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Mountain Valley Pipeline Wins A Round In Legal Fight Over NC Extension

031221MVPSouthgate map.jpg
MVP Southgate
The MVP Southgate pipeline would be an extension of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. The pipeline would carry fracked natural gas from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania into Virginia and North Carolina.

A proposed natural gas pipeline extension from Virginia to central North Carolina has won a round in federal court over a state water quality permit. But the ruling doesn't affect the ability of regulators to challenge the project.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday threw out a decision by North Carolina environmental regulators to deny a water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate project.

The court said the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality still can deny the permit but must do a better job explaining why. The case now goes back to NCDEQ for further explanation.

The project is an extension of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would bring fracked natural gas from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to Virginia. The extension would run 75 miles from the "mainline" in southern Virginia to Rockingham and Alamance counties in central North Carolina.

About 48 miles of the extension would be in North Carolina, in some cases crossing streams, wetlands or other bodies of water. It would pass near Jordan Lake, which provides drinking water for 500,000 people.

NCDEQ said in a statement that the ruling upholds its concerns about the project's environmental risks: "The Fourth Circuit ruling vindicates DEQ’s concerns about the MVP Southgate pipeline extension and the uncertainty of the Mainline project. The ruling upholds the state’s authority to determine that building the Southgate extension at this time poses unnecessary risk to North Carolina’s streams, lakes, and wetlands."

Pipeline spokesman Shawn Day said the project's design minimizes environmental impacts "to the greatest extent possible."

In an email, Day wrote: "The MVP Southgate team appreciates the Court's comprehensive and thoughtful review, and is pleased the Court agrees that NCDEQ failed to adequately explain its decision to deny the project's application rather than issue a conditional approval. MVP Southgate's design has minimized impacts to surface waters and wetlands to the greatest extent practicable, and the project would comply with all state water quality standards. We look forward to working with NCDEQ to satisfy any concerns that it may have, and we remain committed to building this important infrastructure project to meet North Carolinians' demand for cleaner and more reliable, affordable natural gas."

Day said despite legal delays, the MVP Southgate pipeline still expects to start construction this year and begin service in 2022.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.