June 27, 2023

Environmental and Community Groups Challenge Effort to Throw Out Mountain Valley Pipeline Lawsuit

On June 26, 2023, environmental and community organizations filed a response opposing efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, to dismiss the environmental groups’ pending challenge to the latest biological opinion and incidental take statement under the Endangered Species Act. 

Also today, the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of The Wilderness Society filed a brief in opposition to the motions to dismiss the groups’ challenge following the passage of the FRA.

The motions to dismiss the groups’ challenge follows the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), which seeks to expedite the nonessential Mountain Valley Pipeline, enshrining congressional overreach over the courts and setting a dangerous precedent which could encourage future congressional action to force through other controversial fossil fuel projects. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has already twice rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s prior authorizations for the pipeline project, finding that the agency failed to adequately analyze the project’s environmental context when assessing the detrimental impacts to the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, a species on the brink of extinction.

This legislation has led MVP to gear up to resume construction along the pipeline’s route. 

The response was filed by lawyers from the Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Preserve Bent Mountain, Preserve Giles County, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity.

In essence, Congress and the President have attempted to nullify the Endangered Species Act and the rights of Americans to be involved in their own government decisions – all to give a special deal to profit-making corporations. This does violence to the Constitution and we cannot accept it without challenge.

Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Caroline Hansley said, “Whatever happened to checks and balances? Congress should never have overextended its powers to try to tell the courts how to do their jobs. When communities, climate,and habitats are at risk, there is just too much at stake.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said: “This is not a problem of Congress putting its thumb on the scale in favor of the government. Instead Congress is attempting to throw out the scale entirely and unilaterally declare the government the winner. Together, we have been fighting MVP for eight years and we won’t stop now.” 

Indian Creek Watershed Association President Howdy Henritz noted, “Speaking on behalf of the endangered candy darter that once thrived in our creeks, something just smells fishy (and unconstitutional) about Congress passing a law that attempts to snuff out a valid lawsuit against a government agency simply by declaring the government the winner.”

“Mountain Valley Pipeline is an environmental disaster that’s already caused significant harm to sensitive streams and imperiled wildlife,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s no way this pipeline could ever comply with bedrock environmental laws. Cronies in Congress are attempting to force this project through, ignoring the harms and giving a free ride to corporate interests. Congress should never have tried to undermine the court’s authority, and the pipeline should not be built.”

“Legislators seemed to forget that front and center of our ‘national interest is the social, physical and economic well being of our people-many of whom are environmental justice communities in the deadly path of MVP’s degraded, corroding and explosive pipe,” Roberta Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain, a local member group of the POWHR Coalition, said, “If ushered forward, MVP will continue to sully our drinking water, our ever more fragile environment, and will pose sure and continuing threats to Appalachian life, limb and property- and this doesn’t speak to the global impacts of MVP methane. We refuse to be governed by the gas industry. We hold fast to our Constitutional right to be heard.”