A federal appeals court unanimously threw out two key permits needed for the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline on Tuesday, casting doubt on the viability of the beleaguered fracked gas pipeline. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management “erroneously failed to account for real-world data suggesting increased sedimentation along the pipeline route,” the court ruled.

This is the second time the 4th Circuit rejected USFS and BLM permits for the pipeline — already more than $2.5 billion over budget and four years behind schedule — after rejecting the earlier permit in 2018. The agencies then took two years to approve the permit the court struck down Tuesday, putting the MVP on a similar trajectory of permit denials, delays, and cost overruns that led to the July 2020 cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, another proposed fracked gas pipeline that would have crossed relatively similar terrain.

Financial viability in doubt

Although most of the MVP has already been completed, key sections remain, including a 3.5 mile section crossing the Jefferson National Forest and another segment through the New River and Roanoke Valleys, and a separate lawsuit challenges FERC’s extension of the project’s certificate. “This is a big hit in the impending downfall of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project,” Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, said in a statement. “If MVP is unfit for the protected Jefferson National Forest, it is unfit for our waters, our land, and our communities, full stop.”

The MVP’s construction has violated Virginia environmental protection requirements on nearly 400 occasions, as reflected in the court’s opinion, which harshly criticized federal agencies for their minimal oversight of the pipeline’s environmental impacts. “The Fourth Circuit has agreed with us for the second time that federal agencies failed to show that the pipeline can comply with the law,” Peter Anderson of Appalachian Voices, said in a statement. “It is long past time for the MVP’s investors to abandon this harmful project.”

The MVP is owned by Equitrans, along with NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison AltaGas, and RGC Resources. “Three billion over budget, years behind schedule, and facing mounting legal hurdles, today’s decision makes it highly unlikely that this dirty, dangerous, and unnecessary fracked gas pipeline will ever be completed,” the Sierra Club’s director of energy campaigns, Kelly Sheehan, said in a statement. (Bloomberg, Roanoke Times, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Virginia Mercury, WV News, AP, Reuters, Politico Pro $, WDBJ, WFIR, Pittsburgh Business Times $, Bloomberg Law $, Seeking Alpha)