For nearly a decade, Big Oil has been trying to run a natural gas pipeline 300 miles across Virginia and West Virginia, cutting through the Jefferson National Forest and crossing hundreds of waterways and wetlands. The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) will have devastating consequences not only for the environment, but also for the many communities along its path whose health will be jeopardized by air and water pollution. Here’s what you need to know.
The MVP project, like its well-known brother the Keystone XL Pipeline, has faced a slew of legal challenges from local communities and concerned activists. Despite local protests however, Congress’s deal to raise the Debt Ceiling forced the project through, even adding on provisions shielding the project from further legal challenges.
Activists briefly took heart from a mid-July 2023 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that halted construction on the pipeline while lower courts reviewed environmental groups’ challenge to that approval. The Supreme Court was asked to vacate (i.e. invalidate) the Fourth Circuit’s stay, and today it announced its decision – unfortunately, lifting the stay and allowing the pipeline to move forward.
Congress’s passage and the Supreme Court’s confirmation of MVP represents a failure to protect our climate, communities, and environment.
Functioning as planned, the experts expect that MVP will emit over 89 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution annually (PDF), roughly equivalent to the yearly greenhouse gas pollution from 24 average U.S. coal plants or 19 million passenger cars. The pipeline would cut across almost 1,146 streams, creeks, rivers, and wetlands, transporting over 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas each day over steep terrain especially susceptible to landslides and pipeline explosions. Building it requires destroying 4,856 acres of forests across Virginia and West Virginia – forests we rely on for carbon sequestration as well as wildlife habitat, recreation, and other critical ecosystem services.
And like all pipelines, it’s prone to accidents. Even incomplete, since the start of the project, there have been nearly 1,500 reported pollution incidents affecting rivers, streams, and possibly drinking water.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline also continues the trend of extractive industries pushing the brunt of environmental and health burdens onto the most vulnerable populations. The pipeline turns the Native American and Black communities it passes through into “sacrifice zones,” communities that, due to systemic racism and discrimination, already disproportionately face health problems that will only be exacerbated by the pipeline.
For example, the proposed Lambert Compressor Station in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which was designed to support the Southgate extension of the MVP, would spew hazardous fine particulate matter into the air of a predominantly Black community that has already been exposed to polluted air from two existing gas-fired compressor stations.
Communities living near the pipeline and its compressor stations are at risk of exposure to toxic air pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde, which can cause respiratory problems, cancer, and other issues.The expedited approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline represents a failure to protect environmental justice communities who have carried the weight of damages caused by fossil fuels and other polluting industries for far too long.
Not only is the Mountain Valley Pipeline a step backwards on our climate goals, it also continues the horrible cycle of environmental racism, and is representative of the undue influence of fossil fuels interests in government.
Unfortunately, on MVP, there’s not a lot we can do directly. We’d hoped the courts or Congress would take action to protect frontline communities and our environment, but they’ve failed to do so.
But what we can do is make MVP even more unneeded and a worse business proposition. By pushing the Biden administration to finalize strong climate pollution standards for gas and coal-fired power plants, we can reduce demand for fracked gas pumped through the pipeline. Without demand, companies may think twice about pipelines like MVP and others like it.