The public comment period on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline ends December 22. Supporters and opponents are weighing in on the prospect of a 300-mile pipe carrying natural gas through Virginia. But environmental groups are refusing even to comment on the government’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, released in September. They say it’s riddled with errors that misrepresent the effects of the pipeline.
Andrew Downs is Regional Director of Central and Southwest Virginia Appalachian Trail Conservancy. He says FERC's report is flawed, beginning with the front page.
“They put a picture of the Appalachian Trail on the cover of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement at a place where there’s going to be significant impact to the trail," Downs says. "And then inside the document, said that there wouldn’t be.”
In July, Downs led a group of FERC officials and consultants on a hike near Simms’s Gap in Pearisburg to show them exactly where the pipeline would cross the trail and how it would affect the view in that large open area.
“There were hikers camping, it’s a gorgeous camp spot. And we sat there, we talked about the pipeline as it will be visible from this location," Downs says. "They obviously took pictures like the one on the report’s cover and that was just one of these 19 locations that would be compromised by the pipeline that we’ve identified."
Downs adds, there was much more than just these errors of omission.
“They didn’t even have the correct center line for the AT," Downs says -- referencing the actual trail hikers walk. "So their fundamental baseline data is incorrect. And this is something any high school or college student could pull off the web.”
Until now the Appalachian Trail Conservancy had not formally opposed the pipeline. But Downs calls these omissions in the impact study extremely troubling. He says the group is not opposed to the principle of a pipeline; there are several smaller pipelines up and down the AT. Their objection is to how the process of assessing its environmental impact was done.
Even though the for public comment on the Mountain Valley Pipeline project is open now and closing soon, Downs says he won’t comment on a document that is as inadequate as this.
“We don’t want to get too far down the road of commenting on the analysis because the document is devoid of substantive information to comment on," Downs says. "We want to comment on the lack of info and absence of correct process before we ever get to assessing the information."
FERC’s policy is not to comment on pending projects. In an email, spokesperson Tamara Young Allen wrote, be assured, staff would review all comments filed before the deadline later this month and that it would conduct additional research before it releases a final report.
But another environmental advocacy group, Wild Virginia, is not satisfied by the assurance. It’s calling on the Bureau of Land Management to ask FERC to go back and do a new one, or to do a new environmental impact study themselves.
David Sligh is Conservation Manager. He says the BLM has the power to veto the pipeline’s route if it chooses to.
“They have to make their own separate determinations as to whether these pipelines, in this case the Mountain Valley Pipeline can cross their land, and any conditions that would be imposed if it crossed their land," Sligh says. "So it’s very important that they have a sound basis with all the data and all the analyses to make that decision adequately and it’s just not there at this point in time.”
Sligh says he’s gotten numerous reports from landowners that their streams and rivers in the pipelines path don’t show up anywhere in FERC’s draft report.
It’s not yet known if the BLM or FERC will decide to create a new Draft Environmental Impact Study, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has just completed something of it’s own. This week it’s releasing its own report of potential impact to the trail by the pipeline.
Its conclusion? The scope of the impact is more disturbing than the conservancy previously thought.