Monday, September 11, 2017

West Virginia vacates water-quality permit for controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline

"Faced with a deadline to defend their permit approval against a federal court challenge, West Virginia regulators moved this week to back off their certification that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would not violate the state’s water quality standards," Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said in a Sept. 7 letter to pipeline developers and state and federal agencies that the department "hereby vacates and remands" its water quality certification for the proposed natural gas pipeline.

"Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management, said in the letter that the move would allow DEP 'to reevaluate the complete application to determine whether the state’s certification is in compliance' with the federal Clean Water Act'," Ward reports.

The controversial pipeline would extend 300 miles across the state. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and others requested a DEP hearing to appeal the agency's approval of the permit. The groups said the agency had not fully reviewed the project's potential to degrade streams, among other concerns. The DEP refused their request, so lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a brief on behalf of the environmental groups challenging that refusal. DEP must file a response by Sept. 14.

DEP Communications Director Jake Glance said the agency's decision to back off certifying that the pipeline wouldn't pollute water was done out of an abundance of caution to "to ensure that all aspects of the potential environmental impact" of the pipeline are considered. He also said that "DEP had suspended a second permit for MVP that had been issued under the agency’s program for stormwater pollution associated with oil and gas construction activities."

"It was not immediately clear what impact the DEP decision would have on the state agency’s mandate to meet a one-year deadline to review and act on a water quality certification like MVP’s or — by not acting one way or the other — waiving the state’s authority to do so," Ward reports.

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