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Biden Admin Says Mountain Valley Pipeline Can Run Through National Forest

The Jefferson National Forest is home to threatened species, waterways and old-growth forest.

TThree members of POWHR, left to right, Robinallen Austin, Grace Terry and Mary Beth Coffey, walk next to sections of steel pipe of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on August 31, 2022, in Bent Mountain, Virginia.

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday gave a green light for the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline to run through the Jefferson National Forest, a decision that sparked outcry from conservationists who say the Biden administration is ignoring the fracked gas project’s potentially devastating impacts on the environment and wildlife.

The Forest Service’s new Record of Decision (ROD) approves construction of the long-delayed pipeline across a 3.5-mile corridor of the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County, West Virginia and Giles and Montgomery Counties, Virginia.

“I can see the Jefferson National Forest from my kitchen window,” said Russell Chisholm, managing director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) coalition. “This land is precious to me. It is home. The Biden administration is trying to destroy my home with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite the national forest’s protected status.”

“This unfinished, unnecessary pipeline project has accrued hundreds of violations,” Chisholm added. “The Biden administration’s next move must be to stop the MVP. On June 8th, we’ll be on his front doorstep demanding he do so.”

Monday’s decision marks the third time the Forest Service has tried to allow Mountain Valley Pipeline construction through the Jefferson National Forest, which is home to threatened species, waterways, and old-growth forest.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected the Forest Service’s 2018 and 2022 decisions granting approval for the project in the Jefferson National Forest, faulting the agency for failing to adequately consider “the actual sedimentation and erosion impacts of the pipeline,” among other possible damage.

Appalachian Voices, one of the groups that sued over the previous authorizations, said Monday that the Forest Service’s new decision “ignores outstanding concerns about the proposed changes to standards for soil health, old-growth forest, forest edge, species competition, and scenic viewshed standards will bring significant harmful impacts to biodiversity and lands held in the public trust.”

“The Forest Service’s preferred alternative to allow MVP to rip through the Jefferson National Forest grossly underestimates the lasting environmental harms from the project, ignores the overwhelming public opposition to sacrificing this treasured land, and shirks the agency’s responsibility to steward forests,” said Jessica Sims, the Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “We maintain that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built through the Jefferson National Forest without lasting damage to sensitive forests, habitats, and waters.”

“Amending a forest plan 11 times to accommodate a ruinous project on treasured federal land,” Sims added, “is unacceptable.”

Developers of the multibillion-dollar Mountain Valley Pipeline still must obtain other federal approvals to finish the project, which is a top priority of fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

“The Forest Service said it approved amendments to its Land and Resource Management Plan to allow the massive buried pipeline,” The Roanoke Times reported Monday. “But work in the national forest, which will include boring a tunnel under the Appalachian Trail at the top of Peters Mountain, cannot start until Mountain Valley has other permits in hand.”

If completed, the pipeline would generate tens of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year, the equivalent of roughly two dozen coal-fired power plants.

The Forest Service’s latest decision comes weeks after U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm reiterated the Biden administration’s support for the Mountain Valley Pipeline in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), drawing outraged responses from environmentalists who say the White House is violating its pledge to treat the climate crisis as an existential threat.

Jill Gottesman, Southern Appalachian Landscape director for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement Monday that “the Forest Service has bent to the will of the oil and gas industry, and is placing fossil fuel profits above our environment and public safety.”

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline will tear a hole in Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water, and sacrifice communities across Appalachia in its wake,” said Gottesman. “We have no choice but to take this battle back to the court.”

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