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A federal appeals court threw out a critical permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, sending engineers back to the drawing board.
In Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the defendants could not substitute one construction standard for another to push the pipeline project.
The decision was a setback for the pipeline and a win for environmentalists, and it didn't take long. The appeals court issued its opinion four days after hearing the parties' arguments.
New Permit Required
The Fourth Circuit addressed only whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could proceed under a Clean Water Act National Permit, rather than a special condition permit from West Virginia. It cannot.
"We conclude, for reasons to be more fully explained in a forthcoming opinion, that the Corps lacked authority to substitute the 'dry cut' requirement 'in lieu of' West Virginia's 72-hour temporal restriction," the order stated.
Under the "dry cut" plan for river crossings, construction would have taken four to six weeks to complete. The state permit requires work to be done within 72 hours.
According to environmentalists who oppose the pipeline, the Army Corps will have to do more environmental analysis. It will "significantly impede construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for the foreseeable future," said the Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Local organizations and the press, too, have advocated for change in pipeline approvals. The Charleston Gazette-Mail paired with ProPublica to show how regulators were changing the rules to speed pipeline approval.
Changing the Rules
The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other citizen organizations sued over federal approval of the 300-mile-long pipeline from Wetzel County, West Virginia, into Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
It's not the only case against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In an eminent domain case, plaintiffs are challenging seizures of their land for the pipeline.