Right now, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has a chance to right the decades of wrongs they have permitted and perpetuated within our energy system. And, we have another chance to stop construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Let’s start with some context.
The face of this agency has changed dramatically over the last six months. With the confirmation of two new Commissioners (and the anticipated appointment of another Commissioner from the Biden Administration in June), climate champions will likely be the majority for the first time since 2017. This could mean a reform in the way they approach community engagement and the certification of fracked gas projects in general. While these new faces may result in more sweeping changes, they will also affect the same battle we have been fighting for years: the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The most recent open docket regarding the MVP, CP21-57, includes two different, but connected, parts. As with most things related to the FERC, this docket lacks clarity on which topics are still open to public comment.
One certainty, however, is that the April 15th extended deadline includes the scoping process for NEPA compliance. What this means is that the public can weigh in on whether this project requires an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement. We at CCAN, alongside many others, are requesting a new complete EIS, which requires an in-depth analysis of all environmental factors (including environmental justice considerations and impact on public lands).
The second part of this docket is MVP’s request to bore tunnels underneath 181 waterways in West Virginia and Virginia to complete pipeline construction (note: MVP submitted the Notice of Scoping MVP regarding these waterways, but the docket has been open for this certification since before the scoping was put on the table).
This certification is an attempt to change MVP’s water crossing methodology from open trenching to conventional boring to circumvent a ruling from the 4th Circuit Court that they cannot trench. Yet, in their renewed certification request, MVP wants to retain the ability to switch between the two methods when they hit problem areas — without oversight or notice. Keep in mind that much of this landscape is fragile karst topography (meaning the ground is filled with underwater rivers and caves) and that any boring will disrupt this ecosystem and could have detrimental impacts.
There are a few glaring problems with this docket — aside from the significant harm to the environment, public health, and sacred sites continuing construction would cause.
Namely, the comment period is far too short for any meaningful engagement with the public to occur. Additionally, MVP has already paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for previous violations. How can we in good faith grant more permits when we know that MVP will continue to violate them? And finally, granting this certification is vastly out of touch with the direction that federal and Virginia state goals are headed toward fossil fuel-free energy.
I imagine by now you’re pretty fired up and want to do something about it. There are a few ways to make your voice heard. You can start by signing this petition to join hundreds of other climate-concerned folks. Second, if you have more time to spare, you can draft an individual comment to post to the docket. Here is a step by step guide on navigating the website along with the submission link and tips for framing your comment.
It may seem like you’re getting the runaround with these open comment periods for different regulatory bodies. You’re not wrong. FERC has not proven itself willing to respond to issues brought up by the public. Far too often, they have rubber stamped projects like the MVP.
We cannot be discouraged. Submitting public comments is a vital part of the process, primarily for giving grounds to our legal teams if it comes to trial. So while we should engage in this process, we should not be so blind as to believe that comments alone will bring about change. And, there is always the chance that the new commission will act in the interest of the public, more so now than ever before.
Nonetheless, we must continue to think creatively and use every tool in our belts to stop this pipeline. For that reason, I also urge you to join us as we walk the Southgate route on May 2nd to reach communities who will be impacted by the extension project. We will be distributing vital information to those who lack internet access. We cannot trust that MVP or its regulating bodies will do this outreach, so we will take it upon ourselves to educate our fellow community members and gain more allies in this fight.
I hope you submit a comment or sign the petition and we’ll see you in May!