Court Halts Key Permits for Mountain Valley Pipeline
The project, which would carry fracked natural gas through around 300 miles of Virginia and West Virginia, was given a go-ahead in October by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to restart construction along most of its route following years of legal challenges. The pipeline has already racked up at least 350 environmental regulations and $2.26 million in fines. The environmental groups behind the suit noted that the pipeline operators had told investors they wanted to blast through "critical" streams "as quickly as possible before anything is challenged," the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) reported in a press release emailed to EcoWatch.
"Communities along the pipeline route have been on edge these past several weeks as the company has moved in heavy equipment and started doing work, so we're very glad the court pressed pause on this permit while the water-crossing issues are reviewed further," Peter Anderson, Virginia program manager at Appalachian Voices, said in the press release.
CBD and Appalachian Voices are two of the groups behind the lawsuit, along with Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Wild Virginia. The coalition was represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
The stay is part of a larger challenge brought by the groups to permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in September that would allow the pipeline to cross around 1,000 streams, rivers, wetlands and other waterways. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the first two Army Corps permits in 2018, and pipeline opponents hope it will reject the second pair as well.
The court issued an emergency stay of the permits Oct. 16. Monday's stay will last until the court can make a definitive ruling on the new permits. The environmental groups argue that the new permits violate the Army Corps' responsibility to protect endangered species, Bloomberg Law reported.
"This decision will help ensure the pipeline doesn't keep posing catastrophic threats to waterways that people and imperiled species depend on to survive," CBD senior attorney Jared Margolis said in the press release. "Despite the project's clear failure to comply with the law, Mountain Valley keeps pushing this climate-killing menace. We'll continue working to ensure this destructive pipeline doesn't poison waters and threaten communities along its route."
The pipeline is being built by Equitrans, NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison Inc, AltaGas Ltd and RGC Resources Inc, according to Reuters. Equitrans spokeswoman Natalie Cox said that the stay was disappointing, but that construction would continue along other parts of the route.
"We are hopeful and expect that once the case is reviewed on the merits of the arguments there will be a different conclusion," Cox told Reuters.
However, Wild Virginia Conservation Director David Sligh said the stay was a good sign for the pipeline's opponents.
"Convincing a court to stay an agency decision requires plaintiffs to convince the judges that they have a good chance to prove their case after full review," Sligh noted in the press release. "Now, we look forward to doing just that — to show conclusively that the Corps of Engineers abdicated its duty to protect us and our resources."
Reuters noted that the Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of several fossil fuel pipelines that has been granted approval by the Trump administration only to run into delays as environmental and community groups bring legal challenges. When construction on the pipeline began in Feb. 2018, Equitrans estimated it would cost around $3.5 billion and be completed by the end of the year. The price tag has now nearly doubled to as much as $6 billion.
Another pipeline in the same region, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was canceled by its owners in July following similar opposition and delays.
"The MVP has already doubled its timeline and budget, and it's not even close to being finished," Joan Walker, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign, said in the press release. "If they were smart, they would quit throwing good money after bad and walk away from this fracked gas disaster like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy did with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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