The legal fight over the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline finally reached the nation’s highest court, which cleared the way for construction to resume after it had again been temporarily halted.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in late July issued an order to vacate a ruling issued days earlier by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked construction on the small remaining section. The stay by the Fourth Circuit was granted after environmental groups filed a challenge to the project’s approval as part of the bipartisan bill to increase the debt limit.
The 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline will run across West Virginia and Virginia, carrying natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica plays in the Appalachian region to the south. The project was originally expected to be completed in 2018 at an estimated cost of $3 billion but that date was repeatedly pushed back as legal challenges from environmental groups delayed work and costs escalated.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has been hearing regulatory challenges to the pipeline over the past several years, sometimes requiring additional environmental studies for various permits and stopping construction of the last section through the Jefferson National Forest before Congress added the language to the recent debt ceiling bill that took jurisdiction away from that court and mandated the pipeline’s completion.
Equitrans Midstream, operator of the MVP, now intends to complete construction by the end of 2023 at a total cost of about $6.6 billion, according to a company release. The project is a joint project of Canonsburg-based Equitrans and several other partners. The project is about 94% complete, and about 20 linear miles that were the subject of environmental challenges remains to be built.
The legal challenge from several environmental groups claimed that Congress acted outside its constitutional authority because the Mountain Valley debt deal provision effectively determined the outcome of cases still before the courts, violating the separation of powers clause. Roberts’ order did not rule on the merits on the case, but simply lifted the stay, allowing construction to proceed.
Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who has been a proponent of the pipeline’s completion, said in a statement, “I fought to ensure that language to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline was included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act in June. Congress passed that law, the President signed it, and now the Supreme Court of the United States spoke with one voice to uphold it. Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline will now resume, creating 4,500 jobs by the end of August.”
Opponents of the pipeline said the fight is not over. “We are very disappointed by this latest development, but will continue this important fight,” Southern Environmental Law Center Executive Director DJ Gerken said in a statement. “We stand by our argument that the MVP rider - Congress’s reckless attempt to bless a single gas pipeline - violates the separation of powers and is unconstitutional.”