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North Carolina Legislators Urge Feds to Block Triad Pipeline

More than 50 democratic state assembly members want federal regulators to stop a planned natural gas pipeline over environmental concerns, particularly in poor, rural areas.

More than 50 Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly are urging federal regulators to block a planned natural gas pipeline through the Triad over concerns about its impact on the environment, particularly in poor, rural areas where residents lack the financial and political clout to push back on the $500 million project.

The legislators also question whether future demand in North Carolina justifies development of the 75-mile line that would move 375 million cubic feet of gas per day — enough to serve the equivalent of more than 2.2 million average homes — from southern Virginia, through the heart of Rockingham County and to the end of the line in Alamance County.

"Over the last five years since the proposed MVP Southgate was announced, we have increasingly heard from neighbors, residents and constituents about the real and significant concerns the (pipeline) poses to our communities," the N.C. House and Senate members tell the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in their letter dated July 21.

The MVP Southgate Extension would connect with the partially completed main Mountain Valley Pipeline, designed to move fracked natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia about 300 miles across nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands before ending in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

In a June filing with FERC, Mountain Valley requests an extension of its expiring Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the MVP Southgate. If approved, the certificate would give the company until June 2026 to complete the pipeline.

The main pipeline project has been hit with dozens of water-quality violations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in related fines. Opponents insist there's no reason to expect anything different in North Carolina.

From Guilford County, signers of the FERC letter were Reps. Cecil Brockman, Amos Quick and Pricey Harrison; and Sens. Michael Garrett and Gladys Robinson.

Rep. Ashton Wheeler was the only Guilford Democrat not to add her name.

In Forsyth County, Rep. Kanika Brown signed on while Rep. Amber Baker and Sen. Paul Lowe did not.

'From Nowhere to Nowhere'

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality rejected water-quality permits for the Southgate project in August 2020, suggesting that doing so would be premature until completion of the $6.6 million main Mountain Pipeline was ensured.

"In essence, it would be a pipeline from nowhere to nowhere incapable of carrying any natural gas, and certainly not able to fulfill its basic project purpose, while having no practical alternative," NCDEQ said in explaining its permit denial.

Early this month, the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals prevented Mountain Valley from resuming work on its main line in response to a legal challenge of legislation tied to a deal between President Joe Biden and Republicans to raise the federal debt ceiling.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act included a measure requiring fast-tracked approvals for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, whose completion has been held up by regulatory hurdles and legal challenges.

Proponents hoped the legislation would remove the last major hurdle for the stalled project while raising prospects for the Southgate Extension.

But the Wilderness Society, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, argued that the provision violated the separation of powers provision in the U.S. Constitution by declaring that "no court shall have jurisdiction to review any action" related to the pipeline and if anyone took issue with the new law, it had to go directly to U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, preventing work on the pipeline until the court issues a ruling expected to be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, whatever the outcome.

'Environmental Injustice'

In addition to Mountain Valley's lack of a North Carolina water-quality permit for the extension, the 52 Democratic state legislators note that the company has not obtained an air-quality permit for a Virginia compressor station that would pump gas through the pipeline.

"The proposed (MVP Southgate) and associated Lambert Compressor Station are examples of environmental injustice, as their negative impacts would disproportionately affect largely poor, rural areas on the border of Virginia and North Carolina," the letter says.

In 2021, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board rejected a permit for the proposed compressor station because it "did not meet the fair treatment and site suitability requirements of federal and state law."

The North Carolina lawmakers also cited an analysis last month by an energy consulting firm projecting that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run at half of capacity when completed.

Democrats and critics of the projects insist that new fossil fuel transmission lines will simply become costly "stranded assets" — paid for by utility customers — as North Carolina moves away from the use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change and transitions to renewable energy including solar and wind power.

North Carolina Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have argued that relying solely on the existing Transco Pipeline — which also slices through the heart of the Triad — as a primary natural gas supply puts the state's energy production at risk.

"Completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline will help bring a second interstate natural gas pipeline to North Carolina," N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County said in an email to the Journal when asked about the project last year.

Transco has been among the opponents of the MVP Southgate Extension.

Company spokesman Shawn Day said Mountain Valley has "no update or estimate" on when work on the extension into North Carolina will begin or when the pipeline could be operational.

" Mountain Valley remains committed to the MVP Southgate project and continues to evaluate its options to help meet strong residential and business demand for affordable, reliable natural gas," Day wrote in an email.

(c)2023 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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