Appeals court again blocks construction on Mountain Valley Pipeline
Jul 11, 2023, 7:54 AM | Updated: 8:02 am
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court has again blocked construction on a segment of a contentious natural gas pipeline being built through Virginia and West Virginia, this time doing so even after Congress ordered the project’s approval.
The stay issued Monday by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond comes after Congress passed legislation last month requiring all necessary permits be issued for construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The law also stripped the 4th Circuit from jurisdiction over the case.
Environmentalists, though, argued that Congress overstepped its authority by enacting the law, saying it violates the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution.
“Congress cannot pick winners and losers in pending litigation by compelling findings or results without supplying new substantive law for the courts to apply,” lawyers for the environmentalists wrote in court papers.
The law was passed last month as part of a bipartisan bill to raise the debt ceiling. The provision that deals exclusively with the Mountain Valley Pipeline was included after negotiators failed to reach an agreement on broader regulatory reform.
The White House supported putting the provision in the debt ceiling bill — over the objections of environmentalists and some Democrats — as a concession to Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and pipeline supporter who was a key vote for last year’s sweeping legislation that included deep investments in climate programs.
The stay issued Monday focuses on a 3-mile section of pipeline that cuts through the Jefferson National Forest. Environmentalists say the construction plan will cause erosion that will ruin soil and water quality.
The Fourth Circuit has blocked construction of the pipeline on multiple occasions over the years.
In court papers, lawyers for the pipeline say Congress is within its rights to strip the court from jurisdiction over the case. They also say that any debate over the law’s constitutionality should be heard not by the 4th Circuit but by an appellate court in Washington, because the law passed by Congress last month spells out that precise scenario.
The stay includes no explanation of the court’s rationale. It remains in place only until the court issues a full ruling on the merits of the case.