MVP construction vehicles
Construction vehicles for the Mountain Valley Pipeline sit near Highway 219 in Monroe County. Photo by Allen Siegler.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Friday, granting the project developer’s motion to dismiss pending lawsuits against the controversial, $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline.

The motion was filed after Congress passed a debt ceiling bill that included a provision to fast-track the remaining approvals needed to complete the pipeline and stripped the court’s power to review permits given to the project by federal departments. 

Backers of the pipeline argued that the 4th Circuit no longer had jurisdiction over legal challenges against the project because Congress stripped its authority, which the court determined in their ruling Friday. 

Many along the pipeline’s 303-mile path fear it may contaminate rural streams and cause erosion and landslides. Past lawsuits over potential impacts on water, endangered species and public forests have exposed flaws in the project’s permit applications and have delayed its completion. But that may no longer be the case as no court has jurisdiction over the project. 

Judge James Wynn wrote the opinion for the court, concluding that Congress did eliminate the court’s authority over any legal challenge to the pipeline and, therefore, dismissed the lawsuits, all filed by environmental groups arguing the pipeline’s plan doesn’t follow federal environmental law. 

And in an unusual move, the other two members of the 4th Circuit panel hearing the case – judges Roger Gregory and Stephanie Thacker – both wrote separate opinions, concurring with Wynn. Both expressed frustration that Congress had tied their hands. 

Thacker wrote that “Congress’s use of its authority in this manner threatens to disturb the balance of power between co-equal branches of government.” 

Gregory called the legislation “a blueprint for the construction of a natural gas pipeline by legislative fiat.”

“I fear Congress has employed this Court’s constitutionally directed deference to legislative prerogatives to undermine the Constitution and, in the process, it has made the Court an accessory to its deeds,” Gregory wrote.

Construction on the pipeline resumed at the end of July when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay issued by the 4th Circuit as it considered this motion. 

While action by Congress severely limits possible legal recourse, environmental groups could still take their argument that the legislation paving the way for the pipeline is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers doctrine to the D.C. Circuit Court.

In his concurring opinion, Gregory foreshadowed continued litigation, and wondered if the legislation “is a harbinger of erosion not just to the environment, but to our republic. That, only our Supreme Court can decide.”

Sarah Elbeshbishi is Mountain State Spotlight's Environment and Energy Reporter.