Court Finds North Carolina’s Denial of Mountain Valley Pipeline Permit Consistent with Clean Water Act
Court affirms agency’s authority, but sends decision back for more information
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality complied with the Clean Water Act and state water quality laws in denying water quality certification to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC for construction of its Southgate Project natural gas pipeline. The court did, however, vacate the decision and send it back to DEQ so that the agency can provide more explanation for its denial. The Southern Environmental Law Center joined the lawsuit on behalf of Haw River Assembly to defend DEQ’s decision.
“We are pleased that the court affirmed the department’s ability to protect North Carolina’s rivers and streams from needless harm,” said Jean Zhuang, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The only task remaining is for the state to explain its decision more fully and again deny certification for this unnecessary, destructive pipeline.”
If built, the Southgate pipeline would cut through 50 miles of rural North Carolina, trenching through hundreds of streams and wetlands and polluting the Haw River and its tributaries.
“This pipeline poses serious risks to water quality throughout the Haw River watershed, with no benefits to the public,” said Emily Sutton, the Haw Riverkeeper. “In denying the certification, the department prioritized the health of our communities and our rivers and streams over an unnecessary fossil fuel project. We are glad that the court found the agency has the authority to do so, and we look forward to the department continuing to protect our waters by again denying the pipeline’s certification.”
The 75-mile gas pipeline is proposed as an extension to transport gas from the incomplete “Mainline” Mountain Valley Pipeline from Virginia into central North Carolina. The Mainline is more than three years behind schedule and has nearly doubled its original budget. The company’s attempts to rush the approval process led to vacated federal permits, and its rushed construction has led to more than 300 water quality violations and millions of dollars in penalties in West Virginia and Virginia. With legal uncertainties clouding the future of the mainline, DEQ refused to allow the Southgate pipeline to plow through North Carolina’s rivers, streams, and wetlands.
Regionally, renewable energy sources are becoming more affordable and abundant, while the health and environmental consequences of natural gas drilling and transport become ever more evident. SELC supports a transition to cleaner fuels, and an end to new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure.
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org