Monday, August 13, 2018

Investigation finds federal and state regulators change rules to help natural gas industry, as they did with coal

Last week a federal appeals court ordered a halt to work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, designed to carry natural gas from northern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit unanimously ruled that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management had not adequately vetted the project to make sure it would not hurt the environment. But an investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and the ProPublica Local Reporting Network found that such developer-friendly actions were not rare.

"Over the past two years, federal and state agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws have moved repeatedly to clear roadblocks and expedite the pipeline, even changing the rules at times to ease the project’s approvals," Kate Mishkin and Ken Ward of the Gazette-Mail and Beena Raghavendran of ProPublica report. "Projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline ... require a variety of approvals before being built. Developers and regulators must study various alternatives, describe a clear need for the project, and show that steps will be taken to minimize damage to the environment and reduce negative effects on valuable resources like public lands and the water supply. But in numerous instances, officials greenlit the pipeline despite serious unanswered questions."

For example, when citizen groups sued on the grounds that pipeline construction would illegally block the flow of rivers for too long, the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved to rewrite their rules for how long pipeline construction can block rivers' flow. West Virginians have seen such behavior from state and local governments before with the coal industry, and the pattern is continuing with natural gas, Mishkin, Ward, and Rahavendran report.

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