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Mountain Valley Pipeline opponents ask Virginia agency to issue stop work order

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Mountain Valley Pipeline opponents ask Virginia agency to issue stop work order

Apr 02, 2024 | 7:21 pm ET
By Charlie Paullin
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Mountain Valley Pipeline opponents ask Virginia agency to issue stop work order
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Protestors to the Mountain Valley Pipeline stand outside Virginia Department of Environmental Quality central offices in downtown Richmond. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

On Tuesday in downtown Richmond, a small group of people protested the Mountain Valley Pipeline, intended to deliver natural gas to the Southside, and shouted a new name they thought fitting for the state agency responsible for protecting Virginia’s waterways.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s acronym, “DEQ,” has taken on a new meaning for Glen Besa, a former director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club who was among the Richmond protestors.

“We’ve renamed [the] agency ‘Destroying Environmental Quality,’ because that’s what [they’re] doing,” said Besa.

Besa cited numerous violations levied against MVP over the years and a recent fine that he characterized as “chump change” to the company building the pipeline at an estimated cost between $7.5 and $7.6 billion. 

The protests — including the one in Richmond and others held across the state at DEQ regional offices in Harrisonburg, Salem and Woodbridge — come after the Roanoke Times reported that DEQ demanded a $34,000 fine from Mountain Valley Pipeline for issues of erosion, or loose dirt getting knocked into waterways, that resulted from the project. The fine resulted from DEQ site visits and a review of Sept. 11 through Dec. 10, 2023 inspection reports, according to the letter.

The protesters organized outside DEQ’s central office in Richmond with help from Third Act, an environmental group of senior citizens. The other rallies were organized in collaboration with environmental advocacy groups Protect Our Water and Heritage Rights.

In Richmond, seven protesters, some wearing possum head costumes, shouted “Do your job” at the multistory DEQ building and urged the agency to issue a stop work order under authority of a state law that passed in 2021

Mountain Valley Pipeline opponents ask Virginia agency to issue stop work order
The Bank of America building on East Main Street in downtown Richmond that houses the Department of Environmental Quality’s central office. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

The protestors used an animal analogy to reference years of sustained protests against the MVP.  

“Possums are largely misunderstood, and considered collateral damage, roadkill,” said Christiane Riederer, a Richmond area resident with the protestors wearing a possum costume. “But they’re actually extremely intelligent, fiercely protective [of] young and very important for the environment.” 

Riederer emphasized, “They don’t back down.”

The 303-pipeline running from the Utica Shales of West Virginia into Pittsylvania County has faced opposition since its beginning, with legal challenges over the federal and state permits forcing the project to grind to a near halt, until a federal spending plan included language requiring agencies to grant permits necessary for the project’s completion. That measure ended any legal challenges that the pipeline faced. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin advocated for the language in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Cox wrote that in response to the recent DEQ letter about soil erosion caused by the pipeline’s construction, “full payment will be made without dispute.”

“Each quarter, the MVP project team conducts a standard review with the VADEQ regarding the project’s ongoing field inspections,” Cox wrote. “The recent letter from VADEQ includes stipulated penalties for the fourth quarter of 2023, which were primarily related to exceeding agreed upon installation and/or repair timelines. These noted items did not result in any permanent impact and were quickly resolved.”

No one from DEQ approached the protestors during the Richmond rally that mainly consisted of about 30 minutes of chanting at the agency’s building. A DEQ spokesperson said by email the agency “will continue to enforce all of the laws and regulations under its jurisdiction, without preference for or prejudice against any regulated entity or DEQ employee.”

“Enforcement actions against MVP are determined by the consent decree, which is the settlement reached between Virginia and MVP,” DEQ spokeswoman Irina Calos said in response to the Mercury’s request for comment.

Calos added that the agency’s compliance and enforcement programs ensure that MVP’s developers know they must “abide by all applicable laws, regulations, and agreements, and the consequences for not adhering to them.”

The protests coincide with Virginia landowners petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the eminent domain seizure of their property for construction of the pipeline.

In December, MVP announced plans to revive its Southgate extension project, which will route more pipeline to deliver natural gas into North Carolina, without a compressor station that had previously been a point of public contention.