After two full days of public hearings, Virginia’s State Water Control Board has given its stamp of approval on the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The pipeline is slated to carry natural gas, running 300 miles through southwest Virginia.
The board voted there is a reasonable assurance that the Mountain Valley Pipeline won’t pollute rivers and streams. Carolyn Reilly, who lives on a family farm in the pipeline’s path, was devastated.
“Just knowing that this reality would be happening for our family. Through two of our creeks and our children’s future,” said Reilly - holding back tears. “It just determined the fate for our family and our farm and our very lives. And we had no choice in it.”
Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has opted to let the Army Corps of Engineers review water crossings, rather than do their own analysis. They also haven’t approved plans to mitigate soil erosion yet. A couple board members did express concern about that process.
“So it just felt like there was a glimmer of possibility that they would ask for more information that they would delay, that they wanted more of a stringent review,” Reilly recalled.
Some board members appeared confused before the vote, and they took a ten minute break, making last minute tweaks to the water certificate.
The changes clarified that the board had the power to revisit the issue should the Army Corps of Engineers decide they don’t have the authority to review certain water crossings.
The board then voted 5 to 2 to approve the certificate.
Some in the crowd shouted angrily after the vote, yelling profanities and threats. A contingent of state troopers quickly ushered people out of the building.
David Sligh, a former DEQ employee now with Wild Virginia, blamed the confusion on the process.
“If (DEQ) had approached this in a combined fashion, as they should have, as is required to make the finding that they needed to make, we wouldn’t have any of this confusion,” Sligh said during an impromptu press conference after the vote. “It was irresponsible for them to go forward as they did.”
Peter Anderson is Virginia Program Manager with Appalachian Voices. He criticized the board for making a decision before hearing final plans from state regulators.
“So at the end of the day the board made this decision without the information on people’s drinking water, that they needed to have in order to make a rational decision,” Anderson added. “And we’re talking about people’s lives, in their communities, and the water they will drink out of the well in their backyard.”
A DEQ spokesman wouldn’t take questions, but said in a written statement that pipeline developers had been subjected to a rigorous regulatory process, and that DEQ would continue to hold them to the highest standards.
The pipeline still has a couple more minor regulatory hurdles. DEQ will have to approve their plans to mitigate soil erosion.
A spokeswoman for the pipeline construction company says they’re targeting for an “in-service date of late 2018,” and they expect to begin construction “as soon as possible once we receive authorization.”