The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s not too late to call it quits on the Mountain Valley Pipeline

A hand-painted sign along a road near Bent Mountain, Va., un April 2018 protests the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Sam Rasoul, a Democrat, represents Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The recent decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to conditionally approve an amendment requested by Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) may have confused some. After so much bad news for the troubled pipeline — which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule — FERC’s decision might have seemed like a rare bit of good news for this dangerous, expensive, unnecessary project.

Thankfully, it was not.

Though FERC granted permission for MVP to change the construction method used for crossing some of the streams and wetlands along the pipeline’s path, the regulator also made it clear that no construction could begin unless the pipeline convinces the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate authorizations vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in recent decisions.

Getting those authorizations will be a time-consuming process — assuming that MVP can even convince federal regulators that it won’t harm endangered species or can safely cross sensitive national forests. And then those decisions would need to survive near-certain legal challenges.

The fact is that MVP is years from completion under the rosiest of scenarios, and it is likely to never finish construction.

MVP’s backers like to present the pipeline as a fait accompli, often claiming that the pipeline is more than 90 percent complete. But in most recent compliance reports, the company itself says that only 55.8 percent of the pipeline has been completed to full restoration.

Even that gives an inaccurate picture, because the pipeline is riddled with gaps along its 303-mile route — including those stream crossings that FERC just said can’t be worked on unless federal authorizations are restored.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said that MVP won’t be able to receive a U.S. Clean Water Act Section 404 permit until those authorizations are restored.

MVP is not inevitable as things stand now. It is essentially dead in the water. Though FERC has yet to act on multiple requests to issue a stop work order for the project, the reality is that little work is currently possible.

This fall, MVP will need to ask for another extension of its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from FERC — which just faced some tough questions from D.C. Circuit Court judges over its decision to grant the first extension in 2020 without a complete assessment of widespread erosion caused by the pipeline’s construction.

FERC should make the right call this time — and put the final nail in the coffin of a project that has run roughshod over the people and places of West Virginia and Virginia.

MVP was a horrible idea from the beginning: a mammoth pipeline going through sensitive land and extreme terrain. With demand for fracked gas holding steady or declining, this pipeline never made sense to anyone but the investors who backed it — and even some of them seem to be having second thoughts by now.

In February, NextEra Energy said it was reevaluating its estimate in MVP after it recorded an $800 million loss following the 4th Circuit decisions. Earlier, MVP developer Equitrans said it was reevaluating the proposed MVP Southgate project, which would extend the pipeline into North Carolina.

The communities that have been fighting this pipeline for nearly a decade have put up with enough: fear, uncertainty, the loss of property, hundreds of water quality violations and more. It is time to give them the peace of mind they deserve and end this floundering project.

FERC should refuse this extension.