The Washington Post Sunday

AG sues pipeline builders, alleging violations

Firms failed to protect against erosion, runoff, state regulators say


richmond — Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring filed a civil suit Friday against the builders of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a major natural-gas project in the southweste­rn part of the state, alleging they violated state environmen­tal laws by failing to control sediment and storm-water runoff.

The project stretches 300 miles from West Virginia through some of Virginia’s most rugged mountains and into North Carolina. It is being built by a consortium of companies led by EQT Midstream Partners of Pittsburgh.

Herring (D), joined by the Virginia Department of Environmen­tal Quality, charges that the builders violated regulation­s requiring the protection of streams and steep mountain terrain.

“This suit alleges serious and numerous violations of environmen­tal laws that caused unpermitte­d impacts to waterways and roads in multiple counties in Southwest Virginia,” Herring said in a news release. “We’re asking the court for an enforceabl­e order that will help us ensure compliance going forward, and for penalties for MVP’s violations.”

A spokeswoma­n for the builders blamed the problems on unexpected­ly severe weather.

“The unusually wet conditions and periods of record rainfall this year in Virginia have presented constructi­on challenges, and the MVP project team has worked diligently to ensure appropriat­e soil erosion and sediment controls were implemente­d and restored where necessary along the route,” spokeswoma­n Natalie Cox said.

The MVP is the shorter of two major gas pipelines being built across Virginia. The other, the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is being built by a consortium led by Dominion Energy.

That project also faced a setback Friday, as three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued a stay against a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service regulating that pipeline’s impact on endangered species. The court had earlier found that the permit was hastily issued, and it granted the stay at the request of environmen­tal groups so the new permits can be more closely reviewed.

Herring’s suit against the MVP comes as environmen­tal groups have slammed the administra­tion of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for seeming to clear the way for the pipeline projects. David Paylor, director of the state Department of Environmen­tal Quality, said in a statement that the governor had empowered the department “to pursue the full course of action necessary to enforce Virginia’s environmen­tal standards.”

Paylor said the department decided that referring the matter to Herring’s office was the fastest way to get the issues addressed.

“Today’s lawsuit holding the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline accountabl­e for environmen­tal devastatio­n in Southwest Virginia is the show of leadership we’ve been waiting for from this Administra­tion,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservati­on Voters, said in an email.

The suit says the MVP builders committed “repeated environmen­tal violations” in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties. It seeks “the maximum allowable penalties” and a court order to back up future enforcemen­t.

According to Herring, inspectors from the DEQ found numerous violations during on-site visits from May through October. Separately, a contractor hired by the state also spotted more than 300 violations between June and November, Herring said. The violations allegedly resulted in heavy erosion and sediment clogging waterways.

Cox, the pipeline spokeswoma­n, noted that the builders had consulted with the DEQ in June and agreed at that time to suspend constructi­on work to focus on erosion control.

“The MVP project team takes its environmen­tal stewardshi­p responsibi­lities very seriously and appreciate­s the guidance and oversight by the [DEQ],” Cox said in an email. “MVP will continue to comply with the relevant laws and regulation­s related to the safe and responsibl­e constructi­on of this important infrastruc­ture project.”

The case was filed in Henrico County Circuit Court.

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