Senate Proposed Bill Would Clamp Down Pipeline Approval Process
Following a contentious Senate deal over the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Senators Kaine and Warner reintroduced the Fairness, Transparency and Responsible Pipeline Development Act. Reports by Randi B. Hagi of the WMRA.
Last Thursday, Kaine and Warner proposed a bill to give local communities and landowners more information about natural gas, also known as fracked pipelines. Specifically, it cracks down on how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissionor FERC [ferck]deals with approving interstate pipeline projects.
MARK WARNER: One of the things we found with the Mountain Valley Pipeline process was that the ability to have public comment was, I think, FERC kind of mishandled some of that .
Senator Mark Warner spoke about the legislation at a press conference on Wednesday. The bill was first introduced in 2020but died unelected.
WARNER: So what Tim Kaine and I did was we introduced a bill – not sure if it’s going to be enacted – that would say we need to be clear about public input, number one. Second, with respect to Mountain Valley, I know there has been a lot of discussion about licensing reform and some of the deals that may have been made between Senator Manchin and Senator Schumer that included Mountain Valley. I haven’t seen any details on that, so I’m not going to comment on that at this point.
Warner refers to deal that saw West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin return with Democrats’ landmark climate change bill in August. According to a document from Manchin’s office published by ProPublica, the agreement includes a variety of changes to how the federal government oversees permits for new energy projects – and very simply states, “Complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”
Based on a progress map that the Mountain Valley Pipeline – or MVP – website last updated in December, the majority of the work to be completed is on the Virginia side of the road through southwestern Virginia.
Residents throughout the Appalachian region who have been impacted by MVP and other pipelines rallied in Washington, D.C. on September 8 against what they call “the dirty market of Manchin”.
Environmentalists and many landowners oppose MVP’s use of eminent domain to grab private land. This became national news in 2018, when Theresa “Red” Terry spent weeks in a tree sitting on an area of her family’s land southwest of Roanoke that was claimed by builders.
[birdcalls, sound of the wind]
Tree guards then blocked construction near Yellow Finch Lane in Montgomery County for two and a half years, continuously occupying small platforms established five stories above the ground. A group of support volunteers have set up camp below them.
ACTIVISTS SINGING: So when you think MVP, think of us sitting in a tree, trying our best to be free. This pipeline will never…
Challenges have also come from court decisions. The 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly halted construction of the pipeline. ProPublica notes that the court ruled that the United States Forest Servicethe Army Corps of Engineers and the Land Management Office all illegally approved different parts of the project. Included in Manchin’s edict is the note that any further litigation against the pipeline would be moved out of that jurisdiction – and instead dealt with by the DC circuit.
DAVID SLIGH: He wants to push for final approval of the Mountain Valley pipeline. This is after eight years, this is after they lost federal license after federal license because they just weren’t legal, and now he basically wants to jump over all of these processes.
David Sligh is the Director of Conservation for Wild Virginia, a Charlottesville-based non-profit organization dedicated to protecting wild places. He noted that the legislation proposed by Kaine and Warner likely comes too late to affect the fate of the Mountain Valley pipeline, although if it happened, and if an ongoing legal challenge has resulted in the project being reviewed by FERC Again –
SLIGH: …so maybe some of those aspects of this bill would be helpful.
We have reviewed some of the main points of the proposed bill. On the one hand, FERC should ensure that companies provide appropriate notice to potentially affected landowners and organize public consultation meetings in each locality where a pipeline would pass.
Moreover, the builders would not be able to exercise eminent domain until the project was everything of its federal permits in order, and all of the landowners’ appeals have gone to trial.
SLIGH: You know, the idea is assumed that eminent domain is applied when it’s for the public good, and the fact is that’s not necessarily the case with these pipelines. And so that in itself should be fixed, and I think this bill attempts to do that.
For now, it remains to be seen whether Kaine and Warner’s changes to FERC will pass or even be considered by Congress, as well as exactly how Manchin will draft legislation to try to achieve his goals.