Mountain Valley Pipeline to pay more than $2M in environmental violation suit

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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) - The Commonwealth of Virginia has reached an agreement with Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC that will force the company to submit to court-ordered and court-supervised compliance with environmental protections and impose additional layers of independent, third-party monitoring on the project, and require the payment of a $2.15 million civil penalty.

The agreement resolves the lawsuit filed in December 2018 by Attorney General Mark R. Herring on behalf of the State Water Control Board and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and includes the following key terms:

1. Places MVP under court-ordered and court-supervised compliance with the State Water Control Law, Stormwater Management Act, Erosion and Sediment Control Law, the state-issued Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification and all other applicable environmental laws for the duration of construction, adding additional layers of tough oversight and accountability. Any future violations would be a violation of both applicable environmental laws and a court order, which carries much more significant consequences.

2. In court filings, MVP stated that it planned to challenge the validity of the Section 401 Certification issued by the State Water Control Board. If MVP had succeeded, construction would have continued but all the conditions and environmental protections the Board placed on the project would have been wiped away. This agreement locks MVP into the terms of the certification issued by the Board, and MVP waives any right to contest the previously filed suit.

3. MVP will have to spend its own money for enhanced monitoring of erosion control measures throughout the project and for new monitoring of fisheries and wildlife in work areas. Independent, third-party auditors, who must be approved by DEQ, will make bi-weekly assessments to ensure that best management practices are being used and that erosion and sediment controls are installed and functioning properly.

4. MVP must immediately confirm that it is in compliance with all applicable provisions of environmental laws, including remediation of previously identified instances of alleged noncompliance.

5. MVP must pay a $2,150,000 civil penalty that will support ongoing environmental protection and enforcement activities in Virginia. By comparison, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection recently resolved similar allegations for just $266,000.

6. If any future violations occur, MVP will have to immediately clean up the damage and restore the site at its own expense, and will be subject to an expedited process for imposing significant financial penalties of a predetermined amount.

7. Advance notification to DEQ of any land-disturbing activity in or around each waterbody or wetland.

8. The Commonwealth retains the ability to pursue any necessary remedy to protect public health or the environment during construction, and the Commonwealth can recover its costs for enforcing any provision of the consent decree.

“This is one of the most significant financial penalties ever imposed in Virginia for this kind of case, and more importantly, we have secured significant new monitoring, supervision, and enhanced standards for the duration of the project,” said Attorney General Herring. “This resolution really sets a new standard for resolution of environmental damages cases in Virginia. By utilizing the consent decree approach of the EPA under the Obama Administration, we were able to quickly secure a major civil penalty, force significant concessions, and impose important environmental, health, and safety protections on the project that may not have been attainable if this had gone to trial.”

“This consent decree significantly strengthens our ability to ensure MVP is meeting its environmental responsibilities," said DEQ Director David Paylor. "The decree stipulates that MVP will be automatically fined for any violations of the terms of this agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia, while also imposing a significant fine for past noncompliance."

In December 2018, Attorney General Herring, DEQ, and the State Water Control Board filed suit against MVP, LLC alleging environmental violations in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, and Roanoke Counties, particularly violations that occurred during significant rain. The suit alleged that MVP violated the Commonwealth’s environmental laws and regulations, as well as MVP’s Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification, by failing to control sediment and stormwater runoff resulting in impacts to waterways and roads. The matter was referred to the Office of Attorney General by the director of DEQ after numerous inspections identified violations at multiple construction sites.

In accordance with state law and State Water Control Board regulations, the settlement has been approved by Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Herring and DEQ Director Paylor, and will now be subject to 30 days of public comment before being submitted to the Circuit Court of Henrico County, the circuit in which the suit was filed.