Federal Court Rejects Challenge to Mountain Valley Pipeline Approval

Published March 27, 2019

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed all 16 challenges environmental activist groups filed against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

MVP will draw on a vast amount of fracked natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to supply up to two million dekatherms per day of transmission capacity to markets in the Mid- and South Atlantic regions of the United States. A dekatherm is the equivalent of one million British thermal units

The D.C. Circuit’s February 19 ruling in Appalachian Voices v. FERC affirmed the commission’s decision to grant a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the proposed 303-mile MVP, which would transport natural gas from Wetzel County, West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Among the environmental groups challenging FERC’s action were Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Sierra Club.

The court determined it was reasonable for FERC to conclude the pipeline was needed based on the fact 100 percent of the natural gas it would supply had already been contracted for on a long-term basis.

SCC Ruled Unnecessary

The court also upheld FERC’s decision to limit its estimates of carbon dioxide emissions from the project to those resulting from the end-use combustion of natural gas.

Petitioners argued FERC should have used a Social Cost of Carbon metric in considering the climate change impacts of downstream greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from the transport of natural gas through the pipeline.

“Petitioners claim that FERC erred in concluding that such [carbon dioxide] emissions are not reasonably foreseeable indirect effects of the Project,” wrote the court. “We need not consider that argument, however, because … FERC provided an estimate of the upper bound of emissions resulting from end-use combustion, and it gave several reasons why it believed petitioners’ preferred metric, the Social Cost of Carbon tool, is not an appropriate measure of project-level climate change impacts and their significance under NEPA or the Natural Gas Act. That is all that is required for NEPA purposes.”

Eminent Domain Affirmed

The D.C. Circuit Court also rejected plaintiffs’ argument FERC’s granting of eminent domain power to MVP to secure land along the pipeline’s route violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause.

The court held FERC’s issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity satisfied the Fifth Amendment’s public use requirement.

The court stated the project’s eminent domain authority is consistent with the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause because landowners will be entitled to just compensation through a hearing process if the company acquires a right of way through private  property.

‘Using Common Sense’

The court’s ruling is one step in defending the use of fossil fuels, which are necessary for U.S. economic progress, says Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“At least one U.S. court is using common sense, recognizing the folks who brought this case care little about the environment, simply dislike people benefitting from the United States’ vast fossil-fuel resources, and are intent on bringing down our nation with a thousand cuts,” Lehr said. “Thanks to the court, they have failed for a change.”

Thousands of wind turbines or solar arrays would be far worse for the environment of Virginia and West Virginia than the MVP, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)

“Natural gas pipelines have been a prime target of environmental groups and politicians, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” said Rucker. “This assault on our energy infrastructure serves many purposes, including creating more favorable conditions for their power sources of choice: wind and solar.

“Just imagine the damage done to the beautiful mountains of Virginia and West Virginia if they are plastered with wind turbines and solar arrays,” Rucker said. “That’s why the court’s rejection of these petitions is both legally and environmentally sound.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with CFACT.