\r\n<h1>A federal agency issued its final environmental statement (EIS) on June 23 for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project.<\/h1>\r\nThe release marked a major milestone, setting the stage for a decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about whether the controversial $3.5 billion pipeline project can move forward. FERC still must determine whether to issue a final certificate.\r\n\r\nThe final EIS assessed the potential environmental effects of the construction and operation of the MVP in accordance with requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, including forests, wildlife habitats, scenic views, air quality and safety.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe FERC staff concluded that construction and operation of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts. In the case of the clearing of forest, effects may be long-term and significant. However, for most other environmental resources, effects should be temporary or short-term, and impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of the applicants\u2019 proposed mitigation measures and the additional measures recommended in the final EIS,\u201d the report said.\r\n\r\nThe commission concluded that the developers were taking appropriate precautions to control erosion and sediment, with additional plans that would help mitigate the effects of the project on sensitive terrain, including karst topography characterized by sinkholes and caves.\r\n\r\nFERC\u2019s environmental statement did acknowledge that the commission had received \u201ca significant number of public comments regarding pipeline integrity and safety in areas of potential karst collapse.\u201d And it recommended that Mountain Valley adopt a remote sensing method known as LIDAR (light detection and ranging) - which uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to generate three-dimensional data about the earth\u2019s surface characteristics - to monitor the potential for cave-ins along the route.\r\n\r\nCitizen and environmental groups were quick with reactions, stating the precautions offered by Mountain Valley are not sufficient for such a large project. A coalition of groups opposed to the pipeline, including Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights, issued a statement opposing FERC\u2019s position.\r\n\r\n\u201cFERC ignores the most harmful impacts this 300-mile-long pipeline for fracked gas would have on lives, communities, drinking water supplies, private property, local economies, and publicly owned natural resources,\u201d calling these risks \u201cunacceptable, especially for a pipeline that is not even needed,\u201d the groups stated.\r\n\r\nBen Luckett, a senior attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, in a statement to the press, said that the mitigation strategies in the environmental report won\u2019t be sufficient for the project\u2019s scope and challenging terrain.\r\n\r\n\u201cA pipeline of this size has never been constructed through this type of terrain. By granting a certificate, FERC would basically be authorizing a massive experiment, with the land and people of West Virginia and southwest Virginia acting as the lab rats. This is unacceptable,\u201d Luckett said.\r\n\r\nNatalie Cox, a spokeswoman for MVP, responded to criticisms of the pipeline project in an email to the Roanoke Times.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is unfortunate, although not surprising, that steadfast opponents of the MVP project would reflexively dismiss findings that do not align with their view,\u201d Cox said. \u201cFor almost three years, we have worked with residents and landowners in our Virginia and West Virginia communities to make sure the Mountain Valley Pipeline is being designed, and will be constructed, safely and responsibly, and that we are doing so in a way that has minimal impacts on their land and their daily lives.\u201d\r\n\r\nWatchdogs, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, monitoring both the Mountain Valley Pipeline\u00a0 and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline projects, have long argued that FERC ought to have conducted an over-arching analysis of how many new pipelines out of the Appalachian basin are truly necessary to meet demand. Critics have also noted that shippers of natural gas on the two pipelines include companies that are affiliates of the partners building the projects, a situation they say does not accurately reflect demand by end users, according to the Roanoke Times report.\r\n\r\nLuckett said FERC\u2019s analysis fails to establish demand for the gas flowing through the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and \u201cdoes not support that with any market study or other empirical evidence.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe commission could act on the Mountain Valley certificate as soon as it has a quorum, however, FERC currently has only two commissioners and lacks a quorum to issue such a certificate after the resignation in February of FERC chairman Norman Bay. But that could change in the weeks ahead if the U.S. Senate confirms, as is expected, two men nominated for the commission by President Donald Trump.\r\n\r\nWhen he resigned, Bay suggested the commission consider taking a comprehensive look at demand to avoid overbuilding of pipelines out of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.\r\n\r\nBay\u2019s parting statement also cited \u201cone hot-button reality\u201d driving increased public opposition to major interstate pipeline projects: when FERC approves pipelines, companies have access to federal eminent domain to acquire easements across private property. Bay noted that private property advocates have alleged that land is being taken by for-profit companies for projects that do not serve a public need.\r\n\r\nFERC is obligated to establish that an interstate pipeline meets a test of \u201cpublic convenience and necessity,\u201d stated Carolyn Reilly, who works with Bold Alliance, an anti-pipeline group in Virginia.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Mountain Valley Pipeline company expects to invoke the power of eminent domain for their private gain based on FERC\u2019s permit, yet FERC is failing to perform the assessment of \u2018convenience and necessity\u2019 it is mandated to do,\u201d said Reilly. \u201cFERC is enabling the company\u2019s abuse of landowners as if they are just another commodity to be traded.\u201d\r\n\r\nFERC\u2019s final environmental impact statement asserts that easements for pipelines do not significantly reduce property values. Yet there have been reports in the region that suggest otherwise. Property owners and realtors along the routes of both pipelines have cited evidence of impacts on the value and salability of properties that could be on the route.\r\n\r\nFERC responded, \u201cWe are unaware of an example where an insurance company considered the presence of a pipeline when underwriting homeowner policies.\u201d\r\n\r\nAs an interstate pipeline, the Mountain Valley project needs FERC\u2019s approval before construction can begin. The pipeline developers have been seeking approval since 2014, and include EQT Midstream Partners, NextEra, Con Edison Transmission, WGL Midstream, and RGC Midstream.\r\n\r\nFERC\u2019s release of the final environmental impact statement triggers a 90-day federal authorization decision deadline that, theoretically at least, sets a deadline for other cooperating federal agencies involved in reviewing the project - including the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - to decide whether to issue permits necessary for the work to proceed.\r\n\r\nThe document cited at least 26 actions or measures that should be taken \u201cprior to construction.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe pipeline can still be blocked on multiple federal, state, and legal levels, pipeline opponents state, and there are other long-lasting legal options and challenges within the framework of the National Environmental Policy Act for the project if FERC approves it.\r\n\r\nSome pipeline opponents also have participated in training for non-violent acts of civil disobedience that could attempt to thwart pipeline construction.\r\n\r\nCox said \u201cthe MVP project team and their contractors will have security personnel available, in conjunction with law enforcement, to manage any potential protest-related activity that may occur onsite during construction.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cThe MVP project team anticipates working in several areas simultaneously as sections of the route achieve full clear-to-build status,\u201d Cox said. \u201cIt is possible that construction could occur in both West Virginia and Virginia at the same time.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe pipeline would extend new 42-inch natural gas pipeline over 303.5 miles through 11 counties in West Virginia and six in Virginia. It will terminate at the Transco pipeline near Chatham. The project also involves three new compressor stations. The pipeline construction will require 2\u00bd years and construction will occur in segments.