ROANOKE — A federal agency that approved construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline with a key approval last year has voted 3-2 to uphold its decision.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a request for a rehearing filed by pipeline opponents in a 172-page order Friday.
Although the ruling has no immediate impact on a construction project that is already well underway, it gives opponents the final decision they needed to pose a direct legal challenge.
When the requests for a rehearing were filed late last year, the commission issued what’s called a tolling order that put the project in a state of legal limbo. By taking more time to consider the requests, the panel allowed construction to proceed while forestalling an appeal of its decision.
In its decision Friday, FERC addressed a key point of dispute: whether there is a public need for the natural gas that will be transported at high pressure through a 303-mile buried pipeline that will run from northern West Virginia through the New River and Roanoke valleys.
“We affirm that the MVP … will provide needed natural gas transportation service to both end-use customers and natural gas producers,” FERC found.
In a statement Friday, Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox said the company is pleased there will be no rehearing for a project that is slated for completion by the end of the year.
At the time of its October decision, there were only three people on what is normally a five-member board. Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur dissented in what was a 2-1 vote at the time.
With all five members now on board, LaFleur was joined in her dissent Friday by newcomer Richard Glick, who questioned the finding of a market demand in light of the fact that all of the pipeline’s shipping agreements are with corporate affiliates of the project’s five developers.
“In particular, I am concerned that, where entities are part of the same corporate structure, precedent agreements among those entities will not necessarily be negotiated through an arms-length process and considerations other than market demand will bear on the negotiations underlying the agreement,” Glick wrote in his dissent.