Late last week, Mountain Valley Pipeline filed hundreds of pages of new information with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the company’s proposed natural gas transmission pipeline.
These Oct. 13 filings came nearly a month after the commission released a draft environmental impact statement for the controversial project, which would build and bury a 42-inch-diameter pipeline that would transport natural gas at high pressure through the region.
On Wednesday, a coalition of 26 conservation and community groups alleged that the draft statement released last month by FERC shows “substantial deficiencies” and must be revised to allow meaningful public comment.
“It’s clear that FERC published the draft EIS before it had all the information required to thoroughly analyze this massive pipeline,” said Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, one of the organizations calling for a revised environmental statement.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture whose partners include EQT Corp., NextEra Energy and a subsidiary of Roanoke-based RGC Resources, wants to build a 301-mile pipeline from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County.
As an interstate pipeline, the $3.5 billion project needs the approval of FERC before construction can begin.
The conservation and community groups demanding a revised environmental impact statement contend the current version fails to fully evaluate whether the project is necessary.
And the groups said the draft does not adequately consider “impacts to water resources, wetlands, cultural resources, threatened and endangered species and climate change implications.”
They urged FERC to issue either a revised or supplemental statement, followed by an opportunity for public comment. The groups said the National Environmental Policy Act requires a revision if a draft statement is so inadequate it precludes meaningful analysis.
Their 15-page letter to FERC quotes critiques by the EPA of other FERC-issued draft environmental impact statements for new pipeline projects, including the Atlantic Sunrise and the Constitution pipeline projects.
EPA comments have criticized FERC for draft impact statements that fail to adequately consider the need for a project or lack key information about environmental consequences.
Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC, declined to comment about the call for a revised draft environmental impact statement.
Asked whether it is common practice to continue gathering information from project applicants after the release of a draft statement, Young-Allen replied, “Yes.”
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline, said that “providing accurate data and information is an ongoing process due to the fact that as the project unfolds, there is always updated information to be supplied.”
She said Mountain Valley “makes filings from time to time in order to ensure that the FERC has as much information as possible to incorporate into its robust environmental analysis.”
Few pipeline opponents would characterize the environmental analysis to date as robust. The draft environmental impact statement reported that FERC had determined that construction and operation of the pipeline “would result in limited adverse environmental impacts, with the exception of impacts on forest” — a conclusion that stunned many environmental and conservation groups that have monitored the project closely.
Kate Asquith of Appalachian Mountain Advocates said Mountain Valley filings made after release of the draft environmental impact statement hinder public analysis.
“It is absurd to expect the public to consume this volume of information outside of the DEIS and be able to meaningfully comment,” Asquith said.
“Just because FERC is in a hurry to move this project forward doesn’t mean they can bypass their federally required deep analysis and avoid full public review,” she said.
Meanwhile, past efforts to influence the process of FERC’s analysis of the project have yielded little. For example, FERC has refused to add scoping meetings, declined to conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement analysis and resisted efforts to add or change the format of upcoming public comment meetings.
Asquith addressed that history.
“We hope they will respond to our letter and fix obvious deficiencies in their process. But we agree it’s unlikely given past obstinacy that they’ll respond,” she said.
“If they don’t reply, then litigation will certainly be an option,” Asquith said.