Sen. Manchin Accuses Court of ‘Unlawful’ Conduct by Blocking Pipeline Construction in West Virginia

Sen. Manchin Accuses Court of ‘Unlawful’ Conduct by Blocking Pipeline Construction in West Virginia
Construction crews work on a tunnel through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline will pass in Roanoke County, Va., on June 22, 2018. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP)
Tom Ozimek

A natural gas pipeline being built in West Virginia has been blocked once again by a federal appeals court siding with environmental groups despite Congress giving the project a green light, drawing the ire of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who accused the court of unlawful conduct.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of construction on July 10 while it evaluates the legality of permit approvals for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

The court’s order stops construction on any part of the 304-mile pipeline route, which runs from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

The stay includes no explanation of the rationale behind the court’s decision, which remains in effect until a full ruling is made on the merits of the case.

The construction authorizations for the interstate natural gas pipeline were granted by Congress as part of the debt-ceiling deal, which also stripped the 4th Circuit from jurisdiction over the case.

Environmental groups sued, however, arguing that Congress overstepped its authority and violated the constitutional separation of powers by including the pipeline approvals in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.

Permit Controversy

The groups alleged violations of multiple environmental laws in connection with defective approvals for the pipeline by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Their lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of Section 324 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which a group of Virginia House Democrats unsuccessfully sought to strip from the final version of the bill.

“This provision is a free pass for the pipeline and sidesteps our nation’s environmental laws and judicial review processes,” the lawmakers said at the time.

The White House supported the provision as a concession to Mr. Manchin, an ardent backer of the pipeline.

Mr. Manchin issued a critical statement on Monday night’s court decision, saying that Americans should be alarmed.

“The law passed by Congress & signed by POTUS is clear - the 4th Circuit no longer has jurisdiction over MVP’s construction permits,” Mr. Manchin said in the statement. “This new order halting construction is unlawful, & regardless of your position on MVP, it should alarm every American when a court ignores the law.”

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals did not immediately return a request for comment on Mr. Manchin’s allegations that it acted unlawfully in issuing the stay.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on Ukraine at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 2, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on Ukraine at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 2, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Equitrans Midstream Corporation, the company that is set to construct the pipeline as part of a joint venture with other partners, issued a statement that accused the court of exceeding its authority.

“We are disappointed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s remarkable decision to grant a one-sentence stay halting all construction in the Jefferson National Forest with no explanation,” the company wrote in the statement.

Not only does the court decision defy the will of Congress and the administration, but the court also “exceeded its authority, as Congress expressly and plainly removed its jurisdiction,” the company wrote.

Equitrans said it is evaluating all its legal options, including potentially filing an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unless the stay is reversed quickly, the company’s ability to complete construction by the end of 2023 will be jeopardized, it said.

More Details

The coalition of environmental groups who sued included The Wilderness Society, whose representative told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that the stay on construction is a welcome development as the court considers the merits of the case.

“Time and time again, Mountain Valley has tried to force its dangerous pipeline through the Jefferson National Forest, devastating communities in its wake and racking up violations,” said Ben Tettlebaum, director and senior staff attorney at The Wilderness Society.

“We’re grateful that the Court has given those communities a measure of reprieve by hitting the brakes on construction across our public lands, sparing them from further irreversible damage while this important case proceeds,” he added.

The groups who sued to block the pipeline said that letting Congress decide on the permit approvals would set a dangerous precedent and encourage other fossil-fuel projects to seek future congressional approval.

“Congress’s unprecedented end run around the courts attempted to forgo proper checks and balances and declare the sinking ship that is the MVP a winner. This, as we know, was wrong from the start,” according to Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, whose lawyers were among those to file the motion to stay.

Construction of the pipeline began in 2018 but it has moved forward in fits and starts since then.

The federal appeals court has already twice rejected prior authorizations for the pipeline project, finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s prior permitting approvals failed to adequately analyze the project’s environmental impact.

Monday’s decision came a mere hours after lawyers for the coalition of energy companies building the natural gas pipeline argued in court documents that the legal challenge to the construction should be dismissed.

“The Court’s decision defies the will and clear intent of a bipartisan Congress and this Administration in passing legislation to expedite completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which was deemed to be in the national interest,” Equitrans said in a statement.

Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
Related Topics