Biden Administration Clears Mountain Valley Pipeline for Progress Through Jefferson National Forest

(P&GJ) — The Biden administration gave the go-ahead for the West Virginia to Virginia natural gas pipeline project’s use of federal forest property, an essential step in allowing it to resume construction.

The Department of Agriculture's Forest Service issued a record of decision Monday afternoon, allowing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project to cut through a 3.5-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest (JNF) along the West Virginia-Virginia border. The determination clears the way for the project — which is 94% complete but has been mired in a lengthy permitting process for years — to finish construction.

The roughly 304-mile pipeline would allow it to deliver around 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from West Virginia to customers in the Mid- and South Atlantic.

According to a quote by Agriculture Under Secretary Homer Wilkes, as reported by Yahoo!News, the proposed action would involve amending the JNF Forest Plan to permit the MVP to cross the JNF. The Forest Service would also concur in the decision made by the Bureau of Land Management to grant a right of way permit and a temporary use permit under the Mineral Leasing Act."

While the decision permits the 3.5-mile stretch of the pipeline through the JNF to be built by Pennsylvania-based natural gas transmission company Equitrans Midstream, MVP developer, the Forest Service is requiring it to obtain any pending federal and state permits before starting on construction.

The Bureau of Land Management's record of decision and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval are still pending for the project. Additionally, a permit provided by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection was invalidated by a federal court in April, and the latest permitting decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in favor of the project is currently being challenged in federal court.

The Forest Service's decision on Monday, however, comes after the agency's two prior approvals for the pipeline to pass through the JNF were, in 2018 and 2022, respectively, overturned by a federal judge. Environmentalists have vehemently opposed the proposal, claiming it will devastate fragile ecosystems and land.

The endorsement also comes in the midst of Sen. Joe Manchin's, D-West Virginia, frequent criticism of the Biden administration's energy and environmental policies. Manchin has been a staunch supporter of the project, stating that it will provide up to $250 million in royalties for West Virginia landowners, 2,500 construction jobs, and $40 million in new tax income for his home state of West Virginia. It would also generate $10 million in additional tax revenue for Virginia.

Following the approval by the U.S. Forest Service for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to pass through Jefferson National Forest, Senator Manchin issued this statement:

"The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a crucial piece of energy infrastructure that will help balance global supply and demand while strengthening our energy and national security. The Forest Service has now reviewed and signed-off on this project three separate times, which should provide confidence for everyone, including the courts, that the review has been exceptionally thorough. While I’m pleased with the announcement from the Forest Service, the job isn’t done yet, and I will keep pushing the Administration and all involved to finally complete the last 20 miles of this vital pipeline."

Last month, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's members saying that the project will increase Americans' access to reliable electricity.

The pipeline is planned to start operating in the second half of 2023, Equitrans stated in a previous year's announcement. The project must be finished by 2026, federal officials told Yahoo!News.

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