 times.

Other groups have signed on to the Sierra Club’s legal challenge, including Preserve Bent Mountain, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Defenders of Wildlife, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Mountain Valley was not named as a defendant in the case.

A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh-based joint venture of energy companies said Monday that it was reviewing the petition.

“As previously stated, the MVP project team has been engaged and has been actively working with the agencies on matters related to the biological opinion and will continue this process regardless of the litigation,” Natalie Cox wrote in an email.

“At this time, we have no further comment on the litigation itself.”

In the past, Mountain Valley has said it hoped to regain suspended permits in time to have the $5 billion pipeline operating by the middle of next year, providing needed natural gas to markets up and down the East Coast.

Unlike earlier legal challenges — which focused on the national forest and more than 1,000 streams and wetlands to be crossed by the 303-mile pipeline — Monday’s filing could cover a much larger stretch of the pipeline being built from northern West Virginia through Southwest Virginia.

“This destructive pipeline has already caused great damage to the environment and the public and it must be stopped before the damage gets worse,” said David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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