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Editorial: MVP slogs on, covering all involved in mud

Mountain Valley Pipeline construction

Construction from on Mountain Valley Pipeline is seen in October from Honeysuckle Road near the top of Poor Mountain in Roanoke County.

Here we are again.

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline threw everything they had, it seems, at the Virginia Water Control Board, including multiple opinion pieces in this newspaper, in an effort to convince board members to deny the permit that would let MVP dig through about 150 streams and wetlands in Southwest Virginia and potentially, finally, complete the beleaguered 303-mile project project.

Activists were emboldened by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, which in a Dec. 3 hearing struck a blow to the MVP’s sister project, Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate.

The Air Pollution Control Board voted 6-1 that the compressor station MVP wanted permission to build in Pittsylvania County failed to meet the requirements of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act, a new law passed in 2020 that was sponsored by state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, who, by the way, is a pipeline opponent. The board ruled MVP had not adequately addressed how the station would affect air quality in the predominantly Black community where it would be located.

Yet whatever celebrations resulted from that victory were short-lived. At the Dec. 14 meeting of the Water Control Board, by a margin of a single vote, MVP won the day.

For what it’s worth, the environmental justice issue also came up Dec. 14, but the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality told the board that MVP’s 107-mile path through the state doesn’t have a concentrated effect on a single population cluster.

The water board endorsement wasn’t the final step, though. MVP still needs a similar permit from West Virginia and new permissions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

During a conference call in November, the CEO of Equitrans Midstream Corp., the lead partner in MVP suggested that the pipeline, which is 94% built, might be finished in summer 2022. It’s best not to hold your breath, as though the enemies of the pipeline have not been able to prevent it from being constructed, they’ve excelled at causing delays.

It’s hard not to deeply sympathize with the landowners and farmers with affected property who have appealed to government agencies to let MVP finish its work, so they “can finally be rid of this mess.”

The project is so divisive that at a September public hearing, one Franklin County politician said the county’s need for a completed MVP could not be overstated, while another said the opposite, suggesting the project be renamed “Mountain Valley polluters.”

Mountain Valley Pipeline first filed paperwork with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2014, and perhaps somebody involved in that process broke a mirror, as it’s been seven years of bad luck since. The costs of construction doubled to $6.2 billion because of legal challenges that have stalled the project. In 2019, the year the pipeline was supposed to be in service, MVP paid a $2.15 million civil penalty for environmental violations in Virginia.

Still, in these pages we’ve often noted that, for all the understandable ire directed at MVP — for bisecting properties through eminent domain, for carving wide muddy trenches through beautiful landscapes, for repeatedly running afoul of the DEQ, even though that agency seems to want to treat MVP like that otherwise lovable friend who just can’t quite get his act together — the regulatory odds are stacked in the pipeline’s favor.

That has never changed, especially with two governors in a row, Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, in MVP’s corner. Not that there was any doubt about where incoming Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin stood, but he perhaps underscored his stance by announcing that he will withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative intended to limit the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants. His aim can’t be a comfort to the groups that have mobilized against the pipeline.

With the Southgate extension, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality has been hostile to the newer MVP project in a way that Virginia’s DEQ is decidedly not. Former North Carolina DEQ secretary Michael Regan — now director of the Environmental Protection Agency — called Southgate “an unnecessary project that poses unnecessary risks to our environment.”

In Virginia, it could be too late to stop MVP — though the war ain’t over.

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