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Fight continues over the Mountain Valley Pipeline and NC extension

Construction is 94% complete on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Mountain Valley Pipeline
Construction is 94% complete on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

This story appeared first in reporter David Boraks' weekly email newsletter. Sign up here to get the latest news straight to your inbox first.

Congress gave the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline the go-ahead last month to complete construction as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. But that hasn't ended the fight over the 304-mile pipeline that would carry fracked gas from West Virginia to Virginia — and by extension, possibly into central North Carolina.

Construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline began in 2018 and is about 94% complete, according to the developers' website. However, the company's own inspection reports show only about 56% is actually fully complete. The 94% does not include hundreds of water-body crossings or final filling. This month, the battle has continued on several fronts, including the U.S. Supreme Court:

  • On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the main Mountain Valley Pipeline could resume construction. The court overruled the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which had defied Congress weeks ago when it ordered yet another temporary halt on the project. The Supreme Court decision came on a request by the pipeline owners and the state of West Virginia. They argued that the appeals court lacked jurisdiction to block the project because the debt ceiling law gave exclusive control over future lawsuits to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, instead of the Fourth Circuit.

    “The Mountain Valley Pipeline is vital to the survival of American energy independence and affects thousands of jobs in West Virginia — its completion is also critical to our national security, the urgent need is for it to be completed as soon as possible,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said.

  • The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals court had halted the project on requests from environmentalists concerned about erosion and water quality on a section of the pipeline that runs through the Jefferson National Forest and on allegations that the pipeline would violate the Endangered Species Act, the Associated Press reported.
  • Meanwhile in North Carolina and Virginia, public officials on both sides of the political aisle have been sparring over the Mountain Valley Pipeline's proposed 75-mileSouthgate extension into North Carolina. Since mid-June, state and local officials have expressed both support and disapproval for the pipeline owner's request to reinstate an expired permit for Southgate.
 Map shows the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate extension into North Carolina.
MVP Southgate
Map shows the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate extension into North Carolina.

The Southgate pipeline would bring natural gas from the Mountain Valley Pipeline in southern Virginia into North Carolina's Rockingham and Alamance Counties. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and other elected officials from North Carolina and Virginia are urging federal regulators not to extend the permit.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week, Cooper said the pipeline is unnecessary and would soon be obsolete as North Carolina transitions its energy system away from fossil fuels to fight climate change. Cooper cited House Bill 951, which he signed in 2021. It requires the state to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

"Any newly constructed natural gas-fueled electricity generation units will be forced to retire before the end of their useful lives, leading to sunk costs that will be charged to North Carolina's ratepayers," Cooper said in the letter to FERC.

Cooper also said the pipeline isn't needed because last year's federal Inflation Reduction Act provides billions of dollars to help residential and commercial customers switch to non-gas heating and other appliances.

Two Democratic members of Congress whose districts include the proposed route of the Southgate extension also sent a letter of opposition to FERC on June 26. Reps. Valerie Foushee and Kathy Manning cited opposition among residents and some local elected bodies, potential threats to drinking water, and the fact that regulators in both North Carolina and Virginia rejected permits for Southgate in 2021. They also note that the pipeline still lacks other approvals, including water- and air-quality permits.

But other local officials have come out in support of the pipeline, including some members of the General Assembly. They said the Mountain Valley and Southgate pipelines will support demand for natural gas in the East. And they argue that natural gas is an important part of electric utilities' plans to reduce carbon emissions by closing coal-fired power plants.

They also said the new pipeline is needed to avoid disruptions like the cyberattack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline in 2021. The Colonial Pipeline is the major East Coast transmission line for gasoline and other fuels.

"North Carolina currently relies on one interstate transmission pipeline system for direct access to natural gas," local officials wrote, referring to the Transco pipeline, which carries natural gas through North Carolina. "An additional interstate natural gas supply system is critical to our state's security."

North Carolina environmental groups including Appalachian Voices, the North Carolina Conservation Network, the Sierra Club and riverkeepers also have written to FERC opposing the Southgate project.

“Time and again our state’s residents have told legislators and regulators this pipeline and its extension are not needed. With no trees cut, no pipe laid, and no meaningful headway to commence construction, we ask decision-makers to deny this pipeline from ever harming these communities,” Sierra Club Senior Field Organizer Caroline Hansley said in a statement last week.

Comments on the Southgate pipeline permit extension closed last week. It's not clear when FERC might issue a decision.

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Updated: August 3, 2023 at 1:54 PM EDT
This story has been updated with additional information about the Mountain Valley Pipeline's completion status. While 94% of the pipeline is in the ground, many other elements remain.
David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
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